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Br. Henri Vergès - A life itinerary


Cardinal Duval’s words (12/05/1994)


Henri was born on 15 July 1930 at Matemale (Eastern Pyrenees), a small Capcir village on the high Aude valley, at 1500 metres of altitude.

He was the first of six children of Joseph Vergès and Mathilde Bournet, modest peasants. His father was elected the mayor of his village. His mother, already busy in her home found time to help the neighbouring poor. From his human roots, he learned the meaning of work, of simple work, honesty, endurance and sharing.



At twelve, he left his family to start his training in the Marist life. His first years were spent at Espira de l’Agly, near Perpignan; then he moved to Saint Paul Trois Châteaux. He made his first religious profession in 1946. He spent one year to prepare himself for the elementary teaching diploma examination at Notre Dame de l’Hermitage, near Saint Chamond, in the house built by Marcellin Champagnat, the founder of the Marist Brothers.

Henri began his teaching apostolate in October 1947 at Saint Geniez-D’olt in the Aveyron. His health could not cope with an intensive work and a frugal food. He celebrated his twentieth anniversary at Osseja, a sanatorium near his birth place. That was an enriching time for his religious life.



Henri pronounced his perpetual vows as a Marist Brother on 26 August 1952. He resumed his teaching in various schools in the Ardèche, at Cheylard and at Aubenas. From 1958 to 1966, he worked as the deputy master of novices at Notre Dame de Lacabane, in Corrèze. With a peasant tenacity, he kept studying until he obtained his Masters in Philosophy. After the 1967-68 general chapter where he had been a capitulant, the superior general asks him to go and work in Algeria. Henri accepted wholeheartedly: for a long time he had wanted to become a missionary. He resolutely undertook to learn the Arabic language during the holiday with his family. He reached Algiers on 6 August 1969, feast of the Transfiguration.



His presence in Algeria during twenty-five years can be divided into three main stages:

  • 1969-1976: Direction of the Saint Bonaventure School at Algiers during six years until the establishment was nationalised.
  • 1976-1988: He was a Mathematics teacher at Sour-E.-Ghozlane.
  • 1988-1994: He is in charge of a library at Algiers on Ben Cheneb Street. This library is used by thousands of secondary school children. He was assassinated in his working office on 8 May 1994. Sister Paul-Hélène was murdered on the same day and in the same library.



“Dear Br. Henri and the admirable Sr. Paul-Helene have been authentic witnesses of the love of Christ, of the absolute selflessness of the Church and of fidelity to the Algerian people.”

(Cardinal Duval’s words, during the funerals at Notre Dame d’Afrique, on 12 May 1994, feast of the Ascension of the Lord)

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