Early History, Priests, Church and Parish to 1995
The village of Mt Ayliff (Maxesibeni) is situated on the N3 National road 34 km South of Kokstad, 3 km, off the main road and about 160km North of Umtata.
In the 1800’s the Xesibe tribe settled in the valleys and hills between Tabankulu and Brooks’Nek (the pass over Nolangeni to Kokstad), and this is where Mt Ayliff is now situated. This tribe fought for their Independence against other tribes and in the early 1870’s asked the British Government at the Cape for protection and their area was then attached to East Griqualand.
In 1878 Magistrate Read set up his office on the slopes of Mt Evelyn at the back of the town and later moved to the village itself. The village is named after Rev John Ayliff, a Methodist minister, who had founded a mission near the present village. Then in 1889 the Presbyterian Minister,Rev Peter Hunter, established a mission at nearby Gillespie.
Like other Transkei villages in the 1880’s and 1890’s, a Cape Mounted Rifles (CMR) garrison was started there during the unrest with the surrounding tribes. There was further development in the 1890’s when Mt Ayliff, being the centre of the Xesibe area, attracted a good number of traders, among them being Catholics named Cavner and Holey. Descendents of the Holeys remained there until the middle 1970’s.
In the early 1900’s the mountain nearby, Ntsizwa, deposits of nickel were found and this roused the hopes of hte local people. So in 1936 an attempt was made to mine it, but was unfeasible because of the cost. Later in 1960’s a further unsuccessful attempt was made in the 1960’s. As I write in 1998 prospecting is being done by overseas companies, but no positive statement has yet been made and Mt Ayliff remains a little backwater village in a poor area of the country.
Transkei became independent of South Africa in 1976 and Mt Ayliff became part of a Black area. With South Africa becoming a democratic country in 1994 Transkei is now part of the Eastern Cape.
When the OMI Fathers were stationed in Kokstad in the late 1880’s, Mt Ayliff fell under their area and the priests visited there every 3 months, conducting services in private homes. Progress was made in 1902 when the Cape Government gave them a church site of about 4 erven (? hectares).
Under the OMI
At this time there were two resident Catholic families, one being the Cavner family. Mr Edward Cavner and his family lived in Mt Ayliff, from 1899-1904 and his house was nicknamed “The Catholic Hotel” because the visiting priests were always put up there. The second and better-know family were the Holeys – Mrs. Holey particularly was to play a leading role in Catholic life at Mt Ayliff.
Among the OMI visiting priests were: Frs.Vernly, Gourlay, Le Bras, Holett and Kelly. The numbers had increased and Masses were now said at the school (now the post office).
The Mariannhill vicariate was established in 1924 and the whole of East Griqualand came under its jurisdiction.
Certain Mariannhill Fathers took a special interest in Mt Ayliff and they were:
Fr Gereon Stach (1924-1927)
He was the first Mariannhill priest stationed in Kokstad.
Fr Raphael Boehmer (1928 – 1935)
Although he was not stationed at Mount ayliff, Fr Boehmer, ably assisted by Fr Nowak, did much for the Church there.
During his tenure, Holy Mass was celebrated more frequently, every 6 weeks. The building of the church in 1934 was motivated by this good priest and at the request of Dr King, the District Surgeon, an Anglican convert, the Blessed Sacrament was permanently reserved in the church.
Building the church at Mt Ayliff – 1934
When Dr King gave Fr Boehmer the initial amount of $50, this set the ball rolling and work on the church began and the workmen commenced digging the foundations in June. Bro Hildebert of Lourdes Mission was the draughtsman who drew up the plans and Mr Stork of Kokstad was the architect. The bricks were made partly by Mr Harper and partly by Mr H Marais, whose father delivered the stones. Fr Nowak, a skilled carpenter, was responsible for the roof – the windows and doors came from Lourdes mission.
Building the church was a long, slow process as money was scarce and Mr Stork was old and consequently took his March 1935 at a cost of L518.
Foundation Stone Laid 6th October 1934
The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Fleischer CMM, and the priests who were present on that occasion were: Frs.Boehmer, Nowak, Ruthid and Guido, all CMM (Mariannhill).
Blessing and Opening of the Church of Christ the King 10th March 1935.
