" Gap, in the Haute Alpes, was the site of the first Francophone International Spiritual Year ; the building had been built in the twenties for a diocesan seminary. It was never full and soon closed, so I guess that the White Fathers got it on a lease. (1969-70)

After one year, the Spiritual Year moved on to Fribourg to be near the university. Robbie Dempsey and I helped with the move in July 1970. Fribourg was the Swiss Provincialate as well."

Maurice Billingsley


  1. Geography
  2. A list of known students
  3. Bishop Rault
  4. The shrine at Gap (The Tablet, May 2008)
  5. Picture Gallery








Gap is an Alpine crossroads nestled in a high valley, carved out by a glacier, 2,406 feet above sea level.  The town is at the intersection of D994 and Route National 85 [the Route Napoléon], 102 miles north of Toulon.  It lies along the right bank of the Luye River and is the capital of the Département of Hautes-Alpes. 

The town of Gap was originally founded by the Gauls.  Roman emperor Augustus seized the town, around 14 BC, naming it Vapincum.  The Romans used the town as a staging post along the Roman road that ran between Turin and Valence.   
Gap was Christianized early and was ruled as an Episcopal see until 1512.  France annexed the town in the same year. 
Gap is both an agricultural and industrial center.

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GAP students
Maurice Billingsley 1969-70
Charles Bingham 1962
Robert Dempsey 1969-70
Brendan Gormley 1968-9
John Halloran 1969-70
Peter J Hurrell 1969-70
Hugh McCafferty 1969-70
Paul Tait 1962-63

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As I was researching the WF's involvement in Vals pres-le Puy, I came across an item about Bishop P. Claude Rault. (http://www.africamission-mafr.org/clauderault.htm).

Looking at his cv I think that he might have been known to many of you from time at Totteridge, Gap and Fribourg.

" At the end of my military service, I did a few months of assumption at the White Fathers in Vals Nearly Puy (March-June 1963)

De septembre 1963 jusqu'en août 1964, j'ai fait mon noviciat chez les Pères Blancs à Gap (France). From September 1963 until August 1964, I made my novitiate at the White Fathers in Gap (France).
En septembre 1964, je suis nommé pour mes études de Théologie à Ottawa (Canada) au Scolasticat des Pères Blancs. In September 1964, I called for my studies of Theology in Ottawa (Canada) in Scolasticat of White Fathers. C'est là que je fais mon Serment Missionnaire et que je reçois le Diaconat le 29 juin 1966. That's where I make my oath Missionary and that I get the Diaconate on June 29, 1966.
J'accomplis ma dernière année de Théologie à Lille (Grand Séminaire) en 1967-68. J'accomplis my last year of Theology in Lille (Major Seminary) in 1967-68. Au terme de mes études de théologie, je suis ordonné prêtre le 29 juin 1968 à Coutances (Manche) France. On completing my studies in theology, I am ordained a priest on June 29, 1968 at Coutances France (Manche)

Maurice Billingsley responded to a request for feedback from those who may have met Bishop Rault : " He was bursar when we were in Gap; I believe he had had a bout of ill-health which led to that appointment. He certainly fed us well, or Madame did! He is seated behind the altar in one of Robbie's b/w photos, with Antoine Paulin as chief celebrant at offertory, if memory serves. "

(source: Robbie Dempsey)

An African mass celebration with Pére Paulin and Pére Claude seated.

For your convenience, further information taken from the above website is reproduced below :

New Bishop of Laghouat appointed

Vatican City (Fides Service) - The Holy Father Pope John Paul II appointed 26 October 2004 Bishop Laghouat (Algeria) Rev. Father Claude Rault, M. Afr., Provincial Superior of the White Fathers in Algeria and Tunisia.

The Bishop elect was born at Poilly (diocese of Coutances, France), on 28 November 1940. He studied philosophy at the major seminary at Coutances and then entered the White Father’s novitiate at Gap. He made his perpetual profession on 18 June 1966. He studied theology in Ottawa (Canada) and concluded his formation at the White Father’s seminary at Vals (France).

