Bishop Francis Xavier Lacoursière
1885 – 1970
Bishop Francis Xavier Lacoursière‘s
motto was IN GOD I TRUST.
Every morning he used to sing a little song, “Lord, I want to see you,
to love you more and more.”
Bishop Francis Xavier Lacoursière was born on 26th January, 1885 at Batiscan, a big village on the banks of the St. Lawrence, about 20 miles downstream from Trois-Rivières. This charming corner of the province opening on to the big river, the lively and happy family life, the ancestral traditions that the Lacoursières as good Canadians clung to, brightened and shone on the soul of the future missionary. All his life long, he was happy, full of zest, open and broad-minded.
The young Lacoursière studied with the Brothers of St. Gabriel at Batiscan, and at Montreal College. He did his theological studies at Quèbec Seminary. He received the religious habit on 3rd October, 1909 at Maison-Carrèe, and then left for Carthage where he made his oath on 27th June, 1912. He was ordained priest on 29th June, 1913.
In August 1913, shortly after his ordination he received his appointment for Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). But the next day, Father Voillard, the Superior General, who used to put his letters in a pile and, unless it was urgent, answered them starting from the bottom. That day he drew out a letter from Uganda, from Mother Marie du Bon Secours of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (White Sisters), Fr. Lacoursière‘s own sister. She had preceded him by a few years to the missions. Fr. Voillard at once called the young missionary to ask if he would prefer to go to Uganda. That is how Fr. Lacoursière at the end of that same year found himself at Masindi, which by then was a station in the northern extremity of the huge Vicariate of Uganda, being directed by Bishop Streicher.
After six years of apostolic work in Masindi, Fr. Lacoursière was appointed to teach at Kisubi Seminary, and two years later, he was made rector of Nandere Seminary. It is certain that he had no taste for teaching. Since he loved any work necessary for the mission and since he gave himself to the utmost wherever he was, he met with nothing but success. Bishop Lacoursière preserved many a happy memory and lots of funny stories of his time as teacher, and he clearly liked telling them.
Fr. Lacoursière taught in schools for five years, and in 1926 the Vicar Apostolic appointed him to do parish work in Kabale. In 1928, he went back to Canada. There he was made superior of Everell, near Quèbec, where the aspirants of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) began their theology before setting out to continue their studies and training in Algeria and Tunisia. His term as superior ended in 1934, when the Holy See recalled him to Africa to entrust him with the Vicariate Apostolic of Ruwenzori, split off from the huge Vicariate of Uganda. At that moment there were many people to be evangelized, few missionaries, and insufficient funds. Then the bishop turned to God and took as his motto: “In Domino Confido” (In the Lord I trust).
Fr. Lacoursière was consecrated bishop by Cardinal Villeneuve on 25th July, 1934, in the basilica of Quèbec, and celebrated his first pointifical Mass at the national shrine of St. Anne de Beauprè. Time was short, and since his family, relatives, and friends to be visited were numerous but scattered, he did not want to stay too long in Canada.
On 24th December, 1934, the new bishop was back in Uganda. Bishop Lacoursière entered his Vicariate from the northern districts of Bunyoro and Tooro, at night, and celebrated the Christmas vigil at Butiiti station. It would be impossible to keep track of all adventures in the life of the bishop of Ruwenzori, who in all kinds of weather had to travel around a territory spread over 400 miles on the bad roads of the time.
In the most annoying circumstances and difficulties, the bishop completely in control of himself, used to express his disappointment by saying, “that’s not allowed.” When everything went well, he sang with his fine deep voice the folklore songs of his country. He had a good memory for the many verses of these songs, whether happy or sad. The songs were interspersed with rosaries. It is certain that at the end of his life, he could have taken for his own the words of Field-Marshal Foch: “I don’t recall except once or twice having missed my rosary, even on the days of the big battles.” Like Cardinal Lavigerie, he reckoned he had never succeeded in doing anything except through the Blessed Virgin Mary. At any rate, he used to recite more than one rosary on the same trip. And then, if he had a companion, the songs and rosaries were interspersed with conversations always studded with captivating stories.
Bishop Lacoursière always prayed and sought advice before making major decisions. Even after years as a bishop, he didn’t hesitate to ask advice even of the youngest missionaries. Many times he went to Ibanda and then to Bwanda, where the ever clear-minded Bishop Streicher was living in retirement, in order to consult him on various questions.