What a red-letter day for the Mt Ayliff Catholics when their church, dedicated to Christ the King, was solemnly blessed by Bishop Fleischer! Fr Ruthing preached the sermon and the Mariannhill priests present were: Frs Boehmer, Nowak and Stork. Fr Lucas OFM came from Kokstad for the day, as Kokstad Holy Cross sisters with Children of Mary and some boarders also attended the opening, as well as many African parishioners from the outstations.
Mrs Irene Crack opened the door of the church as, in the words of the chronicler: her mother, Mrs Holey, had been of such help to the church. In spite of the dull weather, the reception in the town hall went off well. Mayor Kenyon, the local magistrate, was the speaker and he expressed his appreciation of the work of the church in Mt Ayiliff.
The Blessed Sacrament was reserved in the church for the entire day and from then on Mass was celebrated once a fortnight.
See on page 4a for the photo taken of the church, with Fr Boehmer and the various dignitaries.
Photo taken of church and Fr Boehmer With Mt Ayliff Catholics on Opening Day.
Mt Currie Prefecture Created, April 1935
The new profecture was then put under the care of the Franciscans of the Bavarian province.
Departure of Mariannhill Fathers from the Prefecture
Fr Boehmer , being a Mariannhill Father, left Kokstad to make way for th Franciscans. Mt Ayliff Catholics felt this loss keenly, as he had cared for them so well for many years.
Fr Lucas Puerstinger
Parish priest of Kokstad was now put in charge of Mt Ayliff in April 1935 and Masses were now celebrated weekly, a real blessing for the parishioners.
Mt Ayliff Statistics on arrival of Fr Canisius Bertsch OMF 1937.
When Fr Canisius took over the parish from Fr Boehmer, the number of Catholics was as follows:
Prominent Families at the time
Muirs – Sugarbush
Kings – Dr King died in the early 1940s
Holeys/Cracks – Mrs Irene Crack and Joan Crack left Mt Ayliff in the mid 1970’s
Piet and Mona Bosman – she died.
Piet married Pat – they left Mt Ayliff in 1973.
The Bavarian Franciscans and a New Era.
Fr Canisius Bertsch OFM
First Parish Priest for Mt Ayliff
Fr Canisius’s entry in the Chronicle is as follows:
In the afternoon of 23rd September 1937, Mgr Sigebald Kurz Brought me in his car from Kokstad. Fr Lucas (a former parish priest of the Kokstad-Mt Ayliff district) was here too, and Fr Hanno from Mt Frere.
Fr Canisius then recorded a short ceremony in the church, where Mgr Kurz present him with a stole, a missal and the key of the tabernacle and explained the significance of these symbols as ? the task and power of a parish priest.
This ceremony was followed by a parish social in the town hall, at which the parishioners an a few Protestants were present (his words) Dr King expressed the great joy of the whole parish that at last Mt Ayliff had its own parish priest and its own church had been built, thus signifying the constant presence of Our Lord in physical form.
Statistics of Mt Ayliff Parish as at September 1937
About 20, including Mrs Muir and three children as Sugarbush.
In the village.
Mrs Crack and daughter Joan
Miss B Holey
Mrs Addisons and three children
Mrs Drew and one daughter
Mr Piet Bosman, a recent convert.
Under this heading one must mention Dr S B King for his stalwart work among the Coloured people. In the words of the chronicler: “through his prayers and sacrifices and instructions he showed many of them the way to the Catholic church”.
Since January 1937 he gave religious instruction Sunday after Sunday.
3. The Natives (Africans)
About 180, mostly at the outstations:
a. Lubaleko, which started in 1929. But there one finds stony ground: the men do not come: ca.30 Catholics.
Fr Boehmer started there in 1934. Progress is slow, better in 1941, but opposition.
c. Esiqobeni. Fr Lucas said the frirst Mass in 1936.
A few catechumens are there.
d. Emqhekezweni. Is the congregation of the “Apostle” Juliana Ndlovu. 25 years ago she came to that place alone among heathens and prostanstans. It was only 24th August that Fr Lucas said the first Holy Mass there.
e. Esigidini. One reaches this outstation by car from Kokstad to Endabeni, then uphill on foot! There are a few catechumens.
To the priests overseeing the Mt Ayliff parish, it may not have seemed much progress or great numbers, but laying the foundations of any enterprise it sheer hard work – especially as the work was purely for God.
The statistics on the previous page were drawn up by Fr Canisius.
