Mariannhill Monastery, Pinetown


1 Mariannhill Monastery, Pinetown – a brief history
2 Abbot Francis Pfanner
3 Mariannhill under Abbot Francis 1882-1892
4 Mariannhill under Abbot Amandus 1893-1900
5 Mariannhill under Abbot Gerard Wolpert
6 Mariannhill Church
7 St. Francis College
8 Pius Seminary
9 St Mary’s Hospital
10 Sources

Mariannhill Monastery, Pinetown – a brief history
Mariannhill Monastery was established at the close of 1882, on the farm Zeekoegat, approximately 20 km west of Durban, South Africa. The Monastry was named in remembrance of the founder of the mission station Prior Francis Pfanner’s, stepmother.

Abbot Francis Pfanner
Wendelin( Francis) Pfanner, born on 20 September 1825 on the Pfanner-farm at Langen near Bregenz in Austria, felt the calling to become a Missionary already while in the Seminary at Brixen. In 1863 he resolved to enter the recently resettled Trappist priory of Mariawald in the Eifel (Rhineland), Germany. In response to an appeal made by Bishop Richards of the Eastern Cape, Prior Pfanner with 31 Trappist volunteers left Europe and arrived at Port Elizabeth on 28 July 1880. There they started to build the Monastery Dunbrody near Port Elizabeth. However, many adverse conditions made it a failure.

Mariannhill under Abbot Francis 1882-1892
To realise his ideas of a viable and missionary Monastery, Prior Francis received support from Bishop C. Jolivet of the Vicariate of Natal. In 1882 he visited and bought the farm Zeekoegat near Pinetown, 20 km inland from Durban. On 26 and 27 December the community of Trappists, took possession of “the promised land”. The monks celebrated the first Holy Mass between tents and transport boxes and then pulled up their sleeves and started silently to clear the bush, to plough and to build the Mariannhill monastery and Mission.

Among the Brothers were men of all trades and masters of their crafts. Soon they had put up provisional workshops and living quarters. Within a short time they also started building the actual Monastery. Mariannhill developed rapidly and soon more land was bought along the Umhlathuzana River to put up a turbine and a mill. By August 1884 the monks, now 85 in number, had made 188 acres of land arable and the various buildings covered some 1300 square yards.

Abbot Francis Pfanner, founder of Marianhill MissionMariannhill became an Abbey in 1885 and Pfanner its first Abbot. From his journeys to Europe, Abbot Franz did not only bring with him money and Brothers, but also five mission helpers, young ladies who became the foundation members of the Mariannhill Mission Sisters of the Precious Blood (1885). By the end of that year the Baptismal Register numbered 203 converts. They established the first convent and with the steady increase in new recruits a novitiate was set up.

Abbot Franz Pfanner began to travel the length and breadth of Natal to establish new mission stations, the first of which was Reichenau (1886) at Polela, 200 km away from Mariannhill. The stations Einsiedeln, Mariathal, Lourdes, Centecow, Emaus and others followed soon afterwards. The conflicts arising from the incompatibility of combining strict monastic with active missionary life led to the suspension and later resignation of the Abbot in the same year.

Abbot Franz retired to Emaus Mission Station where he died on 24 May 1909. He was laid to rest in the cemetery of Mariannhill.

Mariannhill under Abbot Amandus 1893-1900
Abbot Amandus Schölzig succeeded Aboot Pfanner and his reign of seven years from 1893 to 1900 saw the arrival of the first African priest, Fr Eduard Mnganga from Rome. In agreement with the Cardinal’s opinion of the importance of training of indigenous clergy, Mnganga was sent to Rome by Abbot Pfanner to study for priesthood and was ordained as a secular priest in 1898. He was sent to Ebuhleni in Zululand to assist Fr David in his work among the Zulus. Abbot Amandus sent two more young African men to Rome. Charles Mbengane from Mariannhill took ill and died at Würzburg, but Fr Aloys Mncadi returned in 1903 and worked for many years in the Mariannhill missions. Two more candidates, Julius Mbhele and Andreas Ngidi were sent to Rome and were both ordained and returned to Natal in 1907.

Mariannhill under Abbot Gerard Wolpert
Mariannhill Mission Press where the first Zulu newspaper umAfrika was printedIn October 1900 the popular Fr Gerard Wolpert was called from Centenau to succeed Abbot Amandus as the third Abbot of Mariannhill. He was a great champion for the rights of the missionaries and obtained far-reaching privileges for Mariannhill, which set the mission on a path diverging strongly from the strict rules of the Trappist Order. Three more stations were opened during his reign of four years, namely Maris Stella, Himmelberg and Monte Casino.

