Catholic Encyclopedia – Venerable Goncalo da Silveira

Article

Pioneer missionary of South Africa, born 23 February 1526, at Almeirim, about forty miles from Lisbon; martyred 6 March 1561. He was the tenth child of Dom Luis da Silveira, first count of Sortelha, and Dona Beatrice Coutinho, daughter of Dom Fernando Coutinho, Marshal of the Kingdom of Portugal. Losing his parents in infancy, he was brought up by his sister Philippa de Vilhena and her husband the Marquis of Tavora. He was educated by the Franciscans of the monastery of Santa Margarida until 1542 when he went to finish his studies in the University of Coimbra, but he had been there little more than a year when he was received into the Society of Jesus by Father Miron, rector of the Jesuit college at Coimbra. At the dawn of the Christian Renaissance, when Saint Ignatius, Saint Philip, and Saint Teresa were founding their institutes, even then Goncalo was recognized as a youth of more than ordinary promise. Father Goncalo was appointed provincial of India in 1555. The appointment was approved by Saint Ignatius a few months before his death. Father Goncalo’s term of government in India lasted three years. He proved a worthy successor of Saint Francis Xavier, who bad left India in 1549, and his apostolic labors and those of the hundred Jesuits under him, were crowned with much success, yet he was not considered the perfect model of a superior. He used to say that God had given him the great grace of unsuitability for government — apparently a certain want of tact in dealing with human weakness.

The new provincial Father Antonio de Quadros sent him to the unexplored mission field of south-east Africa. Landing at Sofala on 11 March 1560, Father Goncalo proceeded to Otongwe near Cape Corrientes. There, during his stay of seven weeks, he instructed and baptized the Makaranga chief, Gamba and about 450 natives of his kraal. Towards the end of the year he started up the Zambesi on his expedition to the capital of the Monomotapa which appears to have been the N’Pande kraal, close by the M’Zingesi river, a southern tributary of the Zambesi. He arrived there on 26 December, 1560, and remained until his death. During this interval he baptized the chief and a large number of his subjects. Meanwhile some Arabs from Mozambique, instigated by one of their priests, began to spread calumnies against the missionaries, and Father Silveira was strangled in his hut by order of the chief. The expedition sent to avenge his death never reached its destination, while his apostolate came to an abrupt end from a want of missionaries to carry on his work.

MLA Citation

  • James Kendal. “Venerable Goncalo da Silveira”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912. CatholicSaints.Info. 10 December 2018. Web. 9 May 2021. <>