St. Daniel Comboni founded Comboni missionary orders
In 1864, Daniel Comboni had a vision of a new way to Christianize Africa: "Save Africa with Africa."
He believed Africans needed a full and active role in proclaiming the Gospel and in the struggle for their own freedom.
Daniel was born March 15, 1831, in Limone (northern Italy). His parents were so poor that he was the only one of their eight children to reach full adulthood. He studied theology, medicine and languages at Fr. Mazza's Institute in Verona and was ordained on Dec. 31, 1854. Inspired by the Japanese martyrs, he wanted to be a missionary to Japan. Then he learned about Africa and its struggles.
Your Catholic Neighbor
When: March 15, 1831-Oct. 10, 1881
What: Missionary, bishop, founder of Comboni Missionaries
Canonized: Oct. 5, 2003
Fr. Comboni first went to Africa in 1857, at the height of the slave trade. He and five other priests lived a primitive life in Sudan. One died of fever within six weeks. Despite that, their austere life and the death of his mother, Daniel remained in Africa.
In 1859, due to ongoing illness, he returned to Verona. He taught from 1861 to 1864 at Mazza's Institute, where he continued to remember chained Africans herded through the desert for sale as slaves, even though they were "gifted with intelligence as a sign of divinity and made like the Blessed Trinity." These thoughts inspired his plan for Africa.
He started the Comboni Missionaries for men in 1867, followed in five years by the Comboni Missionary Sisters. He started similar institutions in Cairo to prepare missionaries for central Africa and, in 1870, wrote to the First Vatican Council about the need for missionaries to Africa.
He traveled Europe seeking moral and material support from kings, church agencies and common people.
Gradually, the Combonis' impact increased and, in 1877, he was named bishop and head of the Apostolic Vicariate of Central Africa, based in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
A drought in 1877-78 devastated the local population and the missions, but Bishop Comboni pressed on. He joined the moral fight against slavery, helping suppress the regional slave trade and followed his plan to use Africans more directly in mission work.
He contributed to scientific works on the region, its geography, and several dialects.
Daniel died in Khartoum in 1881 at age 50. Today, more than 1,800 Comboni priests and brothers — including Fr. David Bohnsack of Green Bay — and 1,900 Comboni sisters serve more than 40 countries.
Sources: Catholic Encyclopedia; Catholic News Service; laymission-comboni.org; combonimissionaries.org; saints.sqpn.com
Staley is a retired editor of The Compass.