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Like St. Peter Claver, Blessed Jacques-Désiré Laval has his feast day on September 9

Known especially for his ministry to enslaved people arriving in the New World, St. Peter Claver’s feast is on September 9. But another holy servant of those who suffered slavery is also celebrated on this same day: Blessed Jacques-Désiré Laval. Father Laval is known as the Missionary of Mauritius, and today on his feast, Pope Francis stopped at his sanctuary to pray.

Blessed Jacques-Désiré Laval (September 18, 1803 – September 9, 1864) couldn’t decide what vocation he wanted to pursue as a young man: medicine or the priesthood. He decided on medicine, obtaining his degree and opening a practice. But as time passed by — and spurred on by a near fatal accident — he returned to his desires for the priesthood and was ordained.

A native of northern France, he was ordained a priest by the archbishop of Paris, but shortly thereafter joined the Spiritans because of his desire to be a missionary priest. He was sent to Mauritius, where his skills in medicine were put to good use. He provided education and health care to the poor of his island, who were mostly former slaves. He learned their language and lived a life of self-denial, going without as his people had to. By the time of his death, he was incredibly beloved by his flock.

Pope Francis spoke of Father Laval during Mass he celebrated today on Mauritius.

Quoting Saint Paul, the pope said Blessed Laval knew that evangelization entails becoming “all things to all people.” That is why “he learned the language of the recently freed slaves and taught them the Good News of salvation in simple language.”

Father Laval’s pastoral care earned him “the trust of the poor and outcast,” noted the pope. “Through his missionary outreach and his love, Father Laval gave to the Mauritian Church a new youth, a new life, that today we are asked to carry forward.”

Pope John Paul II beatified Father Laval on April 29, 1979, and visited his tomb during his apostolic trip to Mauritius some 10 years later, on October 14, 1989.

Pope Francis returned to Madagascar at the end of his day on Mauritius, and from there he leaves for Rome on Tuesday morning.