The history of the parishes in the Diocese of Eshowe
In 1890, French Oblates of Mary Immaculate established a mission in Newcastle, a town in Northern Natal. In 1898, they opened another one in Dundee, sixty kilometres south of Newcastle. From their mission in Dundee, they began to make pastoral visits to the districts of Nqutu and Vryheid. In 1903 they bought a large property in Vryheid for £ 1000 hoping that they would be able to start a mission there in due course or at least to build a church. Every so often, one of the priests travelled by train from Dundee to Vryheid to celebrate Mass for the small group of Catholics. They gathered in the community hall of the town which was also used for other functions. Bishop Henry Delalle OMI, who was the Vicar Apostolic of Natal from 1904 to 1946, visited Vryheid on October 19, 1913, and again on Sept. 15, 1919, when about fifteen people attended Mass (Catholics in Natal II, pg. 178). Fr. Lucian Delagnes OMI, who was the parish priest, celebrated Mass for the last time in Vryheid on August 6, 1922 (TT 17-09-22). Immediately afterwards, the Benedictines took over from him.
Fr. Theodos Schall was the first Benedictine to say Mass in Vryheid. It was on Sunday, September 17, 1922. Bishop Spreiter found that the community hall was not a suitable venue at all for celebrating Mass. Not seldom it presented itself in a dreadful state after it had been used for parties the night before. "The hall belongs to the League of Returned Soldiers (in President Street)," explains Spreiter in his diary. "Each time we use it, we have to pay five shillings." (TT 17-09-22). Mass was held once a month in this hall until August 1924 when the Catholics were given notice that they had to find another venue. The chronicler reports that Bishop Spreiter and Fr. Theodos Schall had already inspected five different places when they decided to look at the house of a Catholic widow, Mrs. von Levetzow. She was the wife of a white pioneer settler in Vryheid (cf. Vryheid Centenary 1884-1984, pg. 45). The chronicle of Inkamana records what happened:
"While they were chatting to the lady, the bishop asked her: 'Wouldn't you like to sell us your house?' The lady was surprised and replied: 'I have to think it over.' The bishop then said: 'That is only fair. But we'll come back in a few days.' This was on a Monday (September 8, 1924). On the following Friday (September 12), we bought the house. It was the name feast of Our Lady who was certainly instrumental in us getting that beautiful place...The size of the place is 0.84 hectare and the price was £ 700...It has a house on it and is not far from the centre (i.e. on the eastern corner of Boeren and Landdrost Street). The house was built with mud-bricks and dates back to the time when Vryheid was founded in 1884...Two rooms of the house serve as chapel for the time being. Mass is held there every first and third Sunday of the month. Every Wednesday catechism classes take place there" (chronicle of Inkamana, July 1924 - June 1925, pg. 18).
Although the Catholics had to wait another twelve years before they could attend Mass in a proper church, they had, at least, their own house. Mass was held there twice a month from September 1924 to December 1925 and, from January 1926, every Sunday.
Attendance at Mass was rather poor in the beginning. The chronicler of Inkamana paints a gloomy picture of the Catholic community in Vryheid: "Up till now, we have been the only denomination which did not own a place to conduct services. All the others have churches, some of which look quite attractive. But there is something strange about the faith of European Catholics in the colonies. When we visit them and invite them to Mass, then they complain that they do not have a church, that we have Mass only once a month, and that we dedicate too much time to the Blacks. But it is those who are fiercest in their criticism who do not come to Mass...The situation will improve only when they have a resident priest and when we can open a convent there. It would be even better if we had another Curé d'Ars for the post of parish priest in Vryheid" (chronicle of Inkamana July 1924 - June 1925, pg. 18).
Most Catholics were immigrants from Europe, who worked hard to start a new life in South Africa. They got used to a situation where regular Sunday Mass was unknown and made little effort to come to church even after it had become possible to attend Mass every Sunday. Those who worked as pastors in Vryheid had their fair share of disappointments.
