CombyFather Jean Comby was a prominent professor of Church History, was born in March 1931, and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Lyon in 1959. He died on May 21, 2020 (Solemnity of the Ascension) at the age of 89, after a long battle with several cancers.   

Lecturer and researcher

During his 61 years of ministry, Father Comby distinguished himself as a brilliant teacher and professor in seminaries, universities, and catechetical training centers.

He was the author of several books and articles on the History of Christianity; Church History; History of evangelization and History of missions. He also published works on interreligious and intercultural dialogue.


Through his simple style of writing, Father Jean Comby was able to make the history of the Church accessible to all. Two of his books, "How to Read Church History: From the Reformation to the Present Day" and "Twenty Centuries of Evangelization", has been re-edited and translated into several languages. Several of his former students and collaborators recognize in him, "a model of clarity and pedagogy" and according to Claude Prudhomme, Father Comby "takes care of his writing ... he gives access to sources".[1]

In addition to teaching, Father Comby also devoted himself to research and pastoral activities. He actively participated in the work of the foundation of “Centre de Recherche et d’Echanges sur la Diffusion et l’Inculturation du Christianisme (CREDIC) with Jacques Gadille. In addition to his involvement in the organization's preparatory meetings, he took care of its secretariat for several decades. He remained actively involved with CREDIC for a long time until when his illness made it impossible for him.

Committed SMA Honorary Member

Father Comby was also a convinced and committed missionary. Soon after ordination, he generously made himself available to the seminar of the African Missionaries of Lyon, where he shared his passion for evangelization with several generations of future missionaries to Africa. Many of them speak of him, not only as a competent and passionate teacher but also as a brother, capable of inspiring bonds of brotherhood with all. It is believed that his participation in training SMA missionaries that he discovered and developed his passion for the history of the missions.

In addition to his engagement as a teacher at African Missions, he also participated in reflections on various themes concerning the SMA mission. He also took part in writing a history of the SMA. His article « Formation, esprit et méthodes missionnaires de la Société des Missions Africaines, de la foundation à 1914 »[2] published on 150 years the SMA shows his deep knowledge and history of the institute and the actions of missionaries. For several SMA missionaries from the Province of Lyon, Jean Comby was family. Thus in 2009, he was officially recognized as an SMA honorary member by the Superior, represented in Lyon by Father Pierre Richaud, SMA provincial superior of Lyon. In his condolence message of Thursday, May 21, 2020, to Mgr. Michel Dubost, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Lyon, Father François du Penhoat, current Provincial Superior of Lyon, recognized in Father Comby an honorary member who “was very present with us” SMA missionaries.

A man with a big heart

Fr. Jean Comby was a man with a large heart and intellectual abilities. He will remain for a long time in the minds of all those who have met him physically in academic and pastoral circles in the parishes, universities, and research institutes of Lyon and oversea. He continued to celebrate the Eucharist in churches and to welcome researchers despite his failing health and the pains he endured with serenity. Thanks to this rich work, he will also remain alive for generations of people who will enjoy cultivating themselves by reading works.
There is no doubt that his great human and intellectual qualities will be missed by many.

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[1] Cf. Christian Ponson, « L’Histoire en christianisme. Hommage à Jean Comby, Textes réunis par Jacques Gadille et Daniel Moulinet, Lyon, Profac, 2002, 115 p. », Chrétiens et sociétés [En ligne], 11 | 2004, mis en ligne le 17 mars 2011, consulté le 25 mai 2020. URL :

[2] CoulonPaul, Comby Jean et al « les 150 ans de la Société des Missions Africaines », Paris Karthala Revue Histoire et Missions Chrétiennes n°2, 2007, 198p.