coat of arms

Lesotho Province

coat of arms


Father Joseph Gerard, the Apostle of Basotho.

    Father Joseph Gerard was born on the 12th March 1831 at Bouxières-Chênes, in the diocese of Nancy. Son of John Gerard and Ursule Stofflet, honest and hard-working country folk, Joseph received a modest primary and secondary education. In 1851 he entered the Oblate Congregation at Notre-Dame de l’Osier. His theological formation, begun at the major seminary of Nancy, pursued in Marseilles and completed in South Africa, was not all it might have been. There was certainly nothing to suggest any academic brilliance in the field of theology, and indeed he seems to have been completely ignorant of what we know today as social science. And yet this was a missionary destined to achieve such a remarkable success in Lesotho.
    Father Gerard was the oldest of five children; he grew up in a deeply Christian family. His formation in the family was supported by the example of the local Christian community and by the Catholic village school. Early in his life he heard Christ’s call to the priestly ministry. While he was preparing for ordination at the Seminary of the diocese of Nancy, he felt called to the missionary life and joined the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Congregation recently founded by Saint Eugene de Mazenod, Bishop of Marseilles in France.
    Still a deacon, he left Europe in 1853 for Southern Africa—and he never returned to visit his country and his family again. After his priestly ordination by Bishop Allard at Pietermaritzburg in 1854, he worked among the Zulus in the new Apostolic Vicariate of Natal. The small group of Oblates founded two missions, St. Michael’s and Our Lady of Sorrows. But they met with many difficulties. While others continued missionary work among the Zulus, Father Gerard was sent to Lesotho to start missionary work there. He arrived in Lesotho, together with Bishop Allard and Brother Bernard in 1862, and was courteously received by King Moshoeshoe I. Soon the first Catholic mission was founded—and called “Village of the Mother of Jesus”—in what is now known as Roma Valley. After 14 years of pioneer work at Roma, Fr. Gerard founded the Mission of St. Monica in the North of Lesotho. There he dedicated himself not only to the Basotho of Lesotho. He also frequently visited neighbouring areas in what is now Free State Province, attending to the Catholics there and spreading the Good News, especially among the Basotho employed on the farms. After 21 years at St. Michael’s he returned to Roma in 1898 and worked there as a zealous missionary until his death on May 19th, 1914.
    Fr. Gerard was a true man of God. He was first of all a man of prayer. The Christians of Lesotho would say of him that he was living on prayer. He was known to spend long hours before the tabernacle during the night, and during the long visit to the sick on horseback he equally adored Jesus Christ in the Eucharist he carried on his breast. He was also deeply aware that working for the Kingdom of God meant sharing the sufferings of Christ. While he was experiencing many disappointments during his work in Natal, he wrote: “The moments we have suffered most have been the most beautiful”. He himself had a deep devotion to the Mother of Jesus and he instilled the same love of Mary into the first Catholics of Lesotho. Through his advice, and with the consent of Moshoeshoe I, Lesotho was consecrated to Mary Immaculate on August 15, 1865.
    Joined to Jesus Christ in a deep interior life, Fr. Gerard showed forth God’s love to all mankind according to the following conviction he once wrote down during a retreat: “The world belongs to the person who loves it most—and proves it.” He tirelessly instructed the catechumens and the Christians and visited the people in their villages. He was especially known for his love of the sick, the aged and destitute.
        The foundations laid by Fr. Joseph Gerard and his fellow workers of the first hour have been proved to be sound. Others, missionaries and local Christians, have built upon these foundations with the help of God. Today the Church is fully alive in Natal and among the Basotho in Lesotho and the Free State, the principal areas of the activities of Father Gerard. Hundreds of thousands of Basotho and Zulus are trying today to live as Christians and to witness to God’s love in this difficult hour in Africa.

    As for Fr. Gerard, the Basotho have remembered him through all these years since his death. They have loved and venerated him as a model of true Christian life. They have continued visiting his tomb at Roma Mission. And they have relied upon his intercession in the spiritual and material needs of their individual lives and the life of their nation.

    To grasp the true stature of the man, we have to consider his life, not from an academic viewpoint but in the light of his faith. His entire personality, his qualities and his talents were transformed by the presence of the Holy Spirit to such a degree that they assumed superhuman dimensions. Everything Father Gerard achieved was accomplished with, in and through God. The Basotho and all the Oblates who knew him are unanimous on this point. And so the greatness of Fr. Gerard is not to be found in mere human considerations; it lies in the fact of his total surrender to Christ, from that union of love with Jesus that he so transparently bore witness to in every moment of his daily life.