Records show that the priests had a bigger congregation as long as they celebrated Mass only once a month. "Fr. Theodos had Mass in Vryheid," notes Bishop Bilgeri in his diary in October 1922. "There were about forty people; five went to communion; the collection amounted to £1/14/6" (TT 15-10-22). A few months later, in January 1923, he wrote: "Fr. Theodos was in Vryheid today. About thirty people, fewer than usual, came to church; three went to confession" (TT 21-01-23). "Church attendance has not improved since we have Mass on two Sunday each month," complains the chronicler. "On the contrary, the situation has become worse...Sports and parties always take precedence" (chronicle of Inkamana, July 1924 - June 1925, pg. 18).
Records prove that the chronicler did not exaggerate. In 1925/26, the Sunday congregation consisted frequently of fewer than a dozen people. It must have been quite discouraging for the priest. An entry on a Sunday in March 1925 reads: "Six adult Europeans, two children and a few Africans came to Mass" TT 01-03-25). Six weeks later there were only five people (TT 19-04-25). In May 1925, Spreiter writes: "Fr. Meinulf walked to town today...It took him sixty-five minutes to reach our house. Only six people came to Mass. It is terrible" (TT 03-05-25). However, the turn-out was much better at Christmas and Easter. Twenty-four people came to Mass on Christmas Day 1925 (TT 25-12-25). A year later, Spreiter was able to say: "Midnight Mass in Vryheid was attended by twenty-three people; nineteen came on Christmas morning" (TT 25-12-26).
Right from the time they took over Vryheid, the Benedictines arranged catechism classes for children (TT 21-04-23). In April 1923, Sr. Alfrieda Dreher began to teach catechism in one of the rooms of the railway club-house. From September 1924, classes were held in the newly purchased house in Landdrost Street. It was just as much of a battle to get the children together for catechism on a Wednesday afternoon as it was to get the adults to church on Sundays. Spreiter's diary gives a glimpse of the problem. "Fr. Meinulf went on horseback to town to teach catechism. He called on the children's homes and invited them to come. But, apart from a girl, nobody turned up...It is terrible" (TT 29-04-25). A few weeks later, he had to admit: - "Not a single child came to catechism today (Wednesday). It is very sad" (TT 13-05-25). But there were also days when things looked a bit brighter: "In the afternoon (Wednesday), Fr. Meinulf had five boys in town for catechism," reads an entry in May 1925 (TT 22-05-25). One of the boys who attended catechism classes and who was a very keen altar server was Leo Boyd (1911-1980) who became mayor of Durban in 1946.
The situation improved gradually as the efforts which the priests and the sisters made to activate the faith of the Catholics began to bear fruit. "The chapel in Vryheid was too small today," wrote Spreiter in October 1926. "Twelve adults, eight children and four Africans came to Sunday Mass today" (TT 24-10-26). By the end of 1927, things looked even better: "Thirty people came to church," notes Spreiter on the second Sunday of Advent, 1927. "Among them were six Africans" (TT 04-12-27).
The fact that people of all races gathered for Mass in the chapel seems to have irritated some of the white Catholics. This was taken into account when plans were made, in 1927, to revamp the chapel. The space was divided into two separate sections with the altar in the centre. The chronicler justifies this arrangement by pointing out: "Unfortuantely, many Europeans are so prejudiced against Africans that it is impossible to bring them together for Mass in one room. They would rather miss Mass than to sit next to a black fellow-Christian...We have to take this into account or else we lose the few white Catholics altogether" (chronicle of Inkamana, July - December 1927, pg. 2). Spreiter mentions in his diary that Fr. Geest, the parish priest of Vryheid, and Fr. Theodos Schall were in favour of arranging a separate section for black parishioners in the chapel. Spreiter was against it. "I am of the opinion that we should not support the colour bar unless we are forced to by pressure from outside..." (cf. TT 24-07-27 and Sieber, Stationschroniken, pg. 143). Black Catholics continued to come to the English Mass on Sunday morning. From mid-1927, classes were held in Zulu for Catholics and catechumens every Sunday afternoon. Fr. Andreas Ngidi or a catechist gave instruction. "People were very pleased about this and said that newcomers could be expected to join them" (TT 15-05-27).
