St Wendolin’s: 1882-1914


1 Founding of Mariannhill Monastry
2 Mariannhill School
3 Chief Manzini’s Land Request
4 St Wendolin’s – First Outstation- 1895
5 Mariannhill Christian Villages
6 Settler Opposition to Mariannhill Villages
7 St Wendolin’s Church 1896 
8 Tenant Contracts
9 Religious Missionaries of Mariannhill
10 References

Founding of Mariannhill Monastry
Father Francis Pfanner, an Austrian Trappist monk and his followers came to Natal in 1882 from the Cape. Two years of backbreaking work at Dunbrody in the Eastern Cape, had introduced the Trappist to the problems of spreading Christianity in Africa. A member of the Land Colonization Company in Durban took Father Pfanner to see the farm Zeekoeigat (Hippo pool), 3 miles beyond the farming village of Pinetown. Zeekoeigat had fertile agricultural land straddling the Umhlatuzana River and a view of the Indian Ocean. One of the prominent hills was chosen as the site for a self sustaining monastery complex. Father Franz bought the land and, his fellow Trappist monks arrived at the farm on 26th December, 1882. Klaarwater and Stockville two neighbouring farms were later purchased and, incorporated into the monastic lands. Named after the Virgin Mary and her mother St. Anne, the Trappist farm became known as Mariannhill.

The monks set to work erecting buildings, clearing land for farming and following the strict prayer routine of the Trappist Order. Mariannhill School was opened in 1883 and attracted Zulu children from the nearby homesteads (13).

Mariannhill School
Not long after the school opened Inkosi Manzini the Chief of the Amanganga paid a visit to the small institution. “The day arrived and from the school house windows looked out in eager expectation the director of the school and his coadjutor (co-worker) Benjamin Makaba. Towards midday the royal horse were seen approaching. The boys were hastily assembled in the school room, in readiness to salute their King upon his entry. “Bayete Nkosi” (Hail Lord) shouted they at once, raising their little hands aloft as their Chief came in.”

Zulu scholars attended reading, writing and arithmetic classes in the morning. Afternoons were devoted to practical courses in agriculture on the mission farm.  Trade shops taught carpentry, printing, leatherwork, tailoring, blacksmith skills and scores of others, which were in demand in the young farming colony of Natal. 

A desire for education and a better way of life led young Zulu girls to enrol at the male dominated Mariannhill School. Father Franz Pfanner approached the challenge in a practical way, by employing the daughter of a Polish tenant, Maria Lasseck to teach the girls. Simultaneously a recruiting programme in Europe attracted a number of ladies to the Mission. They later became known as the Sisters of the Precious Blood, and this devoted Order made immeasurable contributions to all Mariannhill activities (15).

Chief Manzini’s Land Request
After a meal, a discussion regarding the purchase of the land on which Chief Manzini lived, ensued. “The Superior (Father Francis Pfanner) ultimately promised to do (the purchase of the land) on condition that the chief would undertake to bring 300 hundred families to build thereon, and so by means of their rent assist in defraying the enormous cost. This was a matter of no small pleasure to the Chief, for as he touchingly related, he had long been afflicted by the high rent, as he called it, levied by the owner of the land – 2 Pound (R4) per hut per annum….Then the chief rose with his izinduna, medicine men, amakhehla or ring-men… and all proceeded to an inspection of the wonders on exhibition at the monastery.””Sihlobosami my friends”, was the nickname of the young Director of the Mariannhill school, A.T. Bryant, who later became Father David.He left a record of the above incidents in his book “Roman Legion on Libyan Fields” published at Mariannhill in 1887 (14).

St Wendolin’s – First Outstation – 1895
The Trappists sub-divided their farm into areas, which were given the biblical names of Nazareth and Emmaus. Wendelin was the baptismal name of Father Francis Pfanner, prior to joining the Trappist Order. Saint Wendelin is the name of a German Roman Catholic Saint. In honour of both Father Francis and the venerated Saint, the first outstation of the Monastery was opened as St Wendelins in 1895 (16).

Mariannhill Christian Villages
To spread Christianity, improve the farming methods and lifestyle of the Zulu tenants on monastery land, the ideal of self contained villages at Mariannhill was developed. In a sermon in 1899 Abbot Pfanner described the ideal layout of a village. Villages were to be built on high, dry ground, for health reasons, while the more fertile lands could be fenced for agriculture and grazing cattle.

A village would include homes in rows, far enough apart to prevent grass fires destroying the settlement. Houses were to be built of sod, stone or brick, in a rectangular shape with windows for ventilation. The more substantial houses were to replace the Zulu beehive huts of grass and saplings, that were the traditional homes of most Mariannhill residents. A church, shops, schools and public buildings were included in the plan. Indigenous trees and fruit trees would provide fuel and food. The living areas would be surrounded by a wall, with livestock owners responsible for a communal kraal outside the wall (17). Abbot Franz Pfanner was very experienced with community problems and he envisaged prosperous villages, with neighbourly relationships and minimum rent. Owner-tenant contracts were written down, to facilitate future private ownership by Zulu residents. Father Pfanner stipulated that settlers must be Christians and, a man must be married to one wife (18).  First shop at St Wendolin’s with a Trappist Monk and local children in German dress.(Facilities were provided at the mission for wives and children of polygamous marriages.)