Mission Work Begins
Fr Canisius lost no time, but immediately started visiting his parishioners in the outlying areas, travelling on horseback. His first plan was to start a school, which was not possible at that stage, but he felt more hopeful about gaining converts through visiting the sick.
Like many mission priests, he found great difficulty in learning the Xhosa language, but realised that it was a matter of time to master it. He was full of praise for Dr King, who soon became his right-hand man, and Mrs King who provided meals for him. Miss Studd, the quietly determined teacher at the Coloured school was also praised by Fr Canisius – she was also his housekeeper and church-cleaner. May God bless them and all the others who helped me to start here.
However, he soon found that he had to battle long and hard in the early years especially to achieve any progress whatsoever and by 1938 he had pitifully few catechumens.
First Marriage in the Mt Ayliff Church
Piet J J Bosman and (26th February 1938)
Mona V Holey
Entries in the Chronicle for 1938
In June a fortnight Bible-evening for Europeans was started at Dr King’s house. Later that year Fr Canisius planted 12 fruit trees and a hedge along the road to the Coloured school. A small verandah (patio) was erected in front of the house, also a door made into the floor to create a cellar cost $6.
Statistics – June 1938 – 1939
1938…….Europeans 25 Coloureds 47 Blacks 250
1939…….Europeans 27 Coloureds 47 Blacks 351
1938 (July) …………. 71 people baptised.
90 catechumens reparing for baptism.
1939 (July) ………… 83 people baptised.
First Bazaar (Fete) – 3rd September
The ladies worked very hard to make it such a success, the people turned out in numbers and everything was sold out. The bazaar was opened by the magistrate, Mr Cowan. Fr Celestine from Kokstad provided delightful music on the piano. The final total of $30,10 – pleased everybody.
Confirmation of Coloured Children – 13th November
Fr Gerhard came for this occasion, the church was decorated and a flag was put up outside. Both children and adults had been preparing spiritually for weeks before hand.
Arrival of Statues
One of the statues was of Our Lady and the other of the Cure d’Ars, presented by Dr King. They were installed in the church and blessed. Mary Queen of Heaven and earth must help me to lead the people to Christ the King. St John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priest may he help me to live up to my vacation as pastor of souls. (Fr Canisius).
Difficult Times 1939
Returning from a CAU congress at Mariannhill in January, Fr Canisius found that his horse, his sole means of transport, had died. Then he was told that the church at eMekezweni outstation had collapsed. Hardly encouraging news for such a new priest.
– Redemptorist Mission early 1939. Fr Canisius admired the techniques of the priests and wondered if the effects would last. The people here are too worldly-minded he wrote in the chronicle.
– First Corpus Christi procession.
– Fr Canisius lamented the slow progress in winning souls for God. However, worse news was to come.
World War II
Fr Canisius, a German national, this meant restriction to the Mission area and not being allowed to visit his parishioners at the outstations or in town. He as anxious and fretted about the restrictions, that he would be unable to continue ministering to the people. This was only the first blow that the War brought.
Christimas 1939 was a low point – only 10 baptisms and he felt a failure.
Below is a letter of comfort, in German from one of Fr Canisius confreres:
1939 Arrival of Church Bells
Below is a copy of a document in German regarding these bells, which were donated by the St Peter Claver Society in Rome, founder of which society was Countess Maria Falkenberg. The hospital in Mt Frere was named after her.
In the left-hand corner is a photo of two Mt Ayliff ladies with the bells on their arrival. One bell was dedicated to Christ the King and the other to Mary, Mother of God”. Cost of railage and other expenses were $5.5.0. Fr Canisius was overjoyed with this generous gift.
From 20th July 1940 – December 1945
I quote Fr Canisius verbatim:
I had just finished talking to the Coloured people after Holy Mass, that they should not have so many dances during these sad times of War, when there was a knock at the door. Fr Cauius, Mt Frere, said: “Get ready, the CID is here to intern us. I had half an hour to get ready. They loaded us on an open van. We went to Tabankulu and Flagstaff to collect Fr Gerhard and Fr Severin and Bro. Juniper. In all 12 Franciscan Fathers and Brothers were interned for a year in Andalusia. Even the Bishp was put into the internment camp.
It was 5,5 years before we could return to the Mission.
During the War.
