Horace Bettachini was born in Piosina near Città di Castello in Italy in 1810. He spent a few years at the major seminary of Città di Castello and, after his ordination, he was given pastoral responsibility for the parish of San Martino d’Upò for two years. He then joined the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri and offered his services to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to be sent to the foreign missions. In 1842, he was missioned to Ceylon to assess the state of the Church there, a church that had until that time been entrusted to the Oratorians of Goa. In December of 1842, and in January of 1843, Father Bettachini wrote three very negative letters. In May of 1843, he wrote two others in which he mitigated the unfavourable information contained in his previous letters, saying that he had been misled. He did, however, confirm the many needs of the mission and Father Gaetan Antoine Musulce, a native Goan, as the new Vicar Apostolic.
On May 6, 1845, Father Bettachini was appointed titular bishop of Toron and coadjutor of the vicar apostolic of Ceylon, with particular responsibility for Kandy. In the meantime, he had preached parish missions with good results. On September 17, 1847, he was appointed pro-vicar apostolic for the northern sector of the island, then vicar apostolic of Jaffna on August 28, 1849.
In 1847, Bishop Bettachini made a trip to Europe to raise funds and find missionaries. After meeting with the president of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith in Lyons, he left for Rome, passing through Marseilles at the beginning of April 1848. There, he asked Bishop de Mazenod for Oblates. It seems that this course of action was suggested to him by Abbé J. V. Reinaud, and ex-Oblate and missionary in Kandy (Missions O.M.I., No. 71, 1937, P. 313). On August 11, 1847, Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Cardinal Fransoni, the Prefect of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide that Bishop Bettachini had “thoroughly impressed me during the two days he spent with me in Marseilles.” (Oblate Writings I, Vol. 5, No. 5, p. 15) He accepted on the spot to give him a few Oblates. Already on August 12, he wrote to Father Vincens: “What a mission field is opening up before us! One million five hundred thousand Gentiles to convert…” (Oblate Writings I, Vol. 10, No. 936, p. 167) He soon gave obediences to Ceylon to Fathers Étienne Semeria, as superior, Joseph Alexandre Ciamin, Louis Marie Keating and lay brother Gaspard De Steffanis. They left with Bishop Bettachini on October 21 and arrived in Colombo on December 3, 1847 and at Jaffna in February of 1848.
Things did not always run smoothly between the Oblates and Bishop Bettachini. Initially, the Oblates hoped to work in Kandy, but in September of 1847, the Propaganda Fide had entrusted this district to Bishop Musulce, the vicar apostolic of Colombo. Bishop de Mazenod advised the Oblates to remain at the service of Bishop Bettachini in Jaffna. Father Semeria planned to put into operation some plans that he had thought out while visiting the vicariate with the bishop, that is to say, in particular to organize a team of priests to preach parish missions. The vicar apostolic preferred meeting the most pressing needs and treating the Oblates as he treated his other priests. He scattered them throughout his various missions and moved them often. This way of doing things made community life impossible and prevented any kind of work of in-depth evangelization.
In spite of Bishop Bettachini’s lack of long term planning, Bishop de Mazenod sent three other priests in 1849 and two in 1850. But each time, he had to get into an argument with Bishop Bettachini over the question of who would pay the travelling expenses, since Bishop Bettachini wanted to spend as little as possible. He regularly received a large subsidy from the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, but had asked the Society to give nothing directly to the Oblates and that their name not be mentioned in the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith. Bishop de Mazenod challenged this procedure and even wrote to the president of the Society in Lyons on October 24, 1848: “You are not the commercial representatives of the Apostolic Vicar of Jaffna,” but at the service of the missions and therefore also of the missionary congregations.
Bishop Bettachini thought highly of Father Semeria. He appointed him his secretary and gave him the pastoral care of the church of Jaffna. On March 9, 1849, he even wrote Bishop Barnabò, secretary for the Propaganda Fide, to put forward some names for the vicariate apostolic of Kandy. He added, “If, in addition, along with being a model for goodness, one were to demand knowledge, prudence and all the other qualities that should make up the particular attributes of a bishop, I see no one more worthy than Father Stephen Semeria, superior of the Oblates, the man I want to see as my successor in Jaffna.”
In order to make the Oblates more independent, in all his letters to Bishop Bettachini and to the Congregation of the Propaganda, from 1849 to 1856, Bishop de Mazenod insisted that Father Semeria should be appointed coadjutor for Jaffna with jurisdiction of one part of the vicariate reserved for the Oblates. Bishop Bettachini waited until he fell ill to carry out this project. On his way to Rome on the occasion of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception towards the end of 1854, the Founder put pressure on the Propaganda to appoint Father Semeria bishop as soon as possible. On July 10, 1855, he wrote: “It was decided that you would be named coadjutor, cum futura successione, to the Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna, and that if your elevation to the episcopate were to be deferred, it was simply in order to placate the small mindedness of Bishop Bettachini who was offended that there should be a mitre so near to his own.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 4, no. 40, p.126) Finally, Father Semeria was appointed titular bishop of Olympia and consecrated bishop by Bishop de Mazenod on August 17, 1856 on the occasion of the General Chapter held at the scholasticate of Montolivet in Marseilles.
Upon his return to Ceylon in April of 1857, Bishop Semeria went directly to Bolawatte where, for a year already, Bishop Bettachini had withdrawn into retirement, a sick man. Bishop Semeria wrote in his diary: “We found the bishop in a state of lassitude that was alarming. A state of consumption that has been with him for a rather long time as a result of the stress and the troubles because of the schisms, etc., has palpably undermined his health and, without a first class miracle, we hardly have any hope of seeing him restored to health. No need to say that it was with kindness that he saw us arrive in his vicariate to continue the good work that he had begun there and that his strength no longer permitted him to carry out himself…”
Bishop Bettachini died July 22, 1857. The following month on August 12, Bishop Semeria wrote a pastoral letter about him. The letter ended this way: “We would never finish it if we wanted to praise all the accomplishments of a life of which every second was devoted to working for you. We won’t even mention the charity with which he saw to your needs in your distress, especially during times of famine and epidemic. We conclude with one word by saying that he was a father to everyone and that he practised charity to the highest degree, giving his life for his children…” The remains of Bishop Bettachini were laid to rest in the church of Bolawatte.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
G.A.: correspondence of Bishop de Mazenod in Oblate Writings I, especially Vols. 4 and 5; Diary of Bishop Semeria, 1847-1862 (Batayron copy). In his Diary, Bishop Semeria quotes excerpts from the biography of Bishop Bettachini.