Giuseppe Maria was born on December 16, 1813 in Monte Santo diocese of Fermo, Italy. He joined the Benedictine Sylvestrines and, in 1845, was sent by Gregory XVI to the missions in Ceylon. Bishop Caetano Antonio Musulce, the vicar apostolic, initially placed him in Negombo, then, in 1846, called him to Colombo where Father Bravi remained until his death in 1860.
He soon won the confidence of Bishop Caetano Antonio who, in a December 14, 1848 letter to the Congregation of the Propaganda Fide in Rome asked to have him as his coadjutor. On August 13, 1849, Pius IX announced to Bishop Caetano Antonio that the island of Ceylon was divided into two vicariates and that Father Bravi of the Sylvestrine congregation, recommended by “his prayer life, his prudence, his learning and his zeal” was appointed bishop of Tipasa and coadjutor of Colombo. He was consecrated bishop on January 13, 1850. By a January 15, 1850 letter, Emilio Miliani, one of Bishop Bravi’s confreres, wrote to Father Ugo Bravi, the superior general of the Sylvestrines: “Revered professor, your nephew, the brilliant star which illumines and adorns our congregation of Saint Sylvester, doctor G. M. Bravi” has been consecrated by Bishop Caetano Antonio January 13 in the cathedral of Saint Lucy.
In all his letters to the Congregation of the Propaganda Fide, Bishop Bravi expressed his fears of a schism originating from the Goans and asked for missionaries from Europe. His fear of a schism was not without foundation. In the vicariate of Colombo there were some fifteen Oratorians from Goa, successors of the Oratorians who had preserved the faith in Ceylon during the Dutch persecution (1658-1796). Upon the arrival of Bishop Bettachini, an Italian Oratorian, in Jaffna, the Oratorians who were working in this vicariate left for the vicariate of Colombo. The one or two who remained in Jaffna caused a lot of problems. They occupied some churches and refused to obey the bishop. In 1835, religious institutions had been suppressed in the Portuguese colonies. From that time on, no Oratorian from Goa had come to Ceylon. Those who were there were aging and were progressively declining in number. Bishop Bravi strove to maintain good relations with them and succeeded in doing so. He did seek, however, to replace them little by little with missionaries from Europe. There were few Sylvestrines who had a desire to go work in the missions. The Congregation of the Propaganda Fide suggested that Bishop Bravi ask the Oblates. Four Oblates arrived in the vicariate of Colombo on July 25, 1851: Dominique Pulicani, Jean-Pierre Perréard, Adrien Duffo and Laurent Lallement.
In a September 15, 1851 letter Bishop Bravi informed Bishop de Mazenod that the Oblates had arrived. He asked Father Semeria to show no sign of a link between the Oblates of Jaffna and those of Colombo who were not to wear the crucifix. He was to communicate with them only via letter or through the intermediary of the coadjutor of Colombo. Bishop Bravi had, in fact, expressed the same ideas in his correspondence with Father Semeria who shared his fears with Bishop de Mazenod who sent him the letters received. In a September 19 letter, Bishop de Mazenod sent him this reply: “Perhaps you will be surprised, my dear son, when I tell you that I am not unhappy with the letters of Bishop Bravi that you have sent to me. So far I have not received one direct from him. He says everything in a fatherly way, and shows himself very kind to our new arrivals.” (Oblate Writings vol. IV, no. 23, p. 79) Bishop Bravi laid out his principles clearly: in order not to provoke the Goans, the missionaries of Colombo should in no way seem to be answerable to Jaffna. For his part, Bishop de Mazenod reiterates his own principle: Semeria is the superior of all the Oblates of Ceylon, but he can be discreet in his relations with the Oblates in the vicariate of Colombo who should wear their crosses except when they go to Colombo.
Subsequently, the relations between Bishop Bravi and the Oblates seem to have been rather good. Toward the end of 1852, Father Semeria went to visit the priests of the vicariate of Colombo and met Bishop Bravi. Bishop de Mazenod congratulated him. The Oblates welcomed him gladly and “the coadjutor himself seemed happy.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. IV, no. 31, p. 103) However, Bishop Bravi did not want any more Oblates who were not even able to replace Father Lallement who returned to France. (Oblate Writings I, vol. IV, no. 42, p. 134, footnote 3) In his view, the Oblates do not have enough contact with the other priests. Moreover, they take on initiatives that are dictated more by goodheartedness than prudence, in particular in having young people and even children receive Holy Communion when the Goans often allowed the faithful to receive Holy Communion only on their death beds. Moreover, during the controversy between Bishop Bettachini and Bishop Bravi with regard to who owned some important missions such as Saint Anne’s and Talavila, Chilaw and Kurunegala, the Oblates of Colombo sided with the vicariate of Jaffna.
As of 1847, Bishop de Mazenod had said: I have accepted this new mission with a view that this huge island will one day fall within the purview of our Congregation which will sanctify the whole island. He often let the Propaganda Fide know of this desire. On April 2, 1855, in a session of the Propaganda Fide, the decision was indeed taken to entrust the vicariate of Colombo to the Oblates since it was fitting that the vicariates should be in the hands of one congregation only which would supply missionaries. In the course of his trip to Rome in 1856, Bishop Bravi nevertheless obtained that the vicariate of Colombo was to be entrusted to the Sylvestrines who promised to send missionaries. In a September 23, 1856 letter, Bishop de Mazenod notes that Bishop Bravi has been more astute than Bishop Semeria who also was in Rome at that time. “It seems that Bishop Bravi has been far from idle. Did you not let yourself be intimidated? You ought to have said all you thought quite plainly to Cardinal Barnabò. Buratti, whom you call Father when he is properly called Monsignor, had positively given me hope that the whole island would be under our jurisdiction, but things have since been arranged so that this can never happen.” (Oblate Writings I, Vol. IV, No. 42, p.133)
Bishop Bravi maintained good relationships with the Goans and also with the Anglicans. He applied himself to the question of education and made two pastoral visits of the vicariate. In his report of his 1858 pastoral visit, he stated that he confirmed 7,000 faithful and the fruit of the ministry of his twenty some coworkers brought more results than in the previous year with 3267 infant baptisms, 411 baptisms of Protestants and 415 baptisms of pagans, 972 marriages, 1581 funerals for a population of 90,000 faithful served by 131 churches and chapels.
On August 10, 1860, Father Duffo, an Oblate from Kandy, reported that, being ill, Bishop Bravi left for Europe. He left, he added, without people being sorry to see him go, but that does cause me pain because “Bishop Bravi has enjoyed very good and cordial relations with us.” Bishop Bravi left Ceylon on July 30 accompanied by E. Miliani. He died on August 14 during the voyage over the Red Sea. He was initially interred in Suez, and then his remains were transported to Colombo and laid to rest in the church of Saint Philip Neri.
Yvon Beaudoin, O.M.I.
Sources and Bibliography
Writings I, Vol. IV and V.
Perniola, V., s.j., The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka. The British Period, Vol. II-IV. The author translated and published 693 documents.
Weeresinghe, Anselm, o.s.b., The Apostolate of the Right Rev. Dr. D. Joseph M. Bravi, o.s.b., in Ceylon, Colombo, 1945, 29 p.