1884  — 1952

Auguste Ernest Gaspais

Catholic missionary and bishop in Manchuria.

Born in Brittany, France, Gaspais, a member of the Paris Foreign Mission Society, was ordained in 1907 in Penang, Malaysia. That same year, he sailed to China for the vicariate apostolic of northern Manchuria, later known as the Kirin (Jilin) vicariate. In 1923 he became bishop of that mission territory. After Japan created the puppet state of Manchukuo in 1932, direct contacts between Catholic missions in Manchuria and Celso Costandni, the apostolic delegate to China, were interrupted. The Holy See therefore appointed Gaspais as its temporary representative to look after the interests of the Catholic Church in Manchukuo.

Gaspais is best remembered for his role in bringing about a reversal in the Holy See’s intransigent attitude toward Chinese Confucian and ancestral ceremonies. When the government of Manchukuo made the cult of Confucius obligatory on all citizens, Gaspais inquired whether the prescribed ceremonies were conceived of as religious in character or deemed a “purely civil homage to a distinguished man and philosopher.” The answer received from the ministry of Education stated that the ceremonies had no religious significance and were only manifestations of the country’s affection for Confucius and his teaching. After discussing the matter with the other bishops of the region, Gaspais submitted his findings to the Holy See, which in May 1935 officially authorized Catholics in Manchukuo to render homage to Confucius and all the great people of the past as well as to their ancestors.

In December 1939 the permission was extended to the whole of China. In similar moves, in May 1936 the Holy See permitted the use of Shinto rites and other Japanese customs and, in April 1940, approved the Malabar rites of India. During the civil war that followed the return of Manchuria to China in 1945, Gaspais stayed at his post. In June 1951 he was put under house arrest by the Communist authorities. In December he was jailed for a few weeks and sentenced to extradition. He died less than a year after his return to France.


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.

About the Author

Jean-Paul Wiest

Center for Missions Research and Study at Maryknoll, Maryknoll, New York, USA