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A Remarkable Naturalist

By David Azevedo (a contemporary of Daniel da Cruz, written circa 1966)

Our region of the West [of Portugal] enjoyed, at the end of the last century and the beginning of the next, two notable centers, not only of Christian life but also of culture, which were the cloister of Vartojo and the cloister of Saint Bernardino, the first reopened in 1861 and the second in 1884. In the former the Franciscans founded the first primary school of the county of Torres Vedras in 1866, soon followed by a school for girls. The latter — formally designated a seraphic college or smaller seminary of the Franciscan Order — opened a primary school for boys from neighboring villages soon after it opened. These two centers attracted families from the region of Torres Vedras to Varatojo, and from the northernmost region, from the slopes of Montejunto to the sea, to St. Bernardino. From this context sprang the Franciscan vocation of another missionary of the West, Fray Daniel da Cruz.

He was born in Vilar on March 1, 1880, the son of João da Cruz Narciso and Joana das Dores; and there was baptized with the name of Manuel Maria. He donned the Franciscan habit at Varatojo on September 25, 1896, and professed on November 30, 1897, under the name of Frei Daniel da Cruz. During his studies of philosophy and theology, which began in St. Barnardino and in 1900 continued in Montariol (Braga), the disturbances resulting from [Portuguese Prime Minister] Hintze Ribeiro's decree of March 10, 1901, which reanimated the anticlerical animosity of liberalism [by secularizing religious institutions], compelled him (with other colleagues) to take refuge in Spain, where he continued his studies in the Franciscan province of Bética (Seville). Ordained a priest in 1904, he embarked for Mozambique October 1, 1906, arriving in Beira November 4th. On November 8th he was installed as coadjutor in the newly created mission of Congoene (Xai-Xai) in the province of Gaza.

His time as a missionary was not long due to the aggressiveness of the climate and the lack of medical resources; he had to return to Portugal on January 1, 1908, after just over a year in Mozambique. But if his stay was brief, his determination was great not only in evangelization, but also — and principally — in the field of science. Intelligent, observant, and passionate about nature, he devoted himself to the study of indigenous customs and the natural riches of world around him. This study resulted in a series of articles that appeared in the Gazeta das Aldeias[1], published in Porto, which were later collected into a book entitled Em Terras de Gaza, Porto, 1910[2].

From his knowledge of Africa and the scientific baggage he had acquired in his training curriculum, some fifty articles on insects appear from 1905 to 1910 in the Franciscan magazine, A Voz de S. António: Silkworm, butterflies, crickets, bees (five articles), cicadas, mole crickets, dragonflies, myrmeleons, ants (seven articles), different kinds of beetles, ladybugs, flies, mosquitoes, wasps, cynipes, locusts, caterpillars, cockroaches, spiders, fleas, and other species of insects form a variegated and charming display on the pages of the magazine. It would seem that the scientific writings of Fray Daniel da Cruz have no limits. They include articles on manure, agriculture, rural hygiene, rabies, earthquakes (the Messina earthquake) and Renard trains (road transport system with locomotive and several trailers), as well as reviews of books and magazines.

On October 22, 1910, a few days after the establishment of the [first Portuguese] Republic, he took refuge in the United States, where he would abandon the priesthood and the Franciscan life. However, his scientific passion continued. He enrolled in the Faculty of Sciences of the Catholic University of Washington [DC], where he graduated in 1915. For his PhD he presented the study entitled Contribution to the life-history of Lilium Tenuifolium [a type of tiger lily]. He taught at the University of Princetown [sic] and published several books. Even though his life was different from the lives he had begun as a Franciscan, he always maintained a liberal spirit, characteristic, incidentally, of the Franciscan school at Montariol and of the magazine Voz de S. Antonio[3] — the Franciscan enchantment for nature and the restlessness and search for God. He died on December 27, 1966, in the State of Colorado. A remarkable figure that deserves to be better known, especially in our region.

D. A.

The text of Frei Davide Azevedo with biographical data of Daniel da Cruz was published in 1968 in a book commemorating the centenary of the missionary activity in Mozambique of the Franciscan Order. Then, in 1968, Frei Davide Azevedo (died in 2013 at the age of 90) said that he intended to publish in a book a more extensive biography of Daniel da Cruz because in the book of commemorations the biography would have to be brief in order to contain biographies of more than 200 missionaries. —Raimundo (da Cruz) Narciso, 8 Nov 2017.
  1. Gazeta das Aldeias (in Google Books).
  2. Pe. Daniel da Cruz, Em Terras de Gaza, Porto: Gazeta das Aldeias (1910), 312pp, 90 illustrations.
  3. Voz de S. Antonio, Monthly Illustrated Magazine, 1895-1910. Numerous articles by Daniel da Cruz, sometimes signed as P.e D. da Cruz, others simply as "D.C." or with a pseudonym such as Lucano. Many of these articles are profusely illustrated.