Lebbe, Frederic Vincent

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Priest, promoter of Chinese Catholic journalism, founder of missionary and indigenous religious congregations, advocate of adaptation to Chinese culture and of the establishment of a Chinese hierarchy; b. Ghent, Belgium, Aug. 19, 1877; d. Chongquing, China, June 24, 1940. The eldest son of a Belgian Catholic father and a French-English convert mother, he entered the Congregation of the Missions (the Vincentians) in 1895. Fired by a desire to be a missionary and martyr, he went to Beijing, China, with Msgr. A. favier, Vicar Apostolic, in 1901. He was ordained there the same year.

From the beginning of his missionary work, Lebbe was convinced the missioner should become a Chinese to the Chinese. Hence he lived, spoke, wrote, and dressed as a Chinese. Remarkable success in the country missions brought him to Tianjin, where he strove for widespread conversions by public lectures for intellectuals, by forming associations of Catholic laymen for the propagation of the faith, and by establishing a Catholic press. With the help of Ying Lien-chih, a Catholic layman and former editor of a Chinese newspaper, and some other writers, in 1912 he started the first Catholic weekly in China, Kuang I Lu (Public Benefit Record). Success was immediate, and its rapidly increasing circulation brought it to areas outside of Tianjin. It proved to be an informative and powerful force during the first public elections and in the forging of the Constitution.

Lebbe's next step (1916) was a great journalistic success, a large Catholic daily, I Shih Pao (People's Welfare Daily). Within three months it was the leading newspaper in North China and compared favorably with others in accuracy of news reporting and independence of judgment. Lebbe contributed a daily chat on religion and a column of answers to religious questions. Editions in Beijing and Shanghai soon appeared, and a woman's weekly, a magazine for missionaries, and a children's weekly followed. Lebbe strongly recommended such use of the press in his suggestions to Rome on missionary methods.

Many of Lebbe's ideals seemed vindicated by Benedicts XV's apostolic epistle on missionary methods, Maximum illud (1919), and in 1926, six Chinese priests, recommended by Lebbe, were consecrated bishops. In Europe he established the priests' Society of Auxiliaries of the Missions and the International Women's Auxiliaries; in China, he gave impetus to Chinese monasticism and established the Little Brothers of St. John and the Little Sisters of St. Teresa. He died during the Sino-Japanese War due to harsh treatment by Chinese communists. The Chinese government proclaimed a day of mourning in his honor, and it also published an official decree acknowledging and praising his work.

Bibliography: Recueil des Archives Vincent Lebbe, 5 vols. (Louvain 198286). j. p. leclercq, Vincent Lebbe: Der Apostel des modernen China (Vienna 1965). j. p. wiest, "The Legacy of Vincent Lebbe" International Bulletin of Missionary Research 23 (1999): 3337.

[a. r. o'hara]

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