“Fr Lucas Puerstinger returned to Kokstad, looked after the Mt Ayliff mission, kept it going and expanded it. It was almost by superhuman effort that he could look after all these places: Kokstad, Franklin, Mt Ayliff, Tabankulu, Mt Frere.
Here he supervised also the building of the sanctuary and the Sisters chapel. When I was interned, the wall were 2m high. Miss B Holey paid for the two windows in the sanctuary, which were designed by Mrs. K King and executed by a brother in Mariannhill.
The new sanctuary was opened and blessed on Sunday 26th January 1941 – Dr SB King had given much of his time to supervise the building operations.
For ca.2 years here was no resident priest here. The Father stationed at Mt Frere used to come here to give the two Sisters Holy Mass.
Two Scheutveldt Fathers, who had had to leave their mission in China were here during the second half of the War : Fr R Quintus from October 1942 till the end of 1943, Fr P van Keerberghen, January 1944 till December 1945.
January 22nd, 1944. Dr SB King died. He had given great support to the Mission ever since he came to Mt Ayliff in 1933. RIP
This was the end of his report on activities during his absence. No doubt he sorely missed his beloved people and was glad to come back. On the following page are comments on his return.
On Fr Canisius’s return – 20th December 1945
On 20th December I arrived back here, after having spent 12 months in the internment camp of Andalusia and another 4,5 years in Johannesburg. The switchover from life in a big town to work on the mission-station was not easy. But the joy of the people to have their priest back was consolation enough for a lot I had to give up.
Back into the Routine
Fr Gerhard of Tabankulu was transferred to Newmarket, so Fr Canisius resumed charge of Tabankulu and its outstation, Lower Musika. He was concerned for the health of his horse in coping with these long distances, as the car that had been promised had not yet arrived.
First Communion 1946
First Communion for the Coloured and Black children took place in October in 1946.
1949 – New Bishop for the Mt Currie Vicariate
May Fr John McBride, Provincial of the Irish Province, installed.
October. Enthronement of the new Bishop in Kokstad.
1952. New Altar
The new altar, paid for by the parishioners, was installed in August. At the same time, a new confessional also made at Mariannhill, was also installed.
1954. Some events during the year.
February “The bees worked very hard this season: we took 120 1b. (approx. 60kg) of honey.
– Bishop McBride confirmend 121 people, afternoon tea-party followed in the Convent garden.
– A 3-day well attended Mission by Fr Kieran McCrann OFM
Grotto Built in Remembrance of Holy Year.
The parishioners built this grotto. Below is a photo of some African parishioners and Children of Mary in front of the grotto.
1958. Among the items of news in Mt Ayliff was that Fr Canisius sent two students to the Ixopo minor seminary, a discussion club started in April but dwindled as the months went by and Provincial Fr Celsus O’Briain made a visitation in May. Mt Ayliff did themselves proud, as they pledged over L600 to the Bishop’s campaign and paid up 95% of it.
150 African children attended their Christmas party in November.
1957 New prist’s House
4th February was a happy day for Fr Canisius when he moved into the house that was built for him. Shortly after he held a house-warming party for his confreres and the parish ladies gave a kitchen tea to stock up his pantry and kitchen.
1937 – 1957
Church Statistics After 20 Years
240 Catholics 1300 Catholics
Buildings, Additions Erectd
1940 – Buildings
1948 – Sanctuary
1948 – African school and classroom for Coloured school
1949/50 – Convent alterations, garage and laundry
1951/52 – Stable and Classroom African school
1953 – Additions to Miss Studd’s house
1954/55 – Choir loft
1956 – Priest’s house
New Outstations – 8 Church-sites – 2
Thanks for the money received through the bazaars
During the past 20 years:
650 Catholics died in the Lord
146 received the Sacrament of matrimony
580 received the Holy Spirit in Confirmation.
In 1956, 4160 Confessions were made and 9010 Holy Communions.
1959 Temporary Assistant for Fr Canisius
Fr Caius Grelner supplied for Fr Canisius while he was on overseas leave and on his return, the Bishop asked Fr Greliner to remain a while longer, as he had been of such help in Mt Ayliff. This was a good arrangement for Fr Canisius, who was able to visit the outstations on Sundays
1961 Visitation by Provincial, Fr Celsus O’Brian.
Bro Christopher (Andreas) Nkhati made his profession at Kwa-St Joseph with the Franciscan Familiars of St Joseph, being the second young man from Mt Ayliff to enter the congregation. The first was Raphael Nogwaba, who took the name of Bro Paschal.
