[The following reading was excerpted from a book commissioned during the mandate of Bro. Jesus Marin, Superior General 1988-1994. It highlights the historical missions of the Institute. Some of the information has not be updated.]
The Missionary Spirit of Brother Polycarp
The Brothers of the Sacred Heart today live the AMETUR COR JESU not only in ten African countries and in Madagascar but also in twenty other countries around the globe. For this to have happened, many Brothers had to leave their homes in Europe and North America.
When did emigration for the sake of the Sacred Heart begin in our Institute? To be sure, it started long before our first permanent missionary presence in Africa and Madagascar took root, which goes back only to 1928. Embarkment for foreign shores commenced when our first Brother Superior General answered a call from America and sent five Brothers of the Sacred Heart to Mobile, Alabama, in the United States. The missionary impetus of the Institute, therefore, dates back to 1846 and to Brother Polycarp. “Counting on your zeal, devotion, and generosity, I have just promised five Brothers to a saintly bishop from America for his vast diocese. ... I wish to God with all my heart to be numbered among the blessed ones to be sent. ... I hope to obtain this favor from my successor as a recompense for my good intentions in the accomplishment of my duties as superior.” (Circular, 19 June 1846)
Brother Polycarp did indeed send out our first five missionaries, but he did not succeed in going to America as one of them, for the members of the General Chapter of 1846 reelected him as superior general, and as if that wasn’t enough, they told him that he had to stay in that position for the rest of his life! Brother Polycarp would have to be a missionary in spirit.
“Let us sound our hearts and dispositions, dear Brothers; let us see just up to what point we are ready to make personal sacrifices; let us see if we would not be willing to give up ease, freedom, health, strength, life itself for so noble a cause. ... Do you feel capable of leaving home, friends, family, and goods in order to go publish afar the inexhaustible treasures of the Heart of Jesus and to cause our Institute to flourish in the United States of America? Is your inclination accompanied by sufficient ability for learning a new language, by health that can withstand the sweat, and fatigue imposed by such a journey? Can your devotion and courage face up to the obstacles and dangers that will be met in this undertaking?” (ibid.)
These questions that Brother Polycarp put forward to the Brothers in his call for volunteers constitute a description of missionary spirit in the aspects of motivation, spirituality, and enculturation. The motivation for going abroad had to be pure: to bring the Sacred Heart into people’s lives. The spirituality was one of selflessness: spirit of sacrifice, detachment, dedication, fortitude, zeal. Enculturation was needed for effectiveness: learning the language of the people to be served.
The questions that Brother Polycarp formulated found positive answers in himself and described exactly what he himself was ready to do for the sake of his beloved Lord: “I have placed myself at the head of the list of those who could be chosen.” (ibid.)
Although Brother Polycarp was not permitted to become a missionary, he was, as superior, in a unique position to give expression to his missionary spirit right from his own office at home. Besides sending, in 1846, the five founders of our work in the United States, he sent three more Brothers in 1849, three in 1850, nine in 1853, five in 1854, three in 1855, three in 1856, one in 1857, and four in 1858 (Annuaire No. 55, pp. 12-15). And all this while he was opening an average of four houses per year in France during his eighteen years as superior general!
Undoubtedly all of this activity was made possible by the favorable conditions of the time with regard to religious sentiment and vocations. But just the same, grace requires cooperation in order to be effective. And in this, Brother Polycarp did not spare any pains. In fact, he himself admitted: “Success in my fearsome responsibilities did not depend on me; all I was capable of was good will: it was never wanting in me.” (ibid.) The Church agreed and declared him Venerable on 17 February 1984.
From: Brother Polycarp: His Mission Mindedness and His Sense of Evangelization, by Brother Lee Barker, S.C. (New Orleans) (Annuaire No.73, pp. 240-246)
Zambia, Zimbabwe – New England
(The following text is taken from Brothers of the Sacred Heart in Africa and Madagascar published circa 1988.)
The White Fathers arrived in 1889.
Actually, close to half of the population is Christian: 28% Catholic and 17% Protestant. There are eight dioceses; Lusaka and Kasama are archdiocesan seats.
In 1979 the Catholic bishops and the heads of the Protestant and Evangelical churches sent out a cry of alarm against the Marxist tendencies of the country’s government. Their joint letter was entitled Marxism, Humanism, and Christianity. The program of scientific socialism is now in decline. The church of Zambia at present seems rich in choice vocations.
Independence was won in 1964. Since then, the political and economic situation has remained relatively stable. Copper mining remains the chief industry, but a fine effort is being made to diversify, as much in industry as in agriculture and livestock.
The Brothers arrived in Malole in 1956 upon the invitation of the White Fathers.
