History of the Albini Catholic Mission in Ntshongweni as related by the late Sister Gertrude Nzama.
1 Albini Church and School
2 Albini Mission Station
3 Road and Transport
4 Albini Pilgrimage
5 Congregation of Mary Immaculate Mediatrix of Grace
6 New School of Albini
7 Health Clinic at Albini
8 Death of Father Wagner
9 New Buildings and Albini High School
10 Improve Convent Buildings
11 Refugee Centre
12 Father Codognes Retired
13 Church Recognition
Albini Church and School
Fr Pfister OMI arrived in South Africa in 1934 and was stationed at Inchanga. Ntshongweni was one of the 15 outstations he visited on horseback because that was the only means of transport to those various outstations, around the outskirts of the Valley of Thousand Hills. Before he came here Fr Pfister OMI visited some of these places, and had gathered converts who held their services in Mr & Mrs Khwela’s home. In 1938 Fr Wagner built a church which he called Albini. The building material came by rail to Ntshongweni Station and local people helped to carry it either on their heads or by sledge to the top of the hill where the mission stands. At the same time he opened a primary school which became known as Ntshongweni State Aided Government School.
In 1939 Fr Wagner was called to France to fight in the Second World War. During that period of conflict when there seemed to be no possibility of surviving, he made a promise to Mother Mary that if ever his life was spared and he came back to South Africa, he would do something as sign of thanksgiving to Our Lady. During his period of war service he was replaced by Fr Canevet OMI also stationed at Inchanga at the time.
Albini Mission Station
In 1942 Father Wagner returned from Second World War. In 1943 Ntshongweni was established as a Mission Station and a priest had to stay permanently at the place. Since there was no transport, the mission priest still visited his outstations on horseback: These outstations included Hammarsdale, Georgedale, Cliffdale, Delvillewood, Camperdown to Entweka, Hillcrest, Botha’s Hill as far as Mabedlane , KwaNgcolosi and Emolweni. In each of the outstation areas he started a school. At the same time he also established Albini boarding school at Ntshongweni for those who travelled a great distance. The first girl borders slept at the school and but went home at the weekends. Among the first borders were two Mthimkhulu’s girls from Sankontshe and Mrs R.S Mkhize (nee Ndaba) from kwaNgcolosi. In 1944 Father Wagner established the boys boarding school which he closed in the early fifties.
Road and Transport
In 1946 Fr Wagner constructed a dirt road connecting the mission with Hammarsdale and Hillcrest. All the construction was completed with the help of a group of Catholic women. Horse transport was replaced by a motorbike until Father Wagner was given a Jeep in 1950 by his superiors. The original road has been tarred, first from Pinetown to the station. After 1994 it was tarred directly to Hammarsdale. Buses started using this road to Pinetown for public transport.
In 1953 Fr Wagner started a pilgrimage to Ntshongweni as a fulfilment of his vow to the Mother Mary during World War II. Many people from as far as Johannesburg, Newcastle, Port Shepstone, Stanger, Maphumulo and Harrismith travelled by train to Albini because the road was still bad. The majority of pilgrims had to walk from Inchanga and Hammarsdale to the church and grotto of Pilgrimage at Ntshongweni. There was no electricity and no water for either residents or pilgrims. Light was produced from a car battery. Water was fetched from the river by Catholic children and other females volunteers. Father Wagner used empty drums carried in his Jeep to fetch water from the Sterkspruit River also known as the Umnqadodo River. Later electricity was installed and Father Wagner drew water through pipe connected to the Sterkspruit (Umnqadodo River) pump station.
The Education Department passed law that declared all Catholic schools private. Many mission schools closed down. Ntshongweni Government Aided continued. In 1954 the Albini Girls Private Secondary school was founded. Sisters called the Grey Nuns from Lesotho were in charge of the school. The school had its first candidates writing examination in 1954. They wrote the then called South African J.C. (Junior Certificate) which was written by all schools Whites and Blacks. This continued until the Apartheid Government forced Black students to write Bantu Education Exams in 1960.
Congregation of Mary Immaculate Mediatrix of Grace
The Sisters from Lesotho left Ntshongweni because of problems associated with transport and water. In 1957 Fr Wagner started a congregation of local Zulu Sisters. In 1958 three female teachers joined this congregation. The first of the three made her first vows in that congregation was Sr Getrude Nzama. Sr Henrica Msweli and Winfrieda Ndlela made their 1st vows in 1959. Thus the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Mediatrix of Grace was established. The Sisters with the help of some lay devoted teachers helped the school continue as a secondary school up to J.C.
