Conference Agenda

2E: Twentieth Century Missionary Health Care
Wednesday, 08/Sept/2021:
10:45am - 12:00pm

Session Chair: Prof. Frank Huisman, UMC Utrecht. The Netherlands


On Kimbanguist ‘plagues’: Catholic missionaries’ medical-humanitarian conceptions and the ‘church-state alliance’ in interwar colonial Congo

Schalbroeck, Eva Renate M

Utrecht University, Netherlands, The

In 1921, the ‘Black Prophet’, Simon Kimbangu, began to heal people in the Belgian Congo. Followers destroyed traditional healing fetiches and spoke of ‘Blacks becoming Whites’. The Catholic Church and the colonial state condemned and repressed this ‘plague’. This is generally seen as a straightforward example of the ‘church-state alliance’, based on a clear division between the political and the religious.

This paper questions this by examining Catholic missionaries’ medical-humanitarian arguments regarding Kimbanguism when interacting with administrators or commenting on state policy and interventions. It focuses on which aspects of health care, Kimbanguism, and ‘native welfare’ they considered political and religious, which responsibilities they ascribed to the state and which to missionaries. This is connected to missionaries’ conceptions of African society, sense of identity, practice, and divisions between the body and the soul, the emotional and the rational. This paper posits Kimbanguism and health care as a domain in which missionaries reflected on where the boundary between the political and the religious was and examines how they used medical-humanitarian language to shift it.

This paper argues for seeing medical metaphors as more than just ‘tools’ to discredit Kimbanguism. Doing so, it does not uncover minor conflicts, exceptions ‘proving’ the ‘rule’ of the ‘church-state alliance’. Rather, pointing to the role of medical-humanitarian language in shaping interactions between missionaries and state representatives, it argues for an essentially malleable relationship. More generally, it cautions against merely refining ‘big notions’ such as secularisation. It calls for creating more dynamic case study based analytical frameworks.

European Christian Medical Missions in Decolonization

Bruchhausen, Walter

Global Health, University of Bonn, Germany

Whereas the role of Christian medical missions in the preparation, establishment and stabilization of colonial rule has been researched extensively much less is known on their roles and attitudes during the decolonization of Africa and Asia in the 1950s and 1960s.

The fate of Christian health facilities and staff in (former) colonies was highly diverse. Those from neutral states like Switzerland could largely continue without major interruptions, those with national ties to the colonial power often experienced difficulties. In some African countries, churches and mission societies run the majority of hospitals whereas India tried to reduce foreign influence for different reasons. Some doctors and nurses returned to their home countries, others saw new opportunities and wanted to support the young states or found an escape from unemployment and other unsatisfactory circumstances in Europe. Some traditional Christian health issues like leprosy experienced a revival, others like mother and child health became domains of governments. Denominational differences partly determined decisions on nationalization, the beginnings of so-called European development aid broadened the financial basis of some major churches for health care activities.

Based on extensive work in Tanzanian, East and West German and British archives, with research literature on Swiss, German and British mission hospitals in Africa and Asia and on missionary publications the paper attempts an overview on the developments and gives some examples on medical missionaries’ ambiguous attitudes towards changing health policies, national independence and European influence as well as advocacy for those who were regarded as less privileged in health.

The Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood and a system of Franciscan transnational healthcare: Ireland and Singapore, 1942-1970.

Casey, Brian

Durham University, United Kingdom

Reflecting upon her early life working in a home for unmarried mothers in Highbury, London, Sister Catherine Whelan fmdm recalled the challenges the community faced in offered a dignified existence to the women and children under their care. The dignity of all human life wherever they are present is central to the charism of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood. Following her election as Congregational Leader, Mother Francis Spring set out to improve the physical surroundings of the healthcare system that the Congregation was building. She commenced with energetic fastidiousness and determination to construct a transnational network of healthcare where the Franciscan tradition remained centred.

Sisters were formed in this tradition and spirituality to ensure that they were robustly prepared and trained to work wherever their presence was needed. The desire to build hospitals to best international standards that also reflected modern Catholic medical ethics was at the core of the FMDM charism. This was manifested in the construction of nursing schools in both Ireland and Singapore to train sisters in such practice, as well as lay nurses and the centralisation of this training helped them to infuse their spirituality in all aspects of their medical work.

This paper explores the efforts of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood to establish a presence in Ireland and Singapore and their negotiations with government, local clergy, medical professions and communities to ensure best practice in all aspects of medical and spiritual well-being remained central.