Born: Saint-Thégonnec (Finistère), December 10, 1833.
Took the habit: Nancy, May 1, 1857.
Vows: Nancy, May 3, 1858 (N. 454).
Priestly ordination: Marseille, June 23, 1859.
Died: Roma, Lesotho, September 8, 1916.
François Guillaume-Marie Le Bihan was born on December 10, 1833 in Saint-Théogonnec, diocese of Quimper, France. His parents were Yves Le Bihan and Gabrielle Le Floc’h. After classical studies in the college of Saint-Pol-de Léon and one year and a half of theology in the major seminary of Quimper, he began his novitiate in Nancy on May 1, 1857 and took vows there on May 3, 1858. In his reports on the novices the novice master found that Brother Le Bihan was an “excellent subject” and that he was “virtuous and solid”. He is very good in virtue, piety, in his love of work and dedication; he is an excellent infirmarian”. He spent the year 1858-1859 in Montolivet where Father Antoine Mouchette, moderator of scholastics found that he was “an excellent religious, full of good will” “too shy”, ungainly and awkward. He would sometimes give reason to doubt his judgement but he will be an “excellent missionary”“ Bishop de Mazenod ordained him priest on June 23, 1859 and immediately gave him an obedience for the vicariate of Natal.
For three years he exercised his ministry in the mission of Saint-Michel, near Ixopo. Then he went to Roma (Motse oa M’a Jesu), Basutoland. He often had occasion to travel to Natal, travelling in an ox-drawn wagon, over a distance of 500 kilometres, to purchase provisions for the mission. It was he who went to meet in Pietermaritzburg the Sisters of the Holy Family of Bordeaux, who had come to help the Oblates in the evangelization of Basutoland. It was Father Le Bihan who, in October 1867 and in the company of Father Hidien, was the first to cross the Drakensberg on horseback and reach Pietermaritzburg in seven days. That was an exploit for the time since nobody had crossed that mountain chain.
From 1871 to 1876 he was in Bloemfontein, then in Kimberley (diamond city) where he replaced Father Anatole Hidien who had died recently. Continuing the enterprises of his predecessor, he began the building of a church, schools, and a hospital. Most men who came there from Europe and America contracted fever and died. Father Le Bihan visited these patients and did their funerals. “These adventurers who had been attracted by their thirst for gain, lived in a tent and in deplorable conditions of hygiene.” This is what Father François Le Bihan wrote at the time.. It was about this time that he reached Transvaal where priests were not admitted by law. He visited Potchefstroom and made contact with about thirty Catholics. He was hospitably received by a Mr. Henry Donaghue and blessed his daughter’s marriage, having baptized a number of children. He even obtained a site to build a church from the President Pretorius.
It was also at this time that Bishop Charles Jolivet came to see him to appoint him superior in Roma. In 1882 he founded the mission of Montolivet and, a little later we find him in Samaria where he was the first priest. During the First Boer War, he joined the regiment of Chief Maama and, indeed, he advised Chief Letsie to ask for peace from the British. As a reward for his intervention, Letsie offered him a site for a mission. The missionary could choose. Therefore Father Le Bihan travelled throughout the country and discovered the Moletsunyane Falls. On his return to the Roma mission he was called to Maseru, which was the residence of the British consul, Mr. Clarke, who asked him to contribute to the preparation of the first geographical map of Basutoland. When he told about his discovery, Mr. Clarke set out immediately to see for himself these falls measuring six hundred and thirty feet. They had been unknown until then and are now called the Le Bihan Falls.
Father Le Bihan died in Roma on September 8, 1916 and was buried close to his friend, Father Joseph Gerard, together with whom, if we may say so, he was one of the greatest missionaries of Southern Africa. He was a real pioneer, of Herculean strength, extraordinary endurance and prophetic vision. He will be remembered by the name Ntate Lobiane.
and Guy Gaudreau, o.m.i.