Even after major renovations were done to the house in Landdrost Street, it remained a place which was not really suitable for celebrating Mass. "Our brothers have finished the job in town. But it remains a ramshackle building. It would have been better to build something new." This was Spreiter's assessment (TT 08-08-27). Two years later, in 1929, the bishop decided to start a fund-raising campaign for a proper church. The Catholics in Vryheid responded well (cf. TT 24-02-29). Money arrived, too, from farther afield after an appeal had been made in THE SOUTHERN CROSS. By 1931, the donations were just enough to buy 58 000 bricks. The economic recession delayed the start of the project by a few more years. In the hope that people would give more generously to the building fund if they could see some activity on the building site, Spreiter ordered the building team to go ahead with the project. Excavation work began in January 1936. At the end of the year (1936), the chronicler reports: "Although we had not collected enough money to pay for the church, we had to start building. The house in Landdrost Street which had been turned into a chapel was becoming too shabby...Further repairs would have been a waste of money and would not have enhanced the reputation of the Catholic Church. Therefore it was decided to begin the construction of a new church...The donations were very meagre. We had hoped to receive further help after THE SOUTHERN CROSS had carried an article about the start of the project. Fr. Florian Hessing is now trying to raise funds for the church...The contributions we get from the South African Catholics are far from sufficient to cover the expenses" (Sieber, Stationschroniken, pg. 143-144).
Fr. Florian Hessing blessed the foundation stone on March 15, 1936. The building activities progressed without a hitch. Bro. Candidus Mayer, the master-builder and architect of the church, was able to place the 112kg cast-iron cross on the steeple on May 28, 1936. The church was designed in such a way that it had two separate sections facing the sanctuary with the altar. " The main nave for Europeans and Coloureds has a seating capacity of 250. The side chapel is for Blacks and can also accommodate 250 people," states the chronicler in a matter-of-fact tone (chronicle of Inkamana, January - June 1937, pg. 2). Although Bishop Spreiter repeatedly expressed his displeasure about this arrangement, he eventually gave his consent because he thought that this was the only way to make sure that the white Catholics would come to church.
On June 6, 1936, Fr. Florian Hessing was able to bless the two bells. The shell of the new church was completed in June 1936. But a lot of work still had to be done. Bro. Maurice Kröhling designed and manufactured the stained-glass windows. Eight of these windows in the main nave were donated by the following parishioners and Vryheid citizens at £ 5 each (cf. TT 26-06-36; 02-11-36):
The statue of the Sacred Heart, showing Christ with outstretched arms, was made in the art studio of the Benedictine Abbey Münsterschwarzach Germany). It was loaned to the Catholic church in Vryheid by the Gonzaga Mission. Later, the Louis family of Vryheid purchased it and donated it to the St. Thomas More church "in memory of Alois Louis".
The church has the following measurements:
length of the main nave - 39,5 m
width of the main nave - 8,5 m
length of the side chapel - 9,0 m
width of the side chapel - 8,5 m
The church doors, pews and all other furniture were made in the carpentry shop at Inkamana. The brothers in the blacksmith's workshop made the wrought-iron communion rail and the twelve candle-sticks on the wall. On Christmas Eve 1936, the congregation gathered for the first time in the new church when Fr. Florian Hessing celebrated the Midnight Mass. Work on the church was completed on March 13, 1937. Bishop Thomas Spreiter consecrated the church on May 2, 1937. The event was reported in all the major newspapers in Natal. THE NATAL WITNESS wrote (06-05-37):
"Representatives of many denominations attended the new Catholic church of Saint Thomas at Vryheid on Sunday for the consecration ceremony, conducted by Bishop Thomas Spreiter, assisted by the clergy of the Benedictine mission at Inkamana, the Rev. Father Deslagnes, of Dundee, and the Rev. Father Gavan Duffy, of Cape Town. This is the first occasion that such a ceremony has taken place at Vryheid. Outside the building flew the Union Jack and the Union flag, while over the gate was a plate inscribed: 'A Temple is erected for the Lord. Let us go to adore Him.' The ceremony commenced at six o'clock in the morning and the sermon was preached by Father Delagnes shortly after ten o'clock. Many prominent citizens were in the congregation, including the deputy-mayor, Colonel W.E. Peachey...At the reception later, Colonel Peachey congratulated the bishop and the Benedictine mission on the magnificent building erected entirely by the mission, which was a great credit to the town."