    Father of the Church of Lesotho is a title that can be given and applied to Father Joseph Gerard with honour. He is an eminent Father of the Basotho Catholics for it was he who sowed in their hearts the seed of the Good News—the Word of God that enabled them to have a new vision of themselves, of the world, and above all of that community of love which is Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. A Church founded on the experience of the Trinity cannot be but true. God has accomplished the marvels of his love thanks to this true Oblate, to this zealous and saintly missionary life, he trusted completely in the love and goodness of God and loved his brothers and sisters of the Basotho with this same love.


In Lesotho itself the vast majority of Catholics have welcomed the news of Father Gerard’s beatification with enthusiasm. Having been the ardent supporters of his cause since his death, these Catholics have long awaited such an important day. In the Republic of South Africa feelings are more divided. Some are enthusiastic, particularly those with links to Lesotho. Others, are indifferent for various reasons of their own.

    Whatever opinion one may hold, the beatification of Father Joseph Gerard should not be seen in South Africa as an empty gesture or as something which belongs to the past, without relevance for today. On the contrary, the Oblates, the Basotho and the Catholic South Africans, no matter what ethnic group they may belong to, should find in this event a sign of the times full of hope for their commitment in building a new nation. Father Gerard was no other-worldly saint. He lived with the Basotho in a very decisive period of their history; he faced with them important events that involved people of different ethnic origins. He suffered with the Basotho in the face of the violence often inflicted upon them as a result of numerous wars. It was during these difficult times that the Church of Lesotho was born. How, then, did Father Gerard act towards the Basotho? What choices did he make, and what relevance do these options have within the context of the current situation? Is the way chosen by him then still relevant for today—so that Christians may help their country to grow towards justice, reconciliation and sharing?

Solidarity with the Basotho:

From 1862 until his death in 1914 Father Gerard never left Lesotho. He was with the Basotho in good times and in bad, in times of famine as in times of abundance, in times of war and times of peace. He clearly demonstrated his solidarity with the Basotho during the years of the Boer War (1865-68). These were years of suffering and death which the Basotho have never forgotten. Because of his faithfulness to their Chief Moshoeshoe during the Boer War, Father Gerard was accepted by the Basotho as one of them.

    Throughout this war Father Gerard often risked his life to be at the side of Chief Moshoeshoe who was constantly under siege upon the Mountain of Thaba-Bosiu. There can be little doubt as to the contribution made by Father Gerard in saving Lesotho from disaster since it was he who encouraged Moshoeshoe to ask for the protection of the British Government. Neither political nor material gain could deter Father Gerard from his fidelity to Moshoeshoe and the Basotho. He remained close to them not so much out of obedience but more out of his genuine love for a weak and defenseless people.

    Father Gerard and his companions used every means available to acquaint themselves with the customs and traditions of the Zulus and the Basotho, and worked diligently to master the language. Father Gerard was particularly gifted for languages. His success in quickly mastering English was followed by similar success with the Zulu language. Faithful to the missionary example of Bishop Eugene de Mazenod, who addressed the people of southern France in their own local dialect; the Oblates of Lesotho were determined to address the Basotho in no other language than their own Sesotho.

The attitude of Father Gerard and his fellow missionaries in relation to Basotho culture was rather complex. They accepted without much difficulty the family, social, political and economic structures of the Basotho. Since these structures did not conflict with the law of God, then there was little reason to reject them. The missionaries even publicly defended certain traditional institutions, for example, that of marriage. In 1888 during the annual gathering of all the Basotho Father Deltour, speaking in the name of the Church, defended the legitimacy of the traditional marriage practiced by the Basotho. The following extract from his speech gives a good idea of the principles which guided the thinking of the Fathers in relation to the customs and practices of the Basotho.

I see nothing wrong in the traditional custom of giving to parents a dowry of cattle for the sacrifice and gift they make of their daughter. Anything wrong that does occur comes not from the practice itself but from certain abuses….Here is the book of the Gospels. If anyone wishes to show that my opinion is contrary to that of Jesus Christ, let him make himself known and point out my contradiction to the Word of God” ”(cf. Joseph Gerard, O.M.I.; Saint for Southern Africa by ‘Jean-Louis Richard, O.M.I.’).

Father of the Church of Lesotho—Blessed Joseph Gerard

It was a Sunday afternoon at the mission of Roma. Our Christians, having shared a meal together under shade trees, were preparing to return to their villages. Before leaving some went off to pay visit to the tombs of their favourite saints, Father Joseph Gerard, their first missionary, and Mgr Emmanuel ’Mabathoana, their first Mosotho bishop. At the tomb of Mgr ’Mabathoana religious objects from previous visits were reclaimed and new ones deposited. From that of Father Gerard our Christians gathered up little pieces of soil and placed them carefully in small bags that hung from their necks.