In 1937 Bishop Lacoursière founded the congregation of the Daughters of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus to assist in spreading the mission of evangelization, guided by the spirit of St. Theresa of Lisieux; the spirit of spiritual childhood. The bishop’s aim was to teach religion to all people in the area where the congregation was founded and beyond.
In addition to evangelical work, Bishop Lacoursière put schools as one of the priorities to be realized. He had called into the Vicariate the Sisters of Notre Dame du Bon Consiel of Chicoutimi, to support in the field of teaching, the White Sisters, and the Brothers of Christian Instruction already at work for a long time in the same area.
Bishop Lacoursière was an optimist all his life. One day, a missionary, knocking at the bishop’s door, thought he had been told to come in, he opened the door unexpectedly, only to find his bishop in tears on his knees. But he kept his worries to himself. He didn’t ask his missionaries to bear them. If he informed them about the dilemmas facing the Vacariate from the point of view of personnel, evangelization, finance and so on, he did not overwhelm them with these points.
The bishop always kept the door open to hope. He encouraged, spurred on, but never hurt or humiliated anyone. He could ask for any sacrifice, since he practiced what he preached. He was one of those rare individuals who never spared himself day or night, but did not demand that others do likewise. He had a good heart, which never knew any bitterness. For each and everyone, Bishop Lacoursière was a father. You could come to him angry, bitter, but you went away serene, and usually with a gift. He put his car at the disposal of his priests so that they could do their work without trouble. His generosity was boundless. One of the big problems that Bishop Lacoursière had to face was that of finding the necessary funds. As long as his father was alive, he often appealed for his help, “to save the family honour” as he put it. But the paternal wallet was not inexhaustible.
To save money and personnel, Bishop Lacoursière never wanted to have a full time secretary, except during the last months of his administration. Many times he went to bed late drafting letters and keeping up-to-date with his voluminous correspondence. In spite of everything, the bishop was always open-hearted and he liked community life. When he was expected at a church station, his visit was a comfort and relaxation. Amid serious matters, he knew how to fit in a good game of bridge, a playful conversation, or the story of one of his many adventures, into any free moments.
Under the direction and impulse of Bishop Lacoursière, the Vicariate of Ruwenzori developed rapidly. All the stations were overwhelmed with work. Even small parishes had up to one thousand adult baptisms a year. In 1953, the ecclesiastical hierarchy was set up in Uganda, and the Vicariate of Ruwenzori became the diocese of Mbarara. Bishop Lacoursière remained in charge until 1955. Then, worn out, he sent in his resignation to the Holy Father, and went to Canada for cancer treatment. After two years of medical care and some rest, the bishop was back in Uganda, to found a new mission station of Kagamba. The bishop was very happy at finishing the Church at Kagamba in time before going to assist at the White Fathers’ Council. When he came back to Uganda, he stayed at the neighbouring station of Lwera, where he could be of service by doing the daily work of the station. Yet Lwera did not have the conveniences he had given to Kagamba.
A great consolation for Bishop Lacoursière in the last years of his life was to see the diocese of Mbarara split up in rapid stages, into four dioceses (Hoima, Fort-Portal, Kabale, Mbarara), each headed by an African bishop, except Fort-Portal, where the African bishop was auxiliary.
After having lived as a man of steadfast faith and inexhaustible charity, Bishop Lacoursière left peacefully for eternity. He who had so often taken care of others needed no care for himself. He who prayed so much died while praying. On Sunday, 15th March, 1970, he had got up early as always, beaten the drum to awaken the others. Then he had gone to church to pray. Back in his room, he prepared for the 8 o’clock Mass that he was to say. As he was late, a priest went to his room and found him sunk deep in him armchair, a prayer book on his knees. The little song he used to sing every morning: “Lord, I want to see you, to love you more and more,” was realized in a wonderful way. He began his last morning like so many others by rendering serving, and died shortly afterwards as he had foreseen: “One find morning you are not there anymore.” He died at the age of 85; and was buried at Nyamitanga, Mbarara diocese, Uganda.
Bishop Lacoursière was a living image of Christ, a man for God and for others, who gave and forgave always, and started again each time with an invincible faith and hope. His love for the Church, his humility, his sense of obedience, his fidelity, and his charity towards everyone remain as a call to always do better.