Javouhey To Africa

Dan Graves, MSL

Javouhey To Africa

At thirteen Anne Marie "Nanette" Javouhey rescued priests from French revolutionaries. She hid them and helped them escape across the River Saone. She organized secret worship services. When the revolutionaries set the local chapel on fire, it was she who ran in and rescued the holy vessels.

Her father, afraid of losing her to the church, tried to marry her off. She talked her prospective bridegroom into becoming a Trappist monk. Her own determination to become a nun was from childhood. While praying, she had heard a voice within her saying, "Thou wilt belong to Me. Thou wilt be consecrated to Me. Thou wilt serve the poor and care for the orphans." In the end she convinced her three sisters and two brothers to take holy orders also. But her own life was to blossom into far more.

During the revolutionary years, she educated the local children. Later she founded the Religious Society of St. Joseph. Its nuns wore a habit designed to mimic a grape-pickers' dress. Her special interest was to teach black children. In her mind a missionary vision was developing. She longed to reach Africa for Christ. She felt assured the Lord would open doors in his time.

As always, where he has a willing heart, the Lord did. The governor of Reunion Island asked for help educating the native populace. Nanette was summoned. Soon four of her society sailed to the island.

France then owned Senegal. Mother Javouhey began her African work there. A born problem-solver, she broke through every administrative barrier to bring faith to the Senegalese. She renovated the hospital, treated all in need, black or white, as absolute equals, trained native clergy to spread the gospel to their own people, and started her own agricultural communities. She even founded a seminary in France where blacks could be trained.

She was an indefatigable traveler on behalf of the various mission works she started. Altogether she traveled over 75,000 miles by land and sea. Her success led the English to plead for her help in Sierra Leone. But her greatest work was in French Giana, South America.

The French government asked her to establish a foundation for the desperate inhabitants. She never hesitated although conditions were deplorable. Where governments had failed, she succeeded. On this day June 26, 1828, Mother Javouhey sailed with 100 people to bring civilization to the outcast colony, which also included Devil's Island. Her experiment brought a measure of prosperity to the region. She was especially notable for imparting faith and education to ex-slaves. Asked how she managed to subdue the tough characters she dealt with, she replied, "I just acted like a mother among her children."


  1. Butler, Alban. Lives of the Saints. Various editions.
  2. Daniel - Rops, Henri. The Heroes of God. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1965.
  3. Kittler, Glenn D. The Woman God Loved. Garden City, New York: Hanover House, 1959.
  4. Madec, Aotrou. Leanez santel anna-mari Javouhey hag urz sant Joseph a Cluny. Moullerez ar C'haourrier du Finistere, 1920. Source of the image.
  5. Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions. Great Britain: Pelican, 1964.
  6. Rudge, F. M. "Javouhey, Venerable Anne - Marie." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.

Last updated April, 2007.

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