Settler Opposition to Mariannhill Villages
This revolutionary idea caused concern among the Colonists and led to angry letters to the newspapers of the time.An article appeared in the private publication “The Trappist”, by a buyer of land in the area explaining the Monastic ideals. “The future missionary work among the Natives is of no meagre importance on the vast property at the monastery’s disposal … The Kingdom of God is to be spread. … Plots cut out (subdivided) on the property in Pinetown will be rented to European settlers, whilst the rest is to serve for the establishment of civilised Native villages. There the native tenant will meet their White neighbour and shake hands with him. Such aims demand sacrifices on both sides …”. This little known translation from German by Fr. Dr. Thomas Respondik, is in an unpublished manuscript at Mariannhill Monastery (19).

Missionaries were sent out to the scattered Zulu homesteads on the boundaries of Mariannhill to explain the idea to young Zulu couples. Education and Christianisation had been focused on the young, and Abbot Francis felt they were the most vulnerable to tribal pressures, to conform to traditions of polygamy, ancestor worship and Zulu medicine. The monastery laid out the plan of the First Christian mission villages at St. Wendelin’s, Nazareth and Emmaus.

St Wendolin’s Church 1896 
St. Wendelin’s was recognised as the first Mission Outpost and, conversion to Christianity was rapid. On the 10th April 1896, Abbot Francis gave permission to the St. Wendelin’s Parish Council, to build a church. Members of the Parish Council included the chairman Mr Makhonjwa Ndokweni and Messers Anselem Luthuli, Magnus Zungu, Phillip Dodofana Gumede, Alois Mkhomazi Cele, Henry Muthwa, Ndandane Maphumulo, Sphongo William Hlope, Petrus Makhaye, Johannes Maphumulo, and Magambu Ngcobo.”Ora et Labora”, prayer and work, the motto of the Trappist Order was adopted by Mariannhill and became the cornerstones of life in the villages. Religious gatherings and Catechism classes were held under a suitable tree on mission land, until buildings were erected. At St. Wendelin’s the first Catechism classes were held under the Mthombo tree (Natal Fig tree), on KwaMkhomazi Cele’s property. Later classes were moved to the Church and Mission.

The distance to the school at Mariannhill led to the erection of a Primary School at St. Wendelin’s in 1904. Bricks were First School erected at St Wendolin’s in 1904.made from suitable clay found in the valley near KwaMhlanga’s home. The site of the original school is at Na’am Ngongoma, the office of the present Primary School Principal. Francis Cele, Francisca Maphumulo and Sophie Shozi were among the first pupils at the St. Wendelin’s School.  The first teachers were Nuns from the Order of the Sisters of the Precious Blood at Mariannhill. They included Sr. Dorothea, Sr. Sylvia, Sr. Acuta and Sr. Dulcissima.  They were aided by Zulu assistants Miss Paulina Cele, Miss Josephina Makhaye and Miss Carites Mswembezi. The school grew from strength to strength (20).

Tenant Contracts
Tenant, and later ownership contracts, were drawn up for the 140 plots at St. Wendelin’s which included residential and agricultural land. Unfortunately the “freehold titles” were not registered at the Deeds Office in Pietermaritzburg, due to internal religious controversy at Mariannhill (21).

Religious Missionaries of Mariannhill
The Trappist oath of silence and strict religious demands, were in direct conflict with the missionary work carried out on the various stations.

Resolution of the problem came with a Decree signed by Pope Pius X on 2 February 1909, in which the missionaries of Mariannhill were to be separated from the Trappist Order. The Decree was final, but the adoption of the constitution of the Missionary Order of Mariannhill was not implemented until 1919. All the land deeded to the Trappist Order was re-registered, to the Religious Missionaries of Mariannhill Order. (R.M.M.) (22).

13. Adelgiza, Sr. M. CPS. History of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill. Pub. Mariannhill Mission Press. 1984. Page 29-31, 36-37.14. Sihlobosami; Roman Legion on Libyan fields or a story of the Trappist Missionaries among the Zulus in Natal, South Africa. Pub. St. Thomas Aquinas’ Printing Establishment, Mariannhill. 1887. pg 51, 52.15. Gamble, Helen. Mariannhill. Published by Mariannhill Press 1982.16. Schimlek, Francis; Mariannhill, a study in Bantu life and Missionary effort. Published Mariannhill Mission Press 1953.17. Kempf, Fr. Thimotheus. Translated into English by Sr M. Adelgiza CPS; The Spirit of the Founder. A Collection of sermons, instructions, articles and sayings of the Servant of God, Abbot Francis Pfanner. [The layout of Christian Villages in Book 1. pg 210] Pub. Mariannhill Mission Press 198318. Joseph, M. Sr O.P. Significance of the Co-operative Movement in African Village Development. Mariannhill Mission Press 1966.19. Respondik, Fr. Dr. Thomas. C.M.M. Abbot Francis Pfanner. pg 57. Unpublished manuscript. 1957. page 50. Mariannhill Monastery.20. Luthuli, Herbert; The First History of St. Wendelin’s Mission. Compiled for theMariannhill Centenary 1982. Unpublished.21. Adelgiza, Sr M. CPS. 100 Years Mariannhill Province. Pub. Mariannhill Mission Press 1983.22. Adelgiza, Sr. M. CPS. 100 Years Mariannhill Province. Pub. Mariannhill Press. 1983. 
Compiled by: Hazel England 27-03-1993. Pinetown Museum, Updated 1996 
More on: St Wendolin’s: Prehistory | St Wendolin’s: 1882-1914 | St Wendolin’s: 1914-1945 | St Wendolin’s: 1945-1996

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