In July there was a meeting of the Women of St Anne’s 74 ladies were present. In August Fr Provincial, Fr Wilhelm Forster, blessed and four bells intended for the outstations.
Two Catholic Engagements at Mt Ayilff
1. Laura Crack and Kevin Maynard
2. Jean (John) Vianney Bosman and Jean Davis
Note in the chronicle: Two engagements within a week. In all my years in Mt Ayliff these were the first and perhaps the last. He was right.
The Church Unity Octave of prayer was well-attended this year, the year of the Ecumenical Council.
March. Mariannhill – funeral of Bishop Fleischer CMM. It was he who blessed the church at Mt Ayiliff in 1935 RIP.
Some Notes for the year
Blessing of the Catholic houses in Mt Ayliff, followed houses at some outstations.
3rd June – Death of Pope John XXIII. Local Requiem Mass on the 6th June, attended by the Anglican Minister and his wife, also Rev. Bashee and Tutshana.
8th June: Apleasant picnic at U Mtamvuna with two sisters and the 11 boarders, which was enjoyed by all.
July: Loss of a vocation. Bor Christopher, who had been professed only in January 1962, ran away from Maria Hilfte Mission.
July 24-26: A course for women of St Anne about sewing and also the problem of malnutrition, given by Miss Bea Holey.
Subsequently sewing classes and catechism instruction were given at the old priest’s house.
30th August. Richard Harper erected the vice arbour below the Convent.
September: The prospective First Holy Communicants made their First Confession.
October: Two events. Two Mission huts were re-thatched by Mr Dlamini and Mss Irene Nala of Lugelweni. A concert was held to raise funds for a gift for Miss Ivy Mthetho, who was married in the September holidays.
November: Piet Bosman helped Fr Canisius with two building at outstations and re-roofed the tower at Bungeni.
The End of Fr Canisius’s Tenure at Mt Ayliff
January: In his own words (chronicle): Bishop McBride brought the obedience for the Holy Cross mission in Zululand, no place mentioned. He had the leave his beloved people and the Mission where he had served so faithfully and devotedly for 27 years.
January 1964 Farewell Parties.
On the 27th January the Bishop and Fr Canisius’s conferes gave him a party in Kokstad, then in Mt Ayliff there was one at the hotel by the people of the village. The European and Coloured Catholics held a farewell function at the African school and the Africans said goodbye to their beloved pastor on Thursday 23rd.
As he remarked in the chronicle: All of them have been very good and very generous Fr Canisius had always been gratefully appreciative of anything done for him or for the church, right from the beginning.
On page 17 is a verbatim account of his thoughts on leaving Mt Ayliff.
Before His Departure From Mt Ayliff, Fr Canisius included a personal and very touching note of thanks to the people of Mt Ayliff.
(This Appeared in the Priest’s Chronicle)
Before I depart from Mt Ayliff, I have to put on record a word of special thanks to the Sisters of St solanus, who assisted me at the Mission: Srs Monica and Edigna, who came in April 1939 and stayed right through the War. Srs Bona and Richards, Sr Edeltraud whocame in 1947 and stayed tillnow, and others who stayed only for a short time together with Sr Edeltraud: Srs Maxentia, Leonarda and Annunciata.
Sr Richards was transferred twice but came back twice. The sisters have had charge of the church,the priest’s house, the garden, the mill and the stable. They did their work humbly and faithfully. Only God can reward them for their work self-sacrifivingand hard. Without their generous co operation I could not have had the boarding-school. They took off my shoulders practically all material worries. Through their good example and untiring work they led many souls to God, I am sure.
A word of thanks is due also to the leader at St Joseph’s who taught at the school for more than 25 years and was devoted to her work. (Miss Amy Studd). For 10 years she was ably assisted by Miss Enid Bell.
Praise must be given also to the Catechist Pius Dingani, who worked now already for 29 years at Mt Ayliff, humbly and faithfully.
Of the other Catechists, I would like to mention Anton Madiba for looking so well after his congregation at eMvalweni and Dundee. The other catechists are comparative new comers. So far they have shown great zeal.
