Saint Justin de Jacobis

Of the many sons of Vincent de Paul who have been exemplary in their vocation and evangelizers of the poor, some have been put forward for us to admire and take as a role model. Justin de Jacobis – the great apostle of the Abyssinian people (known today as the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia) is one of these.

1800, 9 October Born near Naples, Italy
1818, 17 October Entered the Seminary of the Congregation of Mission (CM)
1824, 12 June Ordained priest
1839, 24 May Responsibility for the mission in Abyssinia and surrounding territories
1860, 31 July Died
1939, 25 June Beatified by Pope Pius XII
1975, 26 October Canonized by Pope Paul VI
30 July Feast day

Justin was born in San Fele near Naples October 9, 1800. He was the seventh child of Maria Josefa and Jean Baptist de Jacobis, a family of many resources and a deep Christian faith.

Justin entered in the Congregation of Mission in 1818 in Naples. His great humility made him think that he did not possess the necessary qualities for the priesthood, but his superiors did and he was ordained a priest June 12, 1824 at the Cathedral in Brindisi. During his first years in the priesthood, his principal work was giving retreats to the laity and other priests and sisters as well as parish missions. He also organized various charitable activities to assist the poor.

He accomplished any task requested of him in a very humble manner and obediently accepted to serve in an office or responsibility within the Congregation of Mission. During the severe cholera epidemic that devastated Naples beginning at the end of 1836, he worked non-stop to help the sick, even to the point of risking his own life.

In 1838 Cardinal Philippe Franzoni, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, visited the Provincial House of the Lazarists in Naples. He talked to the Superior, Father Justin de Jacobis, about the needs in Abyssinia and the desire of beginning a Mission there. With the agreement of his Superiors Father Justin de Jacobis would accept this call for mission. The mandate for the establishment of a Mission was given to the Congregation of Mission on May 24, 1839 and Father Justin de Jacobis was sent to Abyssinia as the Apostolic Prefect for this region.

Justin de Jacobis allowed himself to be guided by the hand of Providence in evangelizing others. He was well rooted in the spirit of the Congregation of Mission. Especially he shined with humility, gentleness, zeal and endurance in the time of sufferings and misunderstandings.

The Lord gave Justin a rich insight into the country’s culture and traditions. He learned the language, lived with the people and worked to improve good relations on the local level.

He was a man ahead of his time in regards to enculturation, in announcing the Gospel; he used the traditions and culture of the people. He was also a great precursor of ecumenical dialogue between Coptic Christians and Catholics.

For twenty years Father Justin de Jacobis give himself to the service of the Gospel, he was an excellent mentor and formator of priests. After much suffering he has the merit of having newly restored the Catholic Church in Abyssinia.

After many persecutions he died of a tropical fever on the side of a road near Halai in the valley of Alighede on July 31, 1860.