The history of the Province of Central Africa goes back to the time of St Ignatius of Loyola. In 1548, he sent four Jesuits to open a college in the Kingdom of Congo.
In 1624, a Portuguese Jesuit named Mateus Cardoso published a catechism in Kikongo. These first attempts came to an end with the expulsion of the Jesuits from all Portuguese territories in 1759.
In 1893, Belgian Jesuits established themselves at Kimwenza and Kisantu. Eight years later, they started another mission at Wombali, just before the creation of the Apostolic Prefecture of Kwango in 1903. The apostolic prefecture was later subdivided into the vicariates apostolic of Kisantu and Kwango.
By 1931, there were 60000 Christians in the region, with 91 Jesuits at their service. The Jesuits ran 23 primary schools, 8 catechetical schools, one nursing school, one agricultural school, Lemfu and Kinzambi Minor Seminary and Mayidi Major Seminary.
In 1937, the first three native priests from Kwango were ordained.
Two colleges were opened in Leopoldville (Kinshasa) in 1937 and in Costermansville (Bukavu) in 1958 for the education of European children. Two other colleges were later opened in Kiniati and in Mbansa-Mboma Kiniati in 1946 for the education of African children.
An interracial college was also opened in Bujumbura (Burundi) in 1954. This evolved into the University of Burundi in 1960. In 1967, the college of Ndjili was opened.
The growing interest by African youth to join religious life led to the opening of a noviciate in Djuma (Kwilu) in 1948. For similar reasons, in 1954, St Peter Canisius Institute was established for the philosophical formation of Jesuits. The Society also took responsibility for the founding of Lovanium University in Kinshasa. In 1966, the novitiate was moved to Cyangugu, Rwanda.
These obvious developments led to the creation of the Vice-Province of Central Africa in 1957. It had about 300 members at that time. Outside the Society, a reorganisation of the vicariates apostolic of Kwango and Kisantu led to the creation of the Diocese of Popokabaka in 1959, which was entrusted to the Jesuits. Moreover, several Jesuit works were initiated throughout the region. A retreat centre was started at Kimwenza and a residence opened in Lubumbashi in 1959.
In 1965, another residence was opened in Kinshasa and became a centre for social action (CEPAS). A second spiritual centre was opened in Kikwit in 1967, and a third one named Centre Christus started in Kigali, Rwanda, in 1972.
In 1974 the College of Gisenyi, Rwanda, was opened. In the same year, a fourth spiritual centre was opened at Kiriri, Burundi. The Jesuits took charge of Gbado-Lite College, in Zaïre. The journal Telema was first published in 1975 and, in the following year, the Jesuits took up university chaplaincy work in Kisangani.
The Vice-Province became the Province of Central Africa in 1961, which, until 1994, covered the then Zaïre, Rwanda and Burundi.
Since 2010, the province covers today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, with a 379-strong membership. It has one noviciate, one philosophy college, one agro-veterinary school, one hospital, one centre for street children, six spirituality centres, eight secondary schools, 27 Jesuit communities and 13 parishes.
The Jesuits in Congo also minister to refugees and to people living with HIV/AIDS, among other ministries.
By Jean Luc Enyegue, SJ
Source: JHIA diary