The history of the parishes in the Diocese of Eshowe
Fr. Anselme Rousset was the first Catholic priest to do missionary work in the Mahlabatini area. From the turn of the century, he travelled to Mahlabatini once or twice a year in an effort to win converts and build up a Catholic congregation. After the Benedictines came to Zululand in 1922, they visited Mahlabatini more regularly. Early in 1925, Bishop Spreiter noted in his diary: "We have applied for a church site at Zondela where there are about thirty Catholics. Most of them belong to the royal family" (TT 07-02-25). The government gave Bishop Spreiter a one-acre (= 0,40 hectare) mission site at Zondela on a 99-year lease-hold (chronicle of Inkamana, July - Dec. 1925, pg. 4). The chronicle explains:
"The place was, unfortunately, too small for a mission. We therefore hatched the plan of buying a property nearby which was big enough for a mission...For years there has been a store...within the boundaries of the Mahlabatini village. It is a 5-acre (2 hectares) property with several solid buildings. Because the owner had a title to the land he could sell it at any time to a white person, albeit not to a person of colour. This property seemed to be ideal for us, not only because it was the right place from a missionary point of view but also because it offered, under the circumstances, the only possibility of buying more than one acre of land. In order to discourage people from speculating in land, the government has passed a law that only one acre of (government) land may be sold at a time on condition that a house is built within two years. This makes it impossible for us missionaries to buy enough land from the government...When the business deteriorated as a result of stiff competition from two new stores, Fr. Theodos asked the owner to let us know if and when he intends selling the place. A few weeks later, the owner went with his wife by car to Inkamana and offered to sell the place to the bishop...On December 14, 1926, Bishop Spreiter and Bro. Maurice Kröhling travelled in a carriage to Mahlabatini where, after thorough inspection, the price was fixed at £ 1100 for the buildings and £ 200 for the land. That was also the amount which we eventually paid" (chronicle of Inkamana, July - Dec. 1926, pg. 3-4).
The property was transferred to the Benedictines in January 1927. "On February 1, 1927, we paid the last instalment of £ 800," reports the chronicler. "There are no debts on the property. Unfortunately we do not have the necessary personnel and money to occupy the place" (chronicle of Inkamana, January - June 1927, pg. 5).
On May 1, 1930, Bishop Spreiter was able to open a surgery in one of the buildings - the former store which he had bought. This was possible through the co-operation of a missionary doctor from Germany, Dr. F. Kevekordes who was willing to run the surgery. Two days later, on May 3, Fr. Wigbert Drzyzga arrived at the place and dedicated it to the memory of Saint Francis Xavier, one of the patron saints of the missions. Since then this date has been remembered as the founding day of the Catholic mission at Mahlabatini.
Being surrounded by a large reserve (area reserved for Zulus), the Saint Francis Mission offered a good opportunity for the Benedictines to reach people. Bishop Spreiter wanted the mission to become not only a pastoral growth point but also a centre for healthcare and education. Further land purchases increased the size of the property to fifteen acres (six hectares). However, these acquisitions were possible only after the Benedictines agreed to the following conditions: a hospital had to be built within two years; buildings had to be erected without government subsidy; the property could never be sold to "nonEuropeans" or to a company in which "nonEuropeans" had a decisive vote.
The development of the St. Francis Mission showed that the Benedictines were deeply committed to the social upliftment of the people in the area. They built a hospital first and then a school before erecting permanent living quarters for the missionaries. During the Second World War, they built a "provisional church" which was blessed by Fr. Theodos Schall on April 1, 1945. Bro. Bartholomew Keil revamped and extended the church in 1979. It was then consecrated by Bishop Mansuet Biyase on November 17, 1979. Bro. Dietrich Schmid and his team constructed the presbytery between 1947 and 1949. It is a twowinged double-storey building which is the size of a small monastery. A doublestorey convent was built for the Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing in 1964/65. They had been working in Mahlabatini since March 1934. Thanks to a generous donation from the Diocese of St. Pölten (Austria), the home diocese of Fr. Severin Pschorn, the St. Francis Mission was able, in 1987, to embark on the ambitious project of building large multipurpose hall. It was completed just in time for Christmas 1988. The Catholic Parish of Mahlabatini had twenty-six outstations and a total of 4600 members in 1990.