He was ordained a priest at Coutances on 29 June 1968. He served as Bursar of Gap Novitiate from 1968 to 1970 and studied Arabic at the Pontifical Institute for Arab Studies in Rome (1971-1972). Destined for the diocese of Laghouat, from 1972 to 1993 he worked in parishes at Ghardaia, Touggourt and Ouargla. In 1987 he was appointed Vicar General of the dioceses, a post he held until 1999, also during the pastoral government of Bishop Michel Gagnon. Since 1999 has been Provincial Superior of the Missionaries of Africa for the Maghreb (Algeria and Tunisia).

Laghouat diocese created in 1955, has an area of 2,107,780 sq. km (90% of Algeria). It has a population of 3,858,288 including about 2,000 Catholics spread over the vast Sahara desert region others near oil fields. There are 16 priests, 7 Brothers, 35 Sisters and 10 parishes or pastoral centres. (S.L.) (Agenzia Fides 26/10/2004; Righe 19; Parole 254)

. . . . . Claude Rault will be ordained Bishop by Mgr Michael L. Fitzgerald who will be assisted by Mgr Henri Teissier, and Mgr the Apostolic Nuncio in Algiers in the Our Lady of Africa Basilica, a founding place and starting point for for numerous Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) for their mission.

- Episcopal Ordination in Algiers, on Thursday 16th December at 4 p.m.

- He will be installed as Bishop of the diocese of Laghouat in Ghardaia (which is the new episcopal see) on Sunday 19th December 2004 at 4 p.m.

Some photos taken during the Episcopal Ordination :

Photos de Fabrice Blaudin de Thé

Photos de Fabrice Blaudin de Thé

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The Shrine at Gap
The Tablet, May 10th 2008

"Church recognises Marian shrine
in French Alps"

Tom Heneghan In Paris

THE FRENCH Church has officially recognised Notre Dame du Laus, near Gap in the southeastern French Alps, as a site of an appearance by the Virgin Mary, the first it has approved since it recognised the Lourdes apparitions 146 years ago.

Attracting some 120,000 pilgrims a year, the site marks the spot where the shepherd girl Benoîte Rencurel said Mary first appeared to her in 1664. The apparitions continued until Rencurel’s death in 1718.

“I recognise the supernatural origin of the facts experienced and recounted by Benoîte Rencurel,” Bishop Jean- Michel di Falco of Gap and Embrun, the local diocese, said at the Mass of recognition last Sunday, which was attended by about 6,000 people including the papal nuncio, Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli. “I encourage the faithful to come and pray and seek spiritual renewal in this sanctuary,” said the bishop.

A church was built on the spot only five years after the apparitions began, and pilgrims over the years reported miracles they attributed to holy oil from the sanctuary lamps. But church authorities never made an official study of the claims. Bishop Di Falco learned of this oversight in 2003 when he visited the Vatican to re-start the stalled cause of Rencurel’s beatification.

The local Church had to recognise the supernatural nature of the apparitions before the cause could proceed, he was told.

Six experts – a theologian, a historian, a Bible expert, a psychoanalyst, a psychologist and a judge – studied manuscripts and testimonies of the period for three years to establish the apparitions were supernatural.

Rome’s nihil obstat quickly followed, church officials said.

The Mass, which was broadcast on national television, sparked a dispute over laïcité because a cabinet minister, Secretary for Regional Development Hubert Falco, attended. He said he was there as a friend of the bishop and described himself as Catholic but laic – in favour of the separation of religion from politics.

The Left Radical Party, a moderate-Left opposition group said Mr Falco’s presence reflected “an unacceptable confusion between the values of the Republic and religious practices that belong to the private sphere”.

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The following pictures were taken by Robbie Dempsey during his stay at GAP 1969-1970.

(source: Robbie Dempsey)

A view of the college at Gap with the Charence mountain behind.

(source: Robbie Dempsey)

A long-distance view of the college at Gap with the Charence mountain behind.

(source: Robbie Dempsey)

Skiing at Ancelle, not far from Gap.

L-R : Hugh McCafferty, Fr. Antonio Marin WF, Robbie Dempsey, a young lady who was one of our neighbours, and John Halloran.

(source: Robbie Dempsey)

An African mass celebration with Pére Antoine Paulin and Pére Claude Rault seated (now a Bishop in Algeria ?)

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Click below on the 'GAP' page you wish to view :