    “Asking people about why they have such a great love for Fr. Gerard and Bishop Emmanuel ’Mabathoana, “you really don’t know?” they ask, “but surely you must realize that these two Oblates are our Fathers in the faith”. Within the context of South Africa it was a truly amazing sight to behold the Basotho people embrace and unite a white man and a black man within the circle of their love and devotion. It struck one at the moment that the word “Fathers” was used by these Christians not simply out of habit but from a true sense of veneration and love” (ibid.).

    “These two men have been united by the Basotho as their spiritual Fathers in a true sense of veneration and love as it is already pointed above. In September 1988 Pope John Paul II visited Lesotho and proclaimed Fr. Joseph Gerard Blessed. In doing so, the Pope wished to invite the Churches, especially that of Lesotho, not only to venerate Fr. Gerard but above all to see him as a witness of the faith, as a model for Christians of today”.

Father of the Church!

Presumption or fact?

If Father Gerard is to be considered a Father of the Church, then it is certainly not on account of the exceptional quality of his theological works or his sermons. Never renowned as a writer and often attacked for the excessive length of his sermons, Father Gerard was neither an Augustine nor a John Chrysostom. And yet in spite of this, the Basotho do venerate him as a true father of their Church. He is to the Basotho people what St. Paul, St. Augustine of Canterbury and St. Boniface were to the Churches they founded. Divine Providence clearly chose this holy missionary to found the Church in Lesotho, to evangelize the Basotho and to lead them, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to discover the creative and liberating experience that is faith in the God of Jesus Christ. For the Basotho, Father Gerard clearly played a decisive and irreplaceable role in the origin and development of their Church. He is the one who opened their hearts to the vision of a new and transformed world, to a world of new values and new ways of behaviour; he is the one who offered them the vision of becoming a new transformed people. They see him as one who truly lived the message of the Gospels and have the firm belief of being his true children.

    Many of the missionaries of Lesotho, even in the times of Father Gerard himself, were real saints and had a great influence on the Church in Lesotho. But never has a people identified itself so fully with one man, nor proclaimed so greatly the holiness of one man as the Basotho have in the case of Father Joseph Gerard. This indeed proves the real holiness of the Blessed Fr. Joseph Gerard.

Blessed Joseph Gerard OMI

Blessed Joseph Gerard,

Father of the Church of Lesotho


Blessed Joseoh Gerard OMI


Major events

Secondary events


March 12: born at Bouxières-aux-Chènes.


February 2: first communion


March 24: confirmation

October : minor seminary, Pont-à-Mousson


October :major seminary, Nancy


May 9: Novitiate, Notre-Dame de l’Osier


May 10: perpetual vows in the Oblates’ Congregation.


May 10: departure for South Africa as a missionary.


January 21: arrival in Natal

February 18: priestly ordination.

With the Zulus to learn the language


February 27: beginning of Zulu mission of St. Michael.


January: foundation of the 2nd mission of St. Michael


October 14: foundation of Our Lady of Sorrows mission.


July: mission of the Zulus abandoned


End of January: arrival in Lesotho

February 12: meeting with Moshoeshoe, King of the Basotho people.

October 11: possession of the village of Tloutle, Roma Valley.


April: opening of the mission

November: blessing of the mission

Beginning of Father Gerard’s work


July 24: first conversion

December 25: beginning of first catechumenate

December 26: first baptism of a Mosotho child


October 8: first solemn baptism

August 15: consecration of the nation to Our Lady


January: 2nd solemn baptism


January 6: beginning of the custom of Christian greeting

March 19: first vow of chastity made by a Mosotho woman.


March 12: Lesotho became a British Protectorate


End of the year: the Sister came to St. Michael’s—Lesotho.


March 11: death of King Moshoeshoe of the Basotho people


Beginning: opening of the Holy Family Sisters’ novitiate


Resignation of Mgr Allard


October: foundation of St. Monica mission. Founder: Fr. Gerard


February: the first two Catholic books published in Sesotho


February 11: opening of St. Monica Church


August 15: first solemn baptism at St. Monica’s

Miracle Blessed Gerard Performed.

(In interview made during the apostolic process of his beatification)

A Christian woman from Lesotho, Maria Phakela is said to have given her testimony in 1940 and 1955 at the apostolic processes for Fr. Gerard’s beatification. One of her testimonies is declared to be of how her daughter Florina was miraculously healed from blindness. The testimony goes:

I will say nothing but the simple truth, for the glory of God. I am deeply convinced of the great saintliness of Father Gerard, not only because of what I witnessed during his life, but also for the many miracles which he keeps operating, and particularly because he healed my daughter Florina from her blindness which had been declared incurable by the doctor. His glorification by the Church would make all our people happy.

