Blessed Joseph Gérard was born near Nancy, France, in the village of Bouxières-aux-Chénes on March l2, 1831. He spent his childhood on the family farm but, with the help of the parish priest, was able to commence studies for the priesthood.

While in the local seminary of Nancy for two years, he was impressed by accounts of missionary work, and, in 1851, he joined the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He was ordained a deacon by the founder, Saint Eugene de Mazenod, who assigned Joseph Gérard, at the age of 22, to the mission of Natal in South Africa.

In May, 1853, Deacon Joseph Gérard set off for his mission field, never to see France again. On February l9, 1854, he was ordained priest in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and started his ministry to the Zulu People. Despite all his good efforts, his ministry among the Zulus did not seem to bear immediate fruit, and, with a sense of great disappointment, he moved, in 1862, to the kingdom of Lesotho to bring the Gospel to the Basotho People. Fr. Gérard worked and prayed for more than two years before he won his first Basotho catechumen. Even after that, progress was slow. However, more and more people in these early years heard the message of Christ, and came to the church. Within five years of his coming there the first mission station was established at Roma. Today it is the site of many novitiates and of seminaries, a University founded by the Oblates, high schools, numerous religious houses, and a hospital – all the legacy of this remarkable man of God.

Throughout his years in Lesotho Fr. Gérard’s concern and care for the sick and the old was remarkable. Despite the distance, despite the weather, despite the inconvenience, he would set out, on foot or on horseback, carrying the Blessed Sacrament, to minister to those afflicted. His deep devotion to Mary was absorbed by his first converts, and since his day the nation has been dedicated to Mary Immaculate.

The last years of Fr. Gérard´s life were spent back at his first mission, Roma. Up to a month before his death he was on horseback, out on the mountain tracks caring for those in need. On May 29, 1914, Joseph Gérard died. He was 83.

In one of his retreat notes, Blessed Joseph Gérard gave the key to his constancy when he wrote about the people he served: “We must love them, love them in spite of everything, love them always”. He lived out his belief in the joy of spreading God’s Word, despite the hardships and opposition he encountered.

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    I first met Blessed Joseph Gérard 8 or 9 years ago while on a retreat, but it was really only the hearing of his name. I was not properly introduced until my studies this past year – and my life has changed in meeting him – not in great huge ways but truly in the small and the ordinary of daily life, in the ways that are deep and lasting. To celebrate him today is a gift and a joy.

    In the biography of Blessed Joseph Yvon Beaudoin called him ‘The Man of God’ and wrote: “Father Gérard was probably not a man of great vision, nor an original thinker, but the Basothos saw in him a living witness to God’s love. His life, like his work, his silence as well as his words, his joy like his sadness, his celebrations as his penances were like an expression of what Saint Paul said of himself: it is not I who live, it is Christ living in me [Gal. 2,20]. …he wanted to be nothing more than God’s instrument saying: ‘it is your Spirit alone which can give strength and unction to my words, make them an echo in hearts’. ‘I will be only your mouthpiece. Tell me what must be done, tell me what must be said, and how it must be said…” If I were to write this on Facebook there would not be enough emojis to describe my experience of hearing these words.

    When the Spirit of God first introduced me to the Oblates I described my experience of this as ‘the Oblates being given to me as gift and as me being given as gift to the Oblates”. Blessed Joseph Gérard is very much an example of that gift I received and that I continue to receive. His fidelity to the life God called him to live is an incredible example, a most beautiful model that I gladly put before me.

    It is a joyous gift to celebrate and delve deeper into him this morning. Blessed Joseph, I am most grateful for the life that you led – all of it. I ask you this day to pray for me, to intercede on my behalf that I might live as you have lived – all for the glory of God and his kingdom that comes.

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