Apostle of Mauritius
Jacob Desiré Laval
Son of a prosperous farmer, Jacques grew up in a pious household with examples set by his mother and an uncle who was a priest. Jacques' mother died when the boy was seven years old. Intially torn between the priesthood and medicine, Jacques was educated at local schools, Evraux, and Stanlislaus College in Paris, and received his medical degree in 1830. Established his medical practice in Saint André and Saint Ivry-la-Bataille in his native Normandy, and became more worldly, ignoring spiritual things.
However, a near fatal fall from a horse led him to re-examine his life. A few months later he closed his practice and entered the seminary of Saint Sulpice. Ordained four years later in 1838. Parish priest in Normandy for two years. But Jacques felt a call to more active ministry, and he finally gave all his possessions to the Society of the Holy Heart of Mary (which later became the Congregation of the Holy Spirit and Immacuate Heart of Mary), and was sent as a missionary in Mauritius on 14 September 1841; he never saw France again.
Slavery had only recently been outlawed in Mauritius, and many of Jacques' potential parishioners were freed slaves, poor, uneducated, often unemployed, and always treated as second class citizens. Jacques lived with them, learned their language, fasted when supplies were short, slept in a packing crate, used his medical training to heal them, and explained that to God there were no unimportant people, that no one was second class. Instituted reforms in agriculture, sanitation, medicine, science, and teacher education. He placed responsibilities the people, checked their performance, and as so often happens, the people rose to the occassion. The faith spread throughout the region, and Jacques is believed to have made 67,000 converts in his parish.
Knew, respected, worked with, and received help from leaders of local Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus on the island. There were 40,000 mourners of all faiths at his funeral. The date of his death has become a national holiday in Mauritius with an average of 100,000 Christians, Animists, Buddhists, Shintoists, Hindus and Muslims making pilgrimage to his tomb that day.
18 September 1803 in Croth, Normandy, France
9 September 1864 in Port Louis, Mauritius of natural causes
buried at the Church of Saint Croix, Port Louis, Mauritius
his tomb receives about 8,000 pilgims a week, and is known as a site of miracles