FR. AUGUSTINE PLANQUE, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF OUR LADY OF APOSTLES
1826 – 1907
Augustine Planque, a Frenchman by birth, grew up in a hard-working, thrifty, catholic family in the north of France. As a child he went to live with his aunt Poupard who had a profound influence on him as it was she who taught him how to pray and meditate. Later he felt called to study for the priesthood and he was ordained in 1850. The young Fr Planque soon recognised that he was being called to leave his family and country and venture out to a mission in distant lands, an undertaking which nothing in his life had prepared him. An opportunity presented itself when he read that Monsignor de Marion Bresillac was appealing for volunteers to join him in his new venture to found the Society of African Missions.
Augustine longed to go to Africa, but the Founder, Monsignor de Marion Bresillac, insisted he stay at home while he and a few others went to Sierra Leone. However, this small group of first missionaries caught yellow fever and died and so it was Augustine who then had to assume the leadership of the Society. In assuming charge of the Society, he brought to it true leadership qualities, a sound judgment, a gift for analysing and foreseeing situations – enabling him to plan future routes, and a capacity to serve. In particular, he brought his deeply rooted faith which kept him humble and simple, free from all deception. Fr. Planque’s strongest opposition to the civil powers of the time was in his fight against slavery and he was instrumental in liberating a large number of people and in saving their lives.
Later, the missionaries in Africa saw the urgent need to have women religious to help with the education and evangelisation of women and children. After several attempts to invite Sisters from Congregations with missions in Africa to join him, Augustine resolved to found the Congregation of Our Lady of Apostles (OLA). As early as 1877 the first Sisters arrived in Lagos (Nigeria), the following year they came to the Republic of Benin and to Egypt in 1881. Wherever the Sisters went, they responded to the most pressing needs, usually by setting up schools, clinics and hospitals. Visits to villages, to homes and to prisons were also a very important aspect of the mission. By degrees the Congregation spread to Ghana, Ivory Coast, North Africa, Algeria and Tunisia, and to Lebanon. Today OLA Sisters are found in twelve countries in Africa as well as in Argentina, where they respond to the emerging needs of our complex world – a world where there is violence and unjust structures leading to poverty, trafficking of women and children, HIV and AIDS, street children and where they promote peace with justice through interreligious dialogue.
Augustine was a man of deep faith comparable to that of Abraham who left all and went into exile. His faith was that of the Apostles rooted in Christ. His focus was “Mission, always Mission”. He constantly encouraged the Sisters to “know and love God in order to make God known and loved!” For him there was only one mission – Christ’s.
Sr. Gabrielle Farrell
52 Elm Park ,Claremorris, Co Mayo