After the the first phase of the hospital project had been completed in February 1932, patients from the surrounding villages began to arrive. However, their numbers remained relatively small until about 1940. Getting suitable nursing staff seemed to be a problem for quite some time. The situation improved when the Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing came to Mahlabatini in 1934 and took charge of the hospital. However, the St. Francis Mission Hospital at Mahlabatini had to overcome many hurdles before it became a wellestablished healthcare centre. The chronicle of 1954 reports: "The development of our hospital is not so satisfactory...this mission project has to battle constantly with adverse conditions." One of the problems was to get doctors who were willing to work hand-in-hand with the missionaries. Another problem was the lack of funds, which made it difficult to buy the necessary equipment and to keep the buildings in good repair.
The Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing worked in the St. Francis Hospital for over forty years, from 1934 to 1974. Eventually they had to discontinue their nursing apostolate at Mahlabatini because their numbers dwindled. On March 31, 1974, they were replaced by Benedictine Sisters of Twasana. These continued their nursing service at the Saint Francis Hospital even after it was taken over by the Kwazulu Government on August 1, 1976. The government compensated the Diocese of Eshowe for the buildings and equipment which the Benedictines had provided over a period of forty years. It paid R 336 000 for the hospital at Mahlabatini and R 1 714 000 for the much larger Benedictine Mission Hospital at Nongoma (cf. Der fünfarmige Leuchter, vol. 4, pg. 55).
It was not only by caring for the sick but also by providing excellent educational facilities that the Benedictines of the Saint Francis Mission became known and were highly esteemed in the Mahlabatini district and beyond. The origin of the Impumelelo Secondary School at the mission goes back to April 1930, when a small primary school opened its doors. A hostel for boarders was added in 1933. The school was gradually extended. In 1940, it had for the first time a Std. 6 class. In 1948, a Std. 8 class was introduced. The steady increase in the number of pupils necessitated the construction of a new, doublestorey wing with classrooms in 1949/50. The boys' and girls' hostels had to be enlarged, too. This was done between 1966 and 1968.
The ranks of the Tutzing Sisters, who had managed the school since March 1934, were strengthened by the arrival of Twasana Sisters in 1965. Even before Twasana Sisters were able to supply teachers for the Impumelelo School, there was a Benedictine monk, Fr. Maximin Mayer (19071979), serving on the teaching staff. He taught there from January 1955 to December 1968 and again from January 1977 until his death in May 1979. Fr. Julius Landwehr (18921975) gave classes from January 1969 to December 1974. When the Tutzing Sisters left Mahlabatini in 1982, Benedictine Sisters of Twasana took charge of the Impumelelo School. They were able to build it up to a fully fledged high school. Pupils of the Impumelelo School sat for the Senior Certificate Examination for the first time in 1983. In the following years, it became increasingly more difficult for the Twasana Sisters to staff the school. As the Diocese of Eshowe owned the Impumelelo School, it had to make sure that there were enough teachers who were capable and willing to uphold the values and the academic standard of the institution. The difficulties of finding such teachers prompted the Diocese to close the school at the end of 1989. It remained closed for a whole year, but opened its doors again for a Std. 6 and a Std. 7 class at the beginning of 1991 when the Kwazulu Government committed itself to paying the teachers' salaries. A diocesan priest, Fr. Mkheseni Xulu, was appointed principal. Upon his resignation at the end of 1992, a sister from Matikwe, a religious community in the Archdiocese of Durban (Daughters of Charity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus), took over as principal. In 1994, the school had, once more, a full range of classes, i.e. Std. 6 to Std. 10.
Parish Priests of Mahlabatini
Assistant Priests at Mahlabatini
Benedictine Brothers at Mahlabatini
This page was last updated on 24.10.06 17:41:24