The chronicle of Inkamana adds a few more details in connection with the opening of the church:
"About one hundred and twenty Whites and Coloureds and some 600 Africans attended the ceremony. The majority of these, especially among the Whites, were, of course, not Catholics...A big tent which we had hired from the South African Railway was erected next to the church. All visitors were treated to tea, cake and cold drink prepared by the Catholic congregation and friends of the mission. Bread and home-brewed maize beer was offered to the Africans...The day ended with the exposition of the blessed sacrament and pontifical blessing at seven o'clock in the evening. It marked the end of an eight-day mission and the white Catholics used this opportunity to renew their baptismal vows. With burning candles in their hands they promised to hold on to the Catholic faith...The consecration of the church was also used to give our black Catholics a chance for spiritual renewal. Our African priest, Fr. Andreas Ngidi, conducted a mission for his compatriots. It lasted a few days...It may be of interest to know what the church has cost. Bro. Maurice Kröhling has painstakingly recorded all the expenses. They amounted to a total of £ 1600,...£ 900 were collected by the local Catholics through fund-raising campaigns in the newspapers and through donations received from friends of Fr. Romanus Pally in Switzerland. The rest, £ 700, was contributed by the Inkamana Mission. People who do not know that most of the work was done by brothers from Inkamana are generally of the opinion that the church must have cost between £ 4000 and £ 5000."
The new St. Thomas More Church in Vryheid was chosen as the venue for the episcopal consecration of Fr. Aurelain Bilgeri on September 14, 1947. The VRYHEID GAZETTE (20-09-47) wrote about it:
"An event unique in the history of the Catholic Church in Vryheid took place in St. Thomas More's Church on Saturday, September 14, 1947, at 10 a.m., when Father Aurelian Bilgeri was consecrated Bishop by the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Lucas, the co-consecrators being Bishops Fleischer and Osterrath. Seven other Catholic Bishops were present, namely: Bishops Meysing, Hurley, O'Leary, Barneschi, Lueck and Riegler.
"The congregation included over seventy priests and brothers and the church was packed with people of all races and creeds. Among the non-Catholics present were: His Worship the Mayor, Mr. Guy and Mrs. Guy, Deputy-Mayor, Mr. Conradie, the Chief Magistrate, Mr. McLoughlin and Mrs. McLoughlin, the chairman of the Provincial Council, Captain Botha and Mrs. Botha, Sergeant Coetzee, Inspectors of Native Schools, Messrs. Theunissen, Titlestad, de Wet, Ries and Kolbe.
"The ceremony, which was very impressive, lasted for over two-and-a-half hours...The Mayor, Mr. Guy, expressed his thanks to the Catholic Church for the splendid services rendered to the community, especially with regard to education and hospitalisation...Inspector Theunissen, representing the Chief Inspector of Native Education, mentioned that he had been in contact with the Benedictines who, he said, were in the forefront of education. He was glad to share in the honour done to the newly consecrated Bishop who had been so closely connected with education. He then made mention of the good relationship which existed between the Benedictines and the Department, and praised the noble qualities of Father Schall and the late Bishop Spreiter."
The increase in the number of Catholics made it necessary to enlarge the church in the early sixties. Mark Hussey of Pretoria made the plans for an extension of the nave. The contract was given to Johnson & Keith Builders of Dundee. Work on the project began in August 1963. The church remained closed for nearly a year. During that time Sunday Mass was held in the convent school hall. The temporary closure of the church gave the builders an opportunity to revamp the sanctuary so that Mass could be celebrated in accordance with the new regulations issued by the Second Vatican Council. The church was re-opened when Bishop Bilgeri blessed the new altar on August 30, 1964. Two years later, a pipe organ was installed and blessed by the bishop on March 20, 1966. Anyone entering the church is immediately struck by a life-size figure of Christ on the cross on the front wall above the tabernacle. It was carved in wood especially for the Saint Thomas More church by an artist of Oberammergau (Germany) at the initiative of Fr. Michael Mayer who was parish priest in Vryheid from 1981-1983.