“I was about thirty when the Servant of God died in 1914, so that I knew him, personally, quite well during the last fifteen years of his life. Besides I heard many people speaking of him with admiration and tell of extraordinary favours. But I have come above all to tell you briefly of the miraculous healing of my child Florina.

“My daughter Florina, when she was about 5 or 6 years old (I think it was between 1926 and 1927, about fifteen years after the death of the Servant of God) was attacked by a serious illness in her eyes, which appeared as bulging out of their sockets.

“The very sight of that illness was distinguished to the respectable persons to whom I represented my child, especially to our pastor and to the European nuns of the convent dealing with medicines. Besides the hideous disease of the eyes there were also malignant ulcers on her whole head. A white doctor, by the name of Hertig, used to visit this area every month and give prescriptions. I showed my child to him. He gave me hope for the wounds on her head but did not want to say anything decisive about the eyes: they were surrounded by protruding bits of flesh hanging out as if they were tied by thin strings. He gave me medicines which I used according to his instructions. For the two following months he renewed his prescriptions but was more and more doubtful about their effectiveness. In fact I noticed like everyone that Florina was blind. On the fourth month the physician refused to renew the medicines and he told me that the child would remain blind for ever. He gave me back the 5 shillings of the normal fees. The only recommendation he made was to take the child to the government hospital at Maseru on order to have the bits of flesh removed around the eyes, but without hope for their healing because they were too affected. The doctor’s assistant, Raphael, confirmed to me in no uncertain terms, that I should not hold any hope for the eyes of my daughter.

“Without any further delay I went to see Fr. Pennerath, the priest in charge of my mission. He encouraged me by saying: ‘Since doctors can do nothing more, prayer is left to us and especially to Father Gerard’. He promised to come the following day on his way back from visiting the sick, to bless my child and impose on her a relic. He did that: after examining carefully the sick eyes, he showed a relic, gave it for her to kiss it and put it in the hand of the child while he was praying with a small book, first by himself, then with all the persons who first had gathered, adding other prayers. He ended up with expressing the hope that Father Gerard would manifest his power in heaven. Then he went away, taking the relic along with him.

“I do not know if that relic was from Father Gerard, but I know that my daughter was already carrying, hanging from her neck, a small bag with some earth from his grave given by a Sister of Mercy, and that Father Gerard had been prayed to especially for the healing.

“The following night Florina woke me up to tell me: ‘Mother I am cured!’. I said: ‘How come that you have that idea?’. ‘Someone I do not know was in here a moment ago: he touched my eyes and told me: ‘See! You have been cured!’. Lighting a candle I could not see any change and I told the child to go back to sleep. In the morning when I wanted to take her hand as usual to help her out, she protested that she did not need anyone because she could see perfectly. So I contented myself with following without touching her.

“When she had arrived in the small inner yard, she sat down near a lot of corn spread out on the ground to dry; she took one grain of corn in each of her hand and after closing them she showed me one saying: ‘This grain, what colour is it?’. I answered without thinking ‘White!’. She opened her hand and told me: You were wrong. You see it is red!’ and actually she was right.

“When for the other hand I said ‘red’, she told me while opening it ‘White. You were wrong again’. Truly I could only notice she had been right. The drying corn was actually mixed. Quickly I called her father, who expressed his surprise and his joy. Her eyes had improved tremendously and the bits of flesh hanging out had started to go back inside. The next day they were completely back inside and Florina was perfectly cured.

“Previously her pains were almost unbearable; now they had all gone. The wounds on her head disappeared soon.

“As she was born several ears after the death of the Servant of God, she could not have known him and she had never seen any picture of him. Yet when it was possible to have a photograph, she did not hesitate to say he was for sure the one who had appeared during the night and had told her: ‘U bone’ ‘You see’.

Since then Florina can read fluently, even with one eye blindfolded, whichever it is, and she has never suffered from her eyesight again. I did not delay to show her to Fr. Pennerath and to Sister Mary Regis who had noticed her condition before her healing. Then Fr. Pennerath recommended me to take back to him the following week, in order that she might be seen by the other priests and certify the miracle.”

After many testimonies and evaluations, that cure has been declared ‘instantaneous, lasting and scientifically unexplainable’ by the Vatican medical committee on December 3rd, 1936. Ultimately it is that cure which was officially retained as MIRACLE for the beatification.

Copyright © 2007 OMI Lesotho Province