Day 26: Black History Month: “Jacques-Jules Bonnaud, the First Black Jesuit-Priest in Colonial Saint-Domingue-Haiti”
Father Jacques-Jules Bonnaud was the first Roman Catholic Black priest to be ordained in the priesthood. (the African American Father Augustus Tolton, who was born on April 1, 1854, was the first Roman Catholic priest in the United States; he was ordained in 1886.). Father Bonnaud was born in Cap-Francais/Cap-Haitian on October 27, 1740–only three years before Toussaint Louverture was born in May 20, 1743/Bréda, Cap-Francais– to a French Father and an African mother; hence, he was a mulatto/mixed child.
As it was customary in Saint-Dominguan interracial relationships, at an early age, his parents sent the young Jacques-Jules to study in France. He attended La Flèche, a Jesuit High School, associated with the Compagnie de Jésus. In December 20, 1758–the same year Jean-Jacques Dessalines was born in Africa–, he entered the Jesuit order in Paris (des Jésuites de la Province de Paris) as a young seminarian; he was fifteen years old at the time. At Saint-Firmin de Paris seminary, he studied theology, canon law, and civil law. In 1764, he was ordained as a priest at the Grande Séminaire de l’archidiocèse de Paris in the Jesuit order. In 1777, he published the Tartuffe épistolaire démasqué, a book of 517 pages that addresses ecclesiastical and theological concerns of his times. In 1788, he was appointed as the Vicar General of Lyon, France, by Archbishop Yves Alexandre de Marbeuf. Father Bonaud was known as a fierce defender of the Christian faith, a man of high morals and integrity, and a brilliant and insightful Christian theologian. During the religious persecution in France–the era of the early “dechristianization” of France during the French Revolution, 1789-1791)–, he encouraged Christians to remain steadfast and to be vigilant about their surrounding.
Notably, the Jesuit Order appointed Father Bonnaud as Professor at the Collège de Quimper in Bretagne (Brittany), France’s north-westernmost region. He taught there for two years until the King’s order to close the Compagnie de Jésus in 1762–the same year Britain entered the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) against Spain and Naples. It was also in April in 1762 that Louis XV passed a decree for all black and mixed-race (mulatto) Frenchmen residing in France to register in the local municipal and with the offices of the Admiralty Court. On the government’s form, blacks and mulattoes had to declare their age, full name, religion, and reveal the purpose they were living in France. They were also to inform the government their place of birth and the name of the ship that transported them to France.
On August 10, 1792, Father Bonnaud was arrested and taken to prison at the Carmelites of Paris. During the September 1792 (September 2) massacres associating with the French Revolution, Father Bonneau along with other priests and Christians were massacred in prison by the militant sans-culottes. In the Catholic tradition, September 2 is the designated memorial for Saint and Martyr Bonnaud.
On October 1, 1926, Pope Piux XI venerated (decreed of martyrdom) Father Bonnaud. On October 17, 1926, the eleventh year of the American military occupation in Haiti (1915-1934), Pope Pius XI beatified Father Jacques-Jules Bonnaud, rendering him the first Haitian Catholic Saint. Nonetheless, St. Martin de Porres is the first Black Saint in the Americas.
Father Jacques-Jules Bonnaud, the first Black and Haitian Jesuit, was a victim and martyr of the French Revolution.
***Sources for further Studies
Kawas Francois, “Sources Documenaires de l’Histoire des Jésuites en Haiti auc XVIIIe et XXe Siècles” (2006).
Henri Fouqueray, “Un Groupe de Martyrs de Septembre 1792” (1926)
José Luis Saez, “Un Màrtir Broto del Cabo, Santo Domingo” (1978).