Born in Paris, de Guebriant joined the Paris Foreign Mission Society (PFMS) in 1883 and two years later was ordained and sent to China. In 1910 he became the first vicar apostolic of Kientchang (Xichang), Szechwan (Sichuan) Province, and then was moved to the seat of Canton (Guangzhou) in 1916. In 1918 he was one of six missionary bishops selected by Cardinal Van Rossum, prefect of the Propaganda Fide, to answer a questionnaire on the situation of the church in China.
In the November 1919 encyclical Maximum illud from Pope Benedict XV, several directives echo points made by de Guebriant: for instance, choosing heads of mission with good leadership skills, improving the language proficiency of missionaries, forming a native clergy on a par with foreign missionaries, and freeing the Catholic Church in China of its foreign character. Van Rossum also followed up on two other recommendations made by de Guebriant: sending an apostolic visitor to tour all the China missions, and naming a permanent representative of the Holy See in Peking (Beijing). In July 1919 de Gudbriant found himself appointed apostolic visitor in missiones sinensis, and in August 1922 Archbishop Celso Costantini was appointed the Vatican’s first apostolic delegate to China.
Following a reorganization of the PFMS in accordance with the Code of Canon Law promulgated by the Holy See in 1917, in 1921 de Guebriant became the first to assume the responsibility of superior general of his society. During his 14-year term, he ended his society’s monopoly over large mission fields by partitioning them and inviting other missionary groups to assume the evangelization of some of these smaller territories. He also began implementing the policy that missioners who were pioneers should move on once a local church had been established in a particular place. Two high points of his life were viewing the ordination of the first six Chinese bishops in Rome by Pope Pius XI (1926) and joining Archbishop Costantini at the Temple of Heaven in Peking in reciting the Pater Noster (1932).
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Celso Costantini, “Monseigneur J. Budes de Guebriant,” Gollectanea Commissionis Synodalis 8 (April 1935): 329-331; Antoine Flachere, Monseigneur de Guebriant. Le Missionnaire (1946); Societe des Missions-Etrangéres de Paris, Compterendu annuel des travaux de 1935 (1935), pp. 244-262. For an analysis of the important roles played by de Guebriant, see introductions in Claude Soetens, ed., Recueil des Archives Vincent Lebbe. Pour l’Eglise chinoise, vol. 1, La Visite apostolique des missions de Chine 1919-1920 (1982), vol. 2, Un Nonciature a Pekin en 1918?(1983), and vol. 3, L’Encyclique Maximum illud (1983). Numerous articles on and by de Guebriant can be found in issues of Field Afar between 1918 and 1935.