Plans to make Vryheid an independent parish with a resident priest go back to the mid-twenties. But lack of personnel delayed the decision time and again. Some progress was made in 1939 when Spreiter was able to buy a property opposite the church: "Mrs. Christiansen offered us...a corner-house with a garden, directly opposite the church and next to Dr. van Varendorff...The site is a little smaller than one acre. The house has six rooms, bathroom and a kitchen included. The rooms are not very big. There is also a small outbuilding" (TT 05-08-39). The bishop bought the property for £ 780. He remarked in his diary: "Now we have a house for sisters, on the other side of the street and separate from us, should it become necessary that the sisters take over a school or the kitchen. The place is big: 2 roods, 14.076 perches (= 2380 sqm)" (TT 24-08-39). As the house was not immediately needed by the church, it was rented out. The Second World War made it impossible to provide a resident priest for Vryheid. Pastoral work was severely interrupted when a number of priests were interned as "enemy subjects". Even after the war, it took a few years before new missionaries from Europe were allowed into the country. At last, in 1951, Bishop Aurelian Bilgeri appointed Fr. Benno Heckel as the first resident parish priest of St. Thomas More. Fr.Benno arrived in Vryheid on May 11, 1951. The former choir loft above the sacristy served as his office and bedroom after it had been screened off from the sanctuary with a brick wall. On December 20, 1952, he was able to move into the house situated at 97 Landdrost Street, which had been designated as a priest's house since 1939, when it was purchased. It was completely revamped in 1987 and a small flat was added to the kitchen.
Shortly before his death in 1973, Bishop Aurelian Bilgeri gave his consent to the building of a parish hall. Mark Hussey of Pretoria drew up the plans and Messrs. Brockman and Tschirpig, a Vryheid building company, were awarded the contract. The hall was named "Aurelian Bilgeri Hall" in memory of Msgr. Bilgeri who was the bishop of Eshowe from 1947 to 1973. The official opening and blessing of the hall took place on November 15, 1975. Bishop Mansuet Biyase conducted the ceremony. The VRYHEID GAZETTE (28-11-75) wrote about it:
"Ten years ago Father Alfred Humm and the parishioners of St. Thomas More, Vryheid, started a building fund for the purpose of erecting a small Parish Hall.
It was to a great extent due to the encouragement of the late Bishop Aurelian Bilgeri that this project came into being and culminated in the lovely new hall which was opened and blessed on Saturday, 15th November, by the Right Reverend Mansuet D. Biyase, Bishop of Eshowe.
Due to the magnificent co-operation on the part of several sections of the community - Church Council, parishioners, friends and parents of pupils of Nardini Convent, who all responded to the appeal by supporting fund-raising functions, working for bazaars and with generous donations, sufficient money was raised for the building of the Parish Hall.
Parishioners were particularly pleased that His Worship the Mayor of Vryheid, Councillor J. Slabbert and Mrs. Slabbert, graced the occasion with their presence, as did the Deputy-Mayor, Councillor M. Winer and Mrs. Winer and the Town Clerk, Mr. P. Grabe and Mrs. Grabe.
In his speech Mr. Slabbert said he was pleased to see the Parish shared his faith in the future of Vryheid as the population had doubled over the past eight years. The Parish hall was an asset to the town.
A happy moment for Mr. V.N. Louis, chairman of the Parish Council, was the handing over of the keys of the imposing facade and entrance doors by Dr. J.O. Harle, chairman of the Nardini P.T.A. which had collected funds for that purpose. The Sisters of Nardini Convent donated the stage curtains, and as the school will use the hall for special occasions, it was fitting that they should participate on this important day.
