Joseph Gerard was born in 1831 in Bouxieres-aux-Chenes in the Diocese of Nancy, France. He joined the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate at the age of 20 and at the age of 22 was sent by St Eugene de Mazenod as a missionary to Southern Africa, never to see his family or homeland again. He was ordained a priest in 1854 in Pietermaritzburg and at first served the Oblate mission to the Zulu people, later joining Bishop Allard, the Bishop of Natal, in setting up the first Catholic mission in Lesotho. With the permission of the great Chief Moshoeshoe they founded Motse-oa-Ma-Jesu (the Village of the Mother of Jesus) thirty two kilometres south of Moshoeshoe's stronghold of Thaba Bosiu. (The village which they founded later became Roma, site of the Catholic University College and now the University of Lesotho.)
Joseph Gerard was well respected by Chief Moshoeshoe, particulaly because he remained with the Basotho during the three wars between the Basotho and the Orange Free State. It is said that it was through Joseph Gerard's efforts that Chief Moshoeshoe sought the protection of the British at the end of the wars, a decision which resulted in Lesotho becoming a British Protectorate and an Independent country today.
Joseph Gerard's mission grew slowly and by the end of 1879, when he was already 48 years of age, there were only 700 Catholics in Lesotho. He persevered, however in prayer, faith and work, remaining in Lesotho as a missionary for the rest of his life.
Early beginnings at the
Village of the Mother Of Jesus
The Oblate mission to the Basotho grew and flourished. He died on 29th May 1914 at the age of 83, a man greatly revered by the people of Lesotho. The fact that Lesotho is very largely a Catholic country today can be traced back to those early beginnings at the Village of the Mother of Jesus.
Father Joseph Gerard was beatified (an important step towards being declared a "saint" of the Church) by Pope John-Paul II in Maseru, Lesotho, in 1988.
His feast day is celebrated on 29th May each year