Now before I depart I want to thank our Heavenly Father, who increased the number of Catholics in these parts from 250 to well over 1750, who gave us seven sites with chapels and lots and lots of other blessings.
May He also bless my successor, Fr Seraphim Kennedy and his work.
29th January 1964
Departure of Fr Canisius – 29th January 1964
Fr Canisius bade a sad farewell to the people of Mt Ayliff.
Frs Gerard and Hanno, who had come to help him pack, accompanied him to his new station in Mandini, Zululand.
He remained faithful in his service to his Lord until he died in December 1997. His obituary will be found in the reminiscences of Laura Maynard.
The End of The Bavarian Franciscan Era.
Marriage of Laura Crack and Kevic Maynard
at Christ the King Church in Mt Ayliff
18th April 1964
In the handwriting of Fr Kennedy, the new parish priest, it is mentioned in the Chronicle:
On April 18th, Laura Crack was married to Kevin Mynard of Johannesburg. The ralatives on both sides included many Mass was very large. Fr Canisius Bertsch was invited from Zululand to perform the wedding ceremony. Fr Germain was also present.
Fr Seraphim Kennedy New Parish Priest
Irish Franciscan Era
April 1964. First note in the chronicle. Fr Eymard,the Vicar-General, gave permission for the Epistle and Gospel to be read in the vernacular by the priest facing the people.
October. Painting of the church and presbytery by Messrs
October. An unfortunate accident – Fr Kennedy fell off his horse en route to an outstation and dislocated his elbow, being out of action for some months. He admitted that he wept and nashed his teeth, but was most gracious in his thanks to the local doctors as well as Mrs. Crack and Joan for their care.
February . Fr Kennedy left Mt Ayliff, being transferred to Lusikisiki.
New Priest: Cosmas (Harry) Houlihan took over Mt Ayliff in March 1965.
October. There was a mission Mt Ayliff given by Fr Columbanus Timmons and was well-attended by most Catholics.
Below is a cutting from the Kokstad Advertiser on this event:
Fr Cosmas on overseas leave – April 1967
During this time Fr Baptist and various others priests supplied for him.
Fr O’Kelly on supply in Mt Ayliff
21st May 1967. His remarks in the chronicle: First Sunday in Mt Ayliff – very small crowd on account of rain and cold. He also visited the eMnikwa outstation and married a couple.
(Please excuse the paucity of news, the handwriting was difficult to read)
June. Said a special Mass this evening for peace because of Arab-Jordan conflict. A fairly good number, including the African Anglican Minister.
May 1967. Most of my time in South Africa since May 1958 has been spent in Hardenburg, except for 6 months supply in Mt Frere and 6 months at home. I will have to learn Xhosa here.
More Notes for 1967
– Went to Kokstad for an Ecumenical lecture given by Fr Dominic on the priesthood of the laity.
– Took Legion of Mary Envoy from Kokstad to Matatiele for Acies meeting attended by Bishop McBride, many priests and a good crowd of Legionaries.
– Got great help from Fr Baptist on Coloured school problems of which there were many. However he expected to settle things eventually.
– Third Order meeting. The Bosmans, Mrs Crack, Bessie Holey and Miss Studd decided to study some Vatican documents. Other things discussed: Bible study evenings, helping the poor by starting a Kupugani soup kitchen, etc.
August. Fr O’Kelly went to Umzinto for retreat with Mariannhill fathers and Fr Columbanus looked after the mission. On the 13th August there was a bad snowfall, which blocked many roads. 16th August, managed to get to Esiqobeni for a marriage by Church rites only, as the girl was under 16 years.
Cutting from Kokstad Advertiser – July 1967
Fr Khumalo celebrating Mass at Mt Ayliff
– Interdenominational, multiracial Bible class with tea afterwards. Fr O’Kelly hoped to repeat the successful experiment. He also went on horseback to one of the outstations, which took 3 hours altogether.
-A special Mass with special emphasis on Faith, as asked for by the Pope.
– 55 children prepared for First Holy Communion on the Feast of Christ the King.
-Said the Canon in English for the first time today (8th) , using St Andrew’s Bible Missal. Nothing in Xhosa yet.
– 11th First drop of rain, but that is all – another drought.