Their recorder ensembles, choirs and choral verse choirs, together with the lovely items rendered by the Church Choir, Youth Choir and Band combined to make the occasion the climax of years of devoted labour, a truly harmonious and joyous one."
The total cost of the building amounted to R 125 000. The bishop arranged that the Diocese of Eshowe, the Nardini Convent and the Saint Thomas More Parish should each pay one third of the expenses (Parish Council Minutes, July 8, 1973). To raise that money, the parish was authorized to sell two properties which the Diocese owned in Vryheid. One was situated in Afrikaner Street and the other on the corner of Afrikaner and Mason Street. The latter was sold in July 1973 for R 11 000, the former for R 13 500.
A so-called parish committee was started in the St. Thomas More Parish in the early sixties. It developed into a proper Parish Council in March 1971. A new Council is elected every year. A branch of the Catholic Women's League was formally established on March 4, 1966. The parish comprises Catholics of all races. It has always had a sizeable minority of immigrants from Portugal, Italy, Poland and other European countries. About one third is made up of socalled Coloureds and Blacks. The percentage of black Catholics has increased since 1990 when the residential separation of races was scrapped as the offical policy of the country and formerly white towns were opened to people of all races. In 1986, when the old apartheid law was still in force, the Town Council of Vryheid developed a separate residential area for so-called Coloureds at Lakeside, about three kilometres south of the town. Apartheid laws demanded from the various churches that they provide separate facilities for the different races. However, the Catholic Church always welcomed people of all races in its churches. A few other denominations did the same. The Town Council of Vryheid repeatedly wrote to the parish priest of St. Thomas More, ordering him to stop Africans from going to church in (the so-called white) town. On August 12, 1966, the Manager for Non-European Affairs in Vryheid addressed the following letter to the parish priest:
"It was brought to my attention that your Church holds religious services for Bantu in your Church-building situated on the corner of Landdros Street and Boeren Street, Vryheid, which premises is situated (sic) within the urban area of Vryheid but outside the Bantu Residential Area.
In this respect I would like to refer you to subsection (a) of Section 7 of the Bantu (urban Areas) Act, Act No. 25 of 1945 which inter alia reads:
'No person shall conduct on premises situated within any urban area outside a Bantu Residential area, any church, or other institution or any place of entertainment which was not in existence at the commencement of the Bantu Laws Amendment Act, 1937 (Act No. 46 of 1937), mainly for the benefit of Bantu without the approval of the Minister (meaning in this case the Minister of Bantu Admnistration and Development) given with the concurrence of the local authority concerned, which approval may with like concurrence be withdrawn.'
It will be appreciated therefore if you will kindly inform me whether you have already obtained the approval from the Minister of Bantu Administration and Development..."
In a letter to the Town Council, dated July 26, 1968, the parish priest of Saint Thomas More confirmed that services for people of all races were being held in the Catholic church. This prompted the Town Council to demand an immediate stop to this practice:
"As you are already aware of, my Council has at several occasions taken up the...matter with the Department of Bantu Administration and Development due to the fact that serious complaints were received from residents of the town about the holding of church services for Bantu on premises within the uban area but situated outside the Bantu residential area and whereby your church is unfortunately involved...As a result of the...instruction from the secretary of Bantu Administration and Development, my Council resolved at its meeting held on the 25th November 1968, as follows:
'That the following church congregations be requested not to hold any church services outside the Bantu location:
In view of the above resolution of my Councl, I have to request your Church very urgently not to hold Church services for Bantu on your premises within the urban area but situated outside the Bantu Residential area and should this have been the procedure in the past, to then discontinue the holding of these services....(signed Town Clerk)."
