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le Roy, Alexander


Alexander Le Roy was born (1854) of humble means in Normandy, a farmer's son. An unusually gifted student, he planned to be a parish priest but transferred to the Spiritans, the missionary Congregation of the Holy Ghost (1874), his heart set on Africa. Suddenly, before ordination (1876), his health failed, perhaps explaining his subsequent appointment not to the rigors of Africa but to the classroom: to Réunion in the Indian Ocean (1877), to central France (1878), and to Pondicherry, India (1880). Improved health and a change of Congregational leadership brought a new appointment, and he finally arrived in Bagamoyo, East Africa (1881), bursting with energy and about to develop prodigiously wide-ranging interests.

He doubly liberated African slaves: once freed, they continued the habit of dependency, so he made them responsible for their own farms and livelihood, thus promoting their self-respect. He also traveled widely, making, in his words, "numerous journeys with more or less prolonged sojourns from Somaliland to Mozambique from Kilimanjaro [climbing above 16,500 feet] to the Maasai plains." He was constantly and avidly accumulating information, writing, criticizing the colonial régime, and becoming persona non grata for his pains.

Effectively expelled by the German authorities, he returned to Paris (1892), and was appointed vicar apostolic of the two Guineas (stretching from Sénégal in West Africa to the Cape of Good Hope). Within three years and with formidable administrative skillshe reorganized the vicariate, only to be elected superior general (1896). For three decades, Le Roy would lead the Spiritans. He had already championed the formation of catechists in his vicariate. His unpublished study The Catechists in the Missions urged lay catechists both to spread the Gospel in a predominantly Islamic society and create Christian communities; and he deemed premature the huge effort to train a native clergy. He also founded the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Ghost (1921) to work across French and Portuguese Africa. As the first superior general with African experience he would leave a distinctively African stamp on the congregation, whose numbers doubled to over 2000 during his tenure.

His encouragement inspired both scholarship and missionary zeal, and he left a rich scholarly legacy. In his fifties he became the first incumbent of the Chair of the History of Religions at the Institut Catholique de Paris (his inaugural lectures becoming his sympathetic and still-in-print textbook The Religion of the Primitives ). His bibliography fills ten pages and includes exploration, geography, cartography, ethnology, ethnography, biography and autobiography, including: Le T.R.P Frédéric Le Vavasseur (Paris, n.d); v. 5 of Piolet, J. (editor), Les Missions Catholiques Françaises au XIX siècle ; "Le rôle scientifique des missionaires" Anthropos 1 (1906) 310; The Religion of the Primitives (New York, 1969); Au Kilema-Ndjaro, 4th Edition (Paris 1928) and Directoire Général des Missions (Paris 1930). Failing health precipitated his resignation (1926), yet Le Roy recovered and enjoyed twelve more years of life. The sickly twenty-year-old survived to be an octogenarian, dying in Paris (1938), aged 84.

Bibliography: e. baur and a. le roy, Voyage dans L'Oudoé, L'Ouzigoua et L'Ousogara (Tours 1899). h. koren, The Spiritans: A History of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost (Pittsburgh 1958).

[a. j. gittins]

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