In 1964 Fr Wagner got sick and had an operation of the stomach. Doctors diagnosed that he had cancer of the stomach. At this time his superiors reduced his work to so many outstations. He was to be in charge of Ntshongweni and Delvillewood (St John Bosco). All the other outstations had private schools attached to them. During the Apartheid years when groups of people were segregated by race, the Department of Education attempted to close those schools by declaring the areas as White residential. Thus no Blacks could remain in the Missions overnight.
New School of Albini
Albini School for girlsIn 1962 Fr Wagner with the help of the Zulu sisters got a plot from Mr Enock Mthembu (Lot 8) where a new boarding school was established.
The first boarders started using the new school in February 1962. Together with other Education Department Regulations, the school was forbidden to admit non-Catholics. Only baptised Catholics could be enrolled in the school, with enrolment in the secondary school restricted to 50 pupils in Form I, II & III. Teachers did not receive any salary or any benefits from the Education Department until 1994.
Health Clinic at Albini
After his operation Fr Wagner OMI continued with his missionary work. Besides this Ntshongweni people had no water and no transport. He had started a clinic in the Mission run by lay qualified nurses. The first was Mrs Sehole then Father had one of his Sisters trained as a Nursing Sister in Pretoria. His car was used to transport sick people to the hospital. People could wake him up any time even when he was not well. Local people could get water from his tank water, which he tried to pump up from the river and later from the pipe that supplied the Whites down the valley (around the station). In 1968 Father Wagner visited his home country and was replaced by Fr P. Ntombela (Diocesan priest). On May 3 1970, Fr Wagner OMI got sick again and was admitted to St Mary’s Hospital, Mariannhill. His Sisters from Albini were lucky to be allowed to nurse him together with the St Mary’s staff.
Death of Father Wagner
On the 11 August 1970 in the presence of Fr J. Codognes OMI and Sr Henrica Msweli IMIMG, Father Wagner passed away of cancer, Father Wagner was known to his congregation as Father Ntshebe (The Beard). Fr J. Codognes continued his work from 1970 to 1999 when he retired of old age. Fr J. Codognes continued the work successfully. He earned the nickname “UVEMVANE” which means a butterfly that flies from place to place, because he visited so many homes of Ntshongweni residents.
New Buildings and Albini High School
During his visits he compiled family identification cards for personal contact and pastoral care, for all the people in his congregation. The old church built by his predecessor in 1938 got too small, due to the increase in the size of his Catholic Congregation. Father Codognes erected many buildings. In 1983 a presbytery building designed by Mr Brian Kearney replaced the old house the priest. At the same time Mr Kearney designed the Pavilion for the amphitheatre used during the pilgrimage.
Two new primary schools and a hall at Albini Girls boarding school were built. Sisters from the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Mediatrix of Grace continued to teach in the schools. During his period of service boarders returned to the Mission school. Father Codognes helped to construct a double storey building at Albini High School, which was upgraded from a secondary school to a high school in 1984. It was at this stage that a vegetable garden was introduced to supplement the purchase of food for staff and pupils.
Improve Convent Buildings
Father Codognes tried to improve the Convent buildings, first he built stones walls to prevent soil erosion, followed by paths leading to various rooms. Father Codognes helped the Sisters to establish a creche for local children when their site was changed to a boarding establishment. Many of the old buildings were renovated by him.
During the political violence and riots of the 1980s and 1990s he opened the mission grounds to all suffering people as a refugee camp. When roads and railway lines were devastated by the 1987 floods Albini served as an emergency centre for the surrounding areas. Blankets, clothing and food donated by groups that helped the refugees like the Red Cross and Welfare were distributed at the Mission. As helicopters were the only safe means of transport they flew to the Mission with supplies. Father Codognes donated his monthly pension fund to the poor by buying 10kg maize meal bags and 5kg bean bags to be distributed to the poor and needy from both Delvillewood and Ntshongweni.
Father Codognes Retired
Graves at Albini MissionIn 1999 Father Codognes retired due to old age and Albini had no replacement priest until December 1999 when Fr Duncan Mackenzie was appointed. Fr Mackenzie introduced the ward system for the Catholics which is still working successfully in the Mission. Fr Mackenzie was replaced by Fr Le Cardia, then Fr Gumede in 2000. In September 2001 a new priest by the name of Fr N. Frank arrived at the Mission. From then till today he continues the work among the people.
Sr Nzama died on the 2nd October 2006 and she was buried at the mission.
Also in the Natal vicariate Fr Henry Wagner, an Oblate missionary father, started the Institute of Mary Immaculate, Mediatrix of Grace in 1958. It was officially recognised in 1988 and the sisters work at Albini Mission Ntshongweni.
Brain, Joy – The Catholic Church in Natal over 150 Years. 1852-2002. Pub.2002.