The son of a Jewish convert, Ignatius Lissner was born in the Alsace region of France. At age twenty-one, he joined the Society of African Missions, known as the “White Fathers” (for the habits they wore), a French missionary order founded in 1856. He was ordained a priest in Lyons in 1891. (Three of his siblings followed him into the religious life.)
Fr. Lissner’s vocation was to work among the Colored. A gifted builder, he erected many schools, knowing (as he often repeated) that through those schools he would be able to reach out to the children and through them to their parents. But such work called for many sacrifices. The segregation of White and Black was the law of the land in the South. His strong determination to continue this work found opposition from the Klu Klux Klan, some White leaders and local priests and sometimes even from bishops. But Fr. Lissner was a man of steel. He braced himself against all opposition and criticism. Silently he suffered all kinds of injustices and continued tenaciously to preach the Gospel to his people.