Pottier was born in Chapelle-Saint-Hippolyte, near Loches, France, and was ordained priest in Tours in September 1753. He evangelized Szechwan (Sichuan) Province from 1756 until his death, during a period when Christianity was officially banned from China. Although other missionaries had been in this region before him, Pottier was the first to take residence for such a long time and to lay the foundation for the local Catholic Church. During the decade following his arrival, he was the only foreign missionary in an area that covered not only Szechwan but also the provinces of Yunnan and Kweichow (Guizhou).
In 1767 the Vatican made Pottier vicar apostolic of Szechwan and administrator for the two other territories. He paid special attention to the formation of a native clergy and, with a dispensation from Rome, by 1781 began to ordain Chinese priests not trained in Latin. At the same time, he emphasized a role for catechists and celibate Chinese women in spreading and nurturing the faith. Pottier also made Chinese Christian literature available and established schools for the religious instruction of children.
Intermittent persecutions, however, subjected him, his clergy, and church members to long periods in jail or forced them into hiding. At least four missionaries and one Chinese priest lost their lives because of torture. Christianity, nonetheless, grew stronger. At the time of Pottier’s death, the vicariate of Szechwan counted 25,000 Chinese Catholics, six French missionaries, eleven Chinese priests, a thriving seminary, a well-organized system of catechists, and an institute for Chinese celibate women.
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.
- Leonide Guiot, La Mission du Su-Tchuen au XVIIIme Siecle. Vie et Apostolat de Mgr. Pottier (1892); Adrien Launay, Histoire generale de la Societe des Missions-Etrangeres, vol. 2 (1894); Societe des Missions-Etrangeres de Paris, Memorial de la Societe des Missions-Etrangeres (1888).