The District has invested much in the recruitment and formation of candidates. Moreover, it has one of the best formation teams that exist. At present the District is working at improving its formation program by a very in-depth study aimed at fostering a better enculturation of the religious life. The postulate and novitiate are presently at Sacred Heart Centre in Malole.
The scholasticate (Shitima House) is in Kabwe. The Brothers follow courses at the teacher-training school. The scholasticate program is a fine combination of prayer life, well-adapted studies, and community and social activities. Some Brothers, after a few years of teaching, go to the University of Lusaka where, while residing with the Jesuit Fathers, they complete their formal education.
Since many Brothers are still in formation, the District has but one major work, St. Francis Secondary School in Malole, which is a large boarding school in a remote comer.
The year 1982 saw the Brothers of the Sacred Heart return to Zimbabwe. They had already labored there from 1961 to 1975 under the aegis of the New England Province. When the Brothers left Gokomere in 1975, the three native Brothers of Zimbabwe were incorporated into the District of Lesotho to continue their formation.
In 1982, then, it was these three Brothers who returned to Zimbabwe. Brothers Simplicio Mpondi and Andreas Zvaiwa teach at Loreto Secondary School, while Brother Jacob Chisamba is continuing his studies at the University of Harare. The three of them are doing their best to awaken other Zimbabwean vocations to the life of the Institute. Their house is an extraterritorial community of the New England Province.
Lesotho – New England
Evangelization was begun by Calvinists from Paris in 1830 and by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1865.
Today, Catholics number about 600,000, or 47% of the population. They are divided into four dioceses, all four of whose bishops are former students of the Brothers. The Protestants number about 400,000, which means that the large majority of the inhabitants of this small country is Christian. There are fewer than 400,000 who belong to traditional religions.
There are fifty-nine Basuto priests and sixty-nine foreign priests.
Lesotho is completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. It is a mountainous land whose lowest point is one thousand meters above sea level. It has a temperately tropical climate. The sky is clear more than three hundred days a year.
Since independence in 1966, Lesotho has been a constitutional monarchy. The king and many high dignitaries of the country also are former students of Christ the King High School.
More than eighty thousand men work in the mines of the Republic of South Africa. This has its influence on the life of many families and is accompanied by all sorts of social problems.
Annuaire No. 77 presented a long article on their life and work. Here follow a brief recollection and some additional points.
The personnel: eleven Basotho Brothers and ten foreign Brothers.
They run three secondary schools, one of which has a commercial-technical section and another of which is coed. The Brothers first arrived in 1937.
The first juniorate was opened in 1940 at Roma. Snubbed by certain groups, the Brothers turned to the children that the Oblate Fathers sheltered in their missionary center. These poor children, who had to be fed and who were employed in lowly tasks, were more responsive to the call of the Lord.
The first Basuto Brothers were professed in 1946. Since then, the District spread to Northern Rhodesia, were the Brothers now form the District of Zambia, and to Southern Rhodesia, where during their stay from 1960 to 1975 they managed to win some recruits. These latter recruits returned to their country (now Zimbabwe) in 1982 and teach at Loreto Secondary School in Gweru. Despite the vocation crisis, which exists here as elsewhere, the District has never given up, and has proven it by courageously starting over again as often as necessary. Since 1983 the District has had a native regional superior, the first. The grace of our foundation is becoming increasingly universal. The heritage transmitted by pioneers in education, to which a large number of former students are witnesses, is now being put to use by all, especially by the native Brothers. Our religious life transcends cultures and traditions, but it is necessarily expressed through these while branching out from a common trunk in which circulates the very sap of our Rule of Life.
Kenya – New York
Uganda – New Orleans
The Brothers of the Sacred Heart have been present in English-speaking Africa since 1929 when the then Province of St. Hyacinthe (Canada) agreed to staff Comboni College in Khartoum, capital of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. The four pioneers went there at the request of the Sons of the Sacred Heart, better known perhaps as Verona Fathers or Comboniani. Twelve Brothers were to serve in the Sudan. In 1931, they opened a school at Wau, in the Bahr el Ghazal. which school was transferred to nearby Busseri in 1933. But the deaths from blackwater fever of Brother Romeo (1933) and Brother Honore (1935), and the return to Canada of others in failing health, led to the Brothers withdrawing from Khartoum in 1935 and from the Sudan altogether in 1936. But the Province was already planning a new foundation in Basutoland (Lesotho), and this new mission was opened in 1937. .