The Benedictines ignored that warning and continued to have services in the church in Vryheid for Africans as well as for Europeans. The Dutch Reformed Church sent a memorandum to the Town Council pointing out that their services for Africans were not "mixed services", but are held exclusively for Blacks:
"...The Dutch Reformed Church has always been willing to offer its co-operation to the local and national government as far as the church's care for the different population groups is concerned...It is proved by the fact that in our church Blacks and Whites worship separately and that we promote a separate and independent development of the churches among the different population groups...There are, however, two other church communities involved in this which conduct mixed services within the town area. Past experience has shown that in other places, too, these churches were not willing to stop mixed church services in white town areas. The government has not undertaken any drastic step to force them to comply. If therefore the Dutch Reformed Church discontinues these services, these other churches will gain from it. Many of our black members will then join these other churches in order to go to church there. The Dutch Reformed Church does not see any reason why other churches which are country-wide not willing to co-operate should gain any advantage." (Memorandum re: Church Services for Bantu, Saint Thomas More Parish Archives).
In view of the fact that Africans had been attending services in the Catholic Church in Vryheid long before 1936, the Town Council did not pursue the issue any further and played down complaints received from residents. On May 5, 1969, the Town Clerk wrote to the parish priest:
"...I am directed to inform you that my Council has investigated the two complaints received in regard to the conducting of church services within the European Township. It was found by the Council that the complaints...are of a less serious nature and it was accordingly resolved by the Council to leave the matter as it is and to allow the Church Congregation in question to carry on conducting church services for the Bantu within the European Township. In order to avoid further complaints from European residents, an appeal is herewith made to your church to see to it that the Bantu attending the services arrives and departs (sic) to and from the services in an orderly way. (Signed) Town Clerk)."
The Town Council also complained when it realized that the Catholic Hall was open to all races. As late as 1988, the parish priest received a letter from the Town Clerk raising this issue:
"I have recently received complaints regarding functions which have been held in the above-mentioned (Aurelian Bilgeri) hall for members of the Black race group...Firstly, it must be borne in mind that the hall is situated in a residential area and secondly, the area is zoned a White group area. In order not to be in breach of the Group Areas Act, 1966, your congregation is advised not to arrange functions for Blacks in the Aurelian Bilgeri Hall in future. (Signed) Town Clerk." (Letter of the Vryheid Town Clerk to the Parish Priest of Saint Thomas More, 06-07-88).
The parish priest advised the Town Clerk that the Catholic Church does not discriminate against anyone on account of the colour of his or her skin (letter of the Parish Priest to the Vryheid Town Clerk, 11-07-88). The issue was no longer raised after the government decided to scrap all racially based laws from its statute books.
The following figures show the growth of the St. Thomas More Parish over a period of forty-five years:
|1955||130||0||£ 3/12/0||£ 250/0/8|
|1960||200||0||£ 34/14/4||R 431|
Already in the early twenties, Bishop Spreiter had in mind the establishment of a convent in Vryheid. As the Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing were unable to supply personnel (TT 16-02-23; 22-10-23), the bishop approached the Dominican Sisters of Newcastle. But their superior, Sr. Rose Neiland, wrote: "I have neither money nor sisters..." (TT 23-02-23; 26-05-25). That put an end to the plan. More than thirty years passed before a convent was opened in Vryheid. Invited by Bishop Aurelian Bilgeri, Nardini Sisters (Franciscan Sisters of Mallersdorf) from Germany answered the call to come to South Africa. The first group of these sisters arrived in Zululand in February 1955. After spending ten months in Eshowe and Nongoma to prepare for their new task, they came to Vryheid where they had purchased a property with a house on the corner of Boeren Street and Landdrost Street. In 1968, the old house which used to be Sister Christensen's Nursing Home until 1954, was pulled down and a new convent erected in its place.
The sisters started a preprimary school in 1956 and began with the lowest class of the primary school in 1957, adding one more class in each of the following years. The school, which was named Nardini Convent School after the man who founded the Congregation of Nardini Sisters, became a fully fledged primary school (class 1 to Std. 5) in 1963. Modern boarding facilities and classrooms were gradually added. The school, which has been accepting children of all races since 1978, had two hundred and twenty children in 1990. Seventy of them were boarders.
Parish Priests of Vryheid
Assistant Priests in Vryheid
Nardini Convent School
Isiqulwane Primary School
Misty Ridge Primary
Shoba Primary School
Scheepersnek Primary School
This page was last updated on Tuesday, 24 October 2006 17:51:37