History of SMA
On December 8, 1856 in Lyons, France, a small group of priests went to the Basilica of Our Lady of Fourviere led by Bishop Melchior Marion de Bresillac and established Societas Missionum Ad Afros (SMA) also known as Society of African Missions. In October 1858, Bishop Melchior Marion de Bresillac sent his first three (3) missionaries to Sierra Leone, a small country on the west African Coast. On May 14, 1859, Bishop Melchior Marion de Bresillac with two (2) other priests joined the first missionaries in Sierra Leone. During this time, in Sierra Leone there was a yellow fever epidemic. Within six (6) weeks, five (5) of the missionaries died due to yellow fever among them was Bishop Melchior Marion de Bresillac. Only one (1) priest survived and he was sent back to Europe.
The Society of African Missions seemed condemned to disappear. The Society had only two (2) priests and two (2) seminarians under the care of Father Augustin Planque. Fr. Planque believed the dreams of the Bishop Bresillac, grasped the torch left by Bishop Bresillac and spent his life to find missionary vocations, train candidates, look for financial help and organize missions in Africa. Hence, the Society works continues until the present.
Along with the existence of SMA, SMA missionaries marked the history of Christianity in the area they worked. Fr Francesco Borghero, an Italian priest, evangelized the south of the kingdom of Dahomey ( modern day Benin Republic and south-west Nigeria). Fr. Francis Aupiais, from France, uncovered the cultural and religious riches of Dahomean art for the French and Belgians. Bishop William Porter, from England, organized the development of the church in Ghana, notably developing schools, colleges and seminaries. In Egypt, Fr. Jacob Muijser, a Dutchman, was universally recognized specialist of the Coptic Language and liturgy. In the north of Ivory Coast, Brother Joseph Zielifski from Poland, spent his entire life building churches, chapels, schools and clinics. In Nigeria, an Irishman, Bishop P.J. Kelly, became a renowned figure in the spread of the Good News in Nigeria Delta. Fr. Kevin Carroll, an Englishman of Irish extraction, encouraged the Yoruba artists to express their faith through original works.
The obstacles, sicknesses and the large number of young dying never discourage those who wanted to show their faith in the Risen Christ. From 1907, the different Superior General who followed Fr. Planque continued his work of seeking laborers for the harvest, and the SMA became implanted little by little in different countries of Europe, North America, Asia and India.
Superiors of SMA in 1956, 100 years after the founding of SMA in Lyons France in 1856