In the meantime, the Verona Fathers in Uganda had also requested our help. In 1931, the Province of the United States sent four Brothers to staff the mission school of Gulu, in Northern Uganda. In 1940, because of heavy troop convoys moving constantly through Gulu, it was decided to move St. Aloysius College to Nyapea, in the West Nile area, where it continued to flourish. A layman was named headmaster of the College in 1969, and the Brothers continued to work there until 1973. Meanwhile, the Brothers returned to Gulu in 1944, and opened St. Joseph School the following year. In 1961, this school was turned over to the diocese to be manned by Catholic laymen.
In January 1946, our mission in East Africa was organized as a District, with Brother Norbert as the first Director General, a post he held until 1954. “Brother Norbert was the guiding spirit of the Brothers in Africa for nearly twenty-five years. His even temper, self-control, deep spirituality, and Christ-like charity quickly won over the Africans, facilitating the adjustment of the Brothers to unfamiliar circumstances. He governed more by example than by words of command. He led a life characterized by simplicity and frugality as did all of the early missionaries. But these were happy times for the Brothers in spite of their hardships, and they willingly followed the example set by Brother Norbert whom the church and civil authorities respected and whom the Africans named Dana Ma Lego, the man who prays.” (From REFLECTIONS: East Africa - The Harvest, 1931-1981 by Brother Geoffrey Kerwin, 1983, p. 29).
In 1947, once again at the request of the Verona Fathers, the Brothers opened a school at Okaru, in Southern Sudan. As a result of the army revolt in 1955 and of other difficulties, the government moved the school farther south to Palotaka in 1959, and then politely asked the Brothers to leave at the end of that same year. Thus ended our second venture in the Sudan. It is interesting to note that in 1935, the year before the Canadian Brothers left the Sudan, arrangements had been made for them to open a school at Okaru.
In 1948, the Brothers moved into Kenya to staff the secondary school at Nyeri Mission with the Consolata Fathers. In 1969, the administration of the school was handed over to a layman, and the Brothers left in 1972. In 1960, the Brothers also began to work at Nkubu Secondary School, also in Kenya, where they retain a presence to this day.
Brothers everywhere have always tried to find young men who would join them in religious life and continue the work of the Institute in their native country. To this end, some aspirants were already being trained at St. Joseph’s in Gulu in 1947, and they moved to Nyapea in 1952. That same year, it was decided to develop a site at Alokolum, near Gulu, as a formation center. This idea of recruiting native Brothers aroused great hopes. In 1966, there were twelve professed African Brothers. But by 1972, unfortunately, these had all left the community. Since other candidates could not be found, recruiting was discontinued. The Brothers then donated the buildings and property at Alokolum to the bishop of Gulu. In 1960, the Province of the United States was divided into the Provinces of New Orleans and New York. Despite the fact that there were Brothers from each province in East Africa, the mission remained in the care of the New Orleans Province until 1963 when the New York Province assumed responsibility for the houses in Kenya, which were set up as a separate District. No new schools were opened in Kenya, but Uganda added Tororo (1963-67), Lira (1968-72), and Kitgum (1969-71). Kenya ceased to be a District in 1971. And in 1973, the remaining Brothers in Uganda were regrouped at Lacor Seminary in Gulu, which became an extraterritorial house of the New Orleans Province. Besides the African Brothers, sixty-two American Brothers served in East Africa since 1931. Two of the founders died on African soil and are buried at Alokolum: Brother Norbert (1959) and Brother Oswin (1972). Today, six of them continue to work in Africa. Brothers Elliott Couvillon and Joachim Parr of the New Orleans Province are at Lacor Seminary, Gulu, Uganda. Brothers Daniel Devitt, John Dunbar, and John Koczka of the New York Province work out of Nkubu, Kenya. And Brother Geoffrey Kerwin of the New Orleans Province works at our school in St. Monica, Lesotho.
In the Epilogue to his book, Brother Geoffrey writes as follows: “It would be the greatest of vanities for anyone to attempt to reach a true estimate of the work of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in East Africa during this past half century. The loving Lord alone knows our hearts and the hearts of those whom the Brothers have influenced by their hard labor and devoted instruction and example. Only the Lord knows when and under what circumstances one of them was or will be moved to heroic acts, acts of true Christian Brotherly love, during the terrible times all in Uganda were subjected to in the recent past. Only the Lord is aware of the heights of prayer that may have been reached by those who had been taught the value of prayer and had marveled at it in the example of such holy men as Brother Norbert as well as many others.
“One thing those who have served there do know with certainty is that former students, old boys as they call themselves, have never tired of repeating all that they had learned from the Brothers that was good and that had strengthened them in their life.
“Many good leaders rose up from the ranks of the Brothers’ old boys only to be put down by the evil circumstances of those days, but the seed is there in the hearts of others and will most certainly burst into bloom as things settle down and the good can rise to the surface. Man only plants the seed; the Lord will give the increase.” (Pages 136-7)
Brother Camille Fournier, S.C.