He loved reading the lives of the saints to his students, and they stayed after class to hear the stories
Madagascar is a vast island nation located off the east-central coast of Africa. It was here that Lucien Botovasoa was born in the year 1908; the exact day is unknown. He was the oldest of nine brothers and sisters. Besides that, not much more is known about his early childhood.
Lucien began his schooling at the local public school when he was 10 years old. Four years later, he was baptized and received his First Holy Communion. Soon after he was able to transfer to the newly opened “Priests School” at the Jesuit College of St. Joseph. He remained here until 1928 when he completed his schooling. He was awarded a teaching certification and became an instructor.
One of Lucien’s favorite things to do was read about the lives of saints. He would always be willing to stay after class and read about the saints to any students who wanted to hear the stories. Many did stay, and great discussions about the faith and the saints took place with Lucien guiding the students along.
Lucien had a natural gift for teaching and became highly admired by his peers. On October 30, 1930, he married Suzanna Soazana. Soon after his marriage, a nun asked him if he had regretted getting married since he would have made a wonderful priest. Lucien immediately told her that he did “not have the slightest regret at all.”
He went on to explain that he was serving God through his vocation as a married man through the example he set as a husband while living among the people. Lucien and Suzanna would eventually have five children together.
Lucien became a member of the Crusaders of the Heart of Jesus in August of 1935. He learned to speak Chinese, German, and French and was a musician who had a great singing voice. He also directed the parish choir. In 1940 he joined the Secular Franciscans. He had found his spiritual home and immediately went about spreading devotion to St. Francis of Assisi.
He avoided wearing the traditional black slacks that teachers and religious wore. He dressed in the khaki colored clothes that Third Order Lay Seculars wore. He was proud of being part of the Secular Franciscans and wanted everyone to know he was a layperson. His devotion to his family, his students, and most of all, his beloved Catholic faith was visible to all who knew him.
Political unrest began to explode in 1946. The protests and violence that spread soon became known as the Malagasy Uprising. The Malagasy people were native to Madagascar, and their local rulers began to lead their people in revolt against French colonial rule. Quickly, Catholics became viewed as French loyalists, and officials throughout the country began turning against them. Their immediate targets were those who were among the religious.
By 1947, Lucien was keenly aware of the political situation and its impending dangers. He told his wife and children, “Whatever happens, do not EVER separate yourself from God. I am not afraid of death. and I will find bliss in heaven.”
By Easter, no nuns or priests could be found in the city. The authorities had rounded them all up and taken them away, executing them all. Then Lucien got word that the anti-Christian forces would be coming for him. The date was April 14, 1947. Lucien refused to hide and spent the day with his family.
At 9 pm four militia men came for him. He was brought before the local chieftain for trial and judgment. He asked the chief if they could talk before he pronounced sentence. They spoke for more than a half hour. Then Lucien was led off to be executed.
Lucien Botovasoa was taken to the nearby river bank. Sadly, his executioners were all former students. Lucien forgave them all and then was beheaded. They tossed his remains into the rushing river. Incredibly, not long after, the man who had judged him and passed sentence on him converted to Christianity.
Pope Francis declared that Lucien had died “in odium fidei” and he was beatified by Cardinal Maurice Piat on April 15, 2018, in the town of Vohipeno, Madagascar. Blessed Lucien is counted among the patrons of married couples, fathers, and teachers.
Blessed Lucien Botovasova, please pray for us.