Monseigneur Étienne-Benoît Larue: The Founder of Child Jesus Sisters.


ChilongaBy Douglas Ogato, M.Afr

Recently, in the wee morning hours, I passed by the convent of the Child Jesus Sisters in Chilonga for a short visit. No sooner had I arrived, the Sisters welcomed me into their house for breakfast. I spotted a portrait of a man hanging on the wall. He was wearing a gandoura and a rosary around his neck. From a distance I could see that he was a White man with a long beard. I saw a name scribbled on the base of the portrait: Monseigneur Etienne Larue. Below were the following words: Our Founder. I asked the sisters: “Who is he?” In unison they responded: “He is our founder.”

Étienne-Benoît LarueAccording to her narration, the seed of the Congregation of Child Jesus Sisters was born when a White Fathers was preaching in Ipusukilo, Kitwe. A girl came to see him after Mass to share her wish to become a priest like him. The story came to the ears of Monseigneur Etienne Larue who heard a similar story from another girl. It became crystal clear to him that the Spirit was at work. God was calling these girls to religious life. So, he saw an urgent need of founding a local religious congregation of Sisters that will be admitting Zambian girls wanting to devote their lives in serving the Lord. This is how the congregation of Child Jesus Sisters came into existence.

Monseigneur Larue requested the White Sisters to help in admitting the first group of girls into the novitiate and to assist in forming and training them. By doing so, Monseigneur Larue applied a similar method to that of Cardinal Lavigerie when he asked the Jesuits to help in forming and training the first group of candidates he had just recruited for his missionary Society he had founded.

As I ardently listened to the Sister narrating their foundation story, my heart throbbed with nods. The Bemba people rightly say: Umwana uushenda atasha nyina ukunaya (a child who does not travel or visit other places praises her mother for her wonderful cooking). Initially, I had thought that the Child Jesus Sisters had been founded by the White Sisters. My stop over at their convent in Chilonga educated me about their foundation. Had I not stopped over, I was going to remain in ignorance about this rich and important moment of evangelisation in Zambia. Indeed, this is some of the history that we need to cherish and celebrate as we are commemorating 125 years of evangelization in Zambia. May the Spirit of Monseigneur Etienne Larue continue engulfing his daughters so that they may continue serving the Lord in truth and charity!

Bishop Étienne-Benoît Larue, M.Afr

5 thoughts on “Monseigneur Étienne-Benoît Larue: The Founder of Child Jesus Sisters.

  1. Rodgers Mulenga

    Wonderful history. I think if I remember well that it should be Ipusukilo in Luwingu district, not in kitwe where the young woman asked the question.

  2. Pierre Lafollie, M.Afr

    Ogato was given a very simplified version of the foundation of the SCJs. But he is right. There is a story which deserves to be better known. In fact, it all started with catechumens. They were following their last month of instruction and retreat in Mulobola (which was not yet a parish) when two or three girls came to the priest leading the session and said that they wanted to become priests.
    He had the good sense not to tell them they were wrong, that girls could not become priests – and this in the 1920s, I think. Instead, he said he would transmit their request to the Bishop. He did and the Bishop did not dismiss the thing as nonsense either but said he would think about it. As he was taking his time, a month later, he got words from Kapatu where another girl had made the same request. That really started him thinking and it became urgent when another two girls made the same request in Kayambi. At that moment, he realised that the Holy Spirit was trying to tell him something and he started looking for what he could do.
    I think there is some information in the book entitle ‘Evêque – Roi des Brigands’. Antoon Oostveen certainly knows much more about it. Of course, it raised, and still raises, questions that are not welcome by the Curia. But one factor to be kept in mind is the matrilineal character of Bemba society which made women the leaders of the domestic cult; it was their ancestors, not their husband’s that were prayed to. Encourage Ogato or whoever to dig more about the matter – obviously elder Sisters would know much more too. Happy Easter, Pierre.

    1. Douglas Ogato, M.Afr

      This is fascinating. Am grateful for Pierre’s response. Very encouraging indeed. I will dig more about this rich history. Pass my words of appreciation to him and thanks for clarifying more. It will help me in digging more. Ogato

  3. In my English family, it was I who entered the MAfr Seminary but my cousin Margaret who became an Anglican priest … but we Catholics also have much to thank the sisters for, in Europe as well as in Africa. So often their foundation is a story like this, beginning in the hearts of the founding mothers. Maurice Billingsley.

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