By 1907 some 25 mission stations with around 10,000 young Christians were dotted all over the province of Natal. In 1909 the Monastery and the missions of Mariannhill were separated from the Trappist Order by a papal decree. Mariannhill became a missionary Congregation with simple vows.

Abbot Gerard was appointed Provist under the new dispensation. He started the publication of a newspaper for Africans, “Izindaba Zabantu” in 1911. Fr John Baptist Sauter, ordained in 1909 at Mariannhill as a Trappist and an excellent Zulu linguist, became chief editor of the paper in 1923. The paper changed its name to “Umafrika” in 1929 and continued in unbroken succession to the present day.

Mariannhill Church
To keep up with the rapid development of the mission a bigger church, still in use today, was built in the Romanesque Revival architectural style. St Wendelin’s became the first outstation and a new church was also built there in 1891. First church at St Wendelin built in 1891. Copyright: Mariannhill Monastery The St. Joseph’s Cathedral with its unique campanile and cloisters has become the parish church for the local Christian community and is still in use today. The church was renovated in preparation for the centenary in 1982 by several Mariannhill brothers. In 1981 the choice of a new Bishop for Mariannhill fell upon Fr. Themba Mngoma, a priest of the Diocese and the first African to head the mission. He was born at the Mariathal Mission and educated at St Mary’s Seminary Ixopo. He studied for priesthood at St Peter’s Seminary Hammanskraal and was ordained in 1971.

St. Francis College
St. Francis College, renowned for its sound education, has always been a place for training of African boys and girls. King/Inkosi Manzini, understanding the value of the learning that the monks were providing, ordered each homestead from the surrounding hillsides under his jurisdiction, to send two boys to the missionaries.

The first school, St Francis School had become a boarding school by the end of 1884, with 100 African and 50 white boys. They were fed and clothed and taught free of charge, and in the afternoons had to work in the fields or in the workshops. David Bryant, a young English monk, was their first real school master. Father Bryant was a great linguist and scholar, and was considered the “greatest authority on the Zulu People” and was renowned for his extensive publications including a Dictionary of the Zulu Language. Girls also came to the new Mission and taught in a separate institution, St Anne’s under the supervision of Miss Mary Lassak, the daughter of one of the Polish settlers living on the farm. In 1913 it was extended to serve also as a teachers’ training college which it did until 1972. The College’s first principal was Fr. Bernard Huss, and in 1981 a secular priest, Fr Pius Dlungwane, was appointed the first African head of St Francis College. Over the years, St. Francis has produced many successful professionals in both the public and private sectors. Well known alumni include: Dr. B.W. Vilakazi, linguist and Zulu poet, Dr. B. Chidzero, former UN Secretary, and the late Steve Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa.

Pius Seminary
The MonasteryIn 1920 Mariannhill became an Apostolic Vicariate with Fr Adalbero Fleischer appointed as Vicar Apostolic. He established the Pius Seminary at Mariannhill where priests were trained for their missionary work. The first ordination to priesthood took place in 1924. In 1927 the Seminary was closed down locally and transferred to Germany. To carry on the indigenisation of the Church through training of an African clergy, the St Mary’s Seminary was built at Ixopo in 1929. In the year 1976 the Khanyisa Pastoral Institute was opened for missionaries and lay people from all over Southern Africa to get training in pastoral and catechetical methods.

St Mary’s Hospital
Though some Sisters were trained as nurses, the medical mission of Mariannhill was at first limited to treatment of minor ailments at homes and kraals. To co-ordinate medical care the first makeshift buildings of the future St Mary’s Hospital opened its doors in June 1922. The first medical doctor, Dr Elsberger, arrived in December 1924 but was soon replaced by Dr McMurtie from Tsolo in 1925. Dr McMurtie stayed for 25 years and was greatly responsible for the successful development of St Mary’s Hospital. Equipped with operating theatre, maternity section, outpatients’ clinic and nurses training centre it has been serving white and black communities of a large area for many years up to the present day.

Pinetown Museum
100 Years Mariannhill Province: History of the congregation of the missionaries of Mariannhill in the Province of Mariannhill, South Africa, written by Sr. M. Adelgisa CPS
Mariannhill 1882-1982, booklet compiled by members of the Mariannhill community as part of the centenary celebrations.

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