-Midnight Mass poorly attended, noted the chronicler, who was supplying briefly for Fr O’Kelly. He presumed that this had something to do with the weather. There was a fair attendance at the 10.30 Mass, then the priest went to an outstation where he was invited to share the Christmas meal with the people.
January : O’Kelly and Fr Finbarr went to Lumko for a Xhosa course, run by Fr Hugh (now Bishop) Slattery; a simultaneous Zulu course was on and between them there were 30 people comprising clergy, sisters and laity from various churches. All present remarked on the wonderful spirit among them.
March: In the parish there was a catechumens’ meeting (50 people) where slides borrowed from the Bishop were shown and enjoyed. Also a leaders meeting of ladies from St Anne’s League. Fr O’Kelly walked to Jojo School outside Mt Ayliff, to find only two children had turned up – he had expected more of them.
April : Fr Canisius came to Mt Ayliff for a short visit and was warmly welcomed by the people.
-First Bible vigil in church, which last 40 minutes and a fair crowd attended.
-Good rains overthe past 2 months will help the underground springs and grazing, but the rain came too late for the crops.
I have been hindered several times by rain, when planning to go to Bungeni and Mazeni outstations.
– Visit by Fr Celsus O’Briain OFM Provincial on 10th April.
– Results of Lenten Appeal – Mt Ayliff ………………… R 188.95
– Total Amount given in Lenten Sacrifice envelopes…. R1483.00
Renovation of Church
A team of workers, joined by willing children from St Joseph’s and St John’s did a great job scraping the walls in preparation for painting. Srs Lydia and Renee from Bizana then painted the sanctuary and brought the church up to Vatican II standards. The exterior was done by Mr Marais and his son from Franklin.
Fr O’Kelly bought altars and sanctuary furnishing from Fisher’s Furniture Factory in Queenstown. He also purchased, elsewhere, a Mass altar, Blessed Sacrament altar, table and an ambo and was awaiting a tabernacle from Ireland. The wood for the Paschal candle and baptismal font was bought from Bonnievale in Port Shepstone.
Once the renovation was completed and the debris removed, Miss Pat Hornsby of St Joseph’s school and her pupils were very helpful in cleaning and polishing the furnishings, including the benches.
September to November 1968
Last entries by Fr O’Kelly in the Chronicle.
On the first Sunday of September, 133 children made their First Communion. A planned procession had to be cancelled because of the rain.
Mission By Fr Khumalo and Sr Gabriel
Fr Khumalo and Sr Gabriel spent 3 days in each of the main outstations before confirmation in Lugelweni. The photo on page 22 is of the mission they gave at Mt Ayliff.
– 6 Coloured children made First Communion on the first Sunday of November.
– Bishop McBride confirmed 7 Coloured and 143 African children. Small attendance because of cold and rain after a very severe heatwave.
Sudden Death of Fr Vianney O’Kelly – 26th November
As noted in the Chronicle by an unknown scribe: While on a visit to his confreres in Kokstad, where he planned to spend the night, Fr O’Kelly died at the presbytery. His sudden death shocked his confreres and his parishioners.
His remais were brought to Mt Ayliff on Thursday for Mass with his former parishioners. The church was filled to overflowing with admirers of all races and denominations, including the local Magistrate, Mr A Lewes and Dominee Louw. The funeral Mass at Kokstad was well-attended by friends from all over the diocese, especially Hardenburg, where had spent some 9 years before coming to Mt Ayliff.
Return of Fr Houlihan – December 1968
Fr Houlihan took over Mt Ayliff for 2 years.
For some years prior to Transkei’s independence, the white people started leaving and in Mt Ayliff this was also the case. The Hobson and Muir families, who had been in the village for many years, both left and there were even fewer people to help run the parish.
Fr Houlihan went on overseas vacation and Fr Gerry Griffin supplied for him.
Fr Gerry Griffin was in Mt Ayliff for 18 months and during this time, the departure of white Catholics increased steadily.
Fr Houlihan returned in 1972 and in June 1972, mentioned the dry winter which caused a bush fire, destroying St John’s school. I quote his words in the Chronicle.
Village Management Board workers were burning dry grass growing outside our fence along by St John’s school, when the fire jumped to the dry jasmine hedge and within minutes the thatched room of St John’s extra classroom was ablaze.
By the time in became a roaring furnace, most of the villagers were milling about, trying to prevent it spreading to the long dry grass in the field next door. Police, prisoners, passersby brought buckets, horses, fire extingushers. There was no question of saving the building, just merely trying to contain the fire.
