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Blessed Joseph Gérard
Born March 12, 1831, Bouxières-aux-Chênes, France
Died May 29, 1914, Roma, Lesotho
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified September 15, 1988 by John Paul II
Feast May 29

Blessed Joseph Gérard, OMI (March 12, 1831-May 29, 1914) was a French Catholic missionary who chiefly worked among the Basotho people of modern day Lesotho and the Free State province of South Africa. He was born in Bouxières-aux-Chênes, in the Diocese of Nancy and received his religious training from the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, whom he joined at the age of twenty. He wasn't particularly gifted academically, but was quick at learning languages, which would later help him in learning the Zulu and Sesotho languages he used for his missionary work.[1] Gérard moved to South Africa in 1853, and never returned to his home country again.[1]

Missionary work

Gérard was ordained as a priest at Pietermaritzburg in 1854. He started his work as a missionary among the Zulus in the Vicariate of Natal, but met with little progress there. In 1862 he joined Father François Allard, the Bishop of Natal, in starting the first Catholic mission in Lesotho—there already was a Protestant congregation founded by the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society.[2] With permission from the Basotho chief Moshoeshoe I, they founded the Motse-oa-'M'a-Jesu (Village of the Mother of Jesus) mission around 32 kilometers (20 miles) south of Thaba Bosiu, at the site of present day Roma.[3] By all accounts, Gérard was well-respected by Moshoeshoe for remaining in the country during the Free State-Basotho Wars, and it has been said that it was at Gérard's encouragement that the chief sought British intervention at the end of the conflict.[1] However, Gérard's missionary work still progressed slowly: by the end of 1879, there were only 700 Catholics in the country.[4]

In 1875, Gérard founded the St. Monica mission in the Leribe District in northern Lesotho. From there, he serviced not only the Basotho of Lesotho, but also those who lived in the neighboring Orange Free State.[1] He returned to the Roma congregation in 1898, where he continued his work as a missionary for the rest of his life. He died on May 29, 1914, aged 83.[1] As a result of the work partially initiated by Gérard, Catholic Christianity is the majority religion in present day Lesotho.


Gérard was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 15, 1988, in a mass conducted at Lesotho's capital Maseru.[5] His feast day, celebrated by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, is on May 29.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Father Joseph Gerard, the Apostle of Basotho". OMI Lesotho. Retrieved 2008-04-12.  
  2. ^ Richard Elphick, T. R. H. Davenport (1997). Christianity in South Africa: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. New Africa Books. pp. p. 115. ISBN 0864863063.  
  3. ^ Elphick, Davenport 1997, p. 115, 198
  4. ^ Elphick, Davenport 1997, p. 116
  5. ^ "Beatification of father Joseph Gerard". Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 1988-09-15. Retrieved 2008-04-12.  


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