Phoenix Insurance of Durban sent an assessor by air to calculate the damage. The village Management Board had a public liability policy with Phoenix. We contacted out insurance company, Mutual, and they dealt with Phoenix. However the building had been grossly undervalued and Phoenix would not pay more than R450.00, being the amount for which it was insured with Mutual. Estimates from contractors ranged between R1000.00 and R11,000 – the building was in a very bad state and already abandoned!
The proceeds from the school fire helped towards replacing out Lister light plant, now 14 years old. A local white trader, Mr J C Erasmus, bought the old engine fore R350 and the a new 3 kw plant was ordered through D. Byrne of Kokstad. A slight oil leak from the beginning has been the only blemish on performance of the plant installed by Bro Juniper.
Departure of Bosman Family
That year saw the departure of Piet and Bosman, who had been theparish’s best benefactors. Mt Ayliff loss was Kokstad’s gain.
Mission Activity, 1972
After initial experiments with the sale of chicks, the garage building was extended and a brooder installed so that the mission’s sideline moneyspinner could be run properly. However, the onslaught of Newcastle disease throughout the country found even Mt Ayliff and decimated the poultry population, an important source of meat and protein for the black people. It’s an ill wind….. the loss created the demand and the business has kept ticking over.
The extension to the garage building commenced the month after the Provincial surveyor completed his once in ten year check on buildings and properties for valuation and rates. The extension will have to be reckoned with on his next visit (1982)
Resulting from the same survey, all local valuations were greatly increased – said to be the final stage in applying a uniform system of valuation throughout the Cape Province. At the Valuation court which followed, contested the new rate on the convent and got it reduced.
From 1972 until the arrival of the Combonis Fr Houlihan tended parish and outstations and numbers grew. Since 1995 Fr Houlihan has been stationed at Franklin.
1995 – Present (1998)
Fr Bernhard Riegel SCCJ, Comboni, is the priest in charge. His account on the Mission is in a separate section.
Final Notes from the Irish Franciscan Era – 1974
Visitation of Fr Louis Brannan, Irish Provincial
Disbanding the Village Management Board – 1975
The Transkeian Townships Board took over the management of Mt Ayliff village, as all their members were Transkeian citizens.
Chief Matanzima came to address his Xesibe subjects on the 8th November 1975 from the verandah of the Magistrate’s office. A small crowd attended, which included the civil servants.
Many changes in Mt Ayliff and district took place, one of them being the re-allocation of commonage land on the edge of the village, which affected St John’s school, which had to close down.
See the two Newspate3r reports
One dated June 1937
The other January 1975
Put in the back pocket of this book
Chronicle of Mount Ayliff Parish (1995 – 1999)
In February 1995 the parish of Mount Ayliff together with the parish of Tabankulu was entrusted to the Comboni Missionaries. It was stated a that time that Mt Ayliff was the most neglected Parish in the diocese of Kokstad.
On February 12, Frs Bernhard Riegel and Giorgio Stefani, both Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of the Jesus came to Mount Ayliff. The day before (11th February) Fr Harry (Cosmas) Houlihan) had left and took over the parish of Franklin.
Till Eeaster 95 Frs Bernhard and Giorgio went to all the outstations of both parishes together to get acquainted to the people and the places. On Easter 95 Bishop went to Tabankulu and celebrated the Easter Vigil, baptisms and Easter Sunday there.
One of the first decisions taken in consultation with the people by the priests was to close the outstation of Ndakeni, and to open a new outstation in Mqhekezweni. The Catholics from Mqhekezweni had to come down from top of the mountain to the church at Ndakeni, carrying everything along: pots, cutlery, food, candles, altar-clothes etc. There was only on catholic man staying near the church. His wife and children attended a different church. The church-building was in a terrible state and could collapse completely with any heavy storm blowing in the area. It was agreed that one of us would go to Mqhekezweni every two months and that on that day horses would be brought to Baptist where the car could be left at Bongani Cafe. There is no road whatsoever to Mqhekezweni.
Mr Frances Mfazwe a former catechist in the diocese of Durban and Eshowe came and asked for work at Mount Ayliff. His home is in this parish (Phutini). We agreed to employ him to look after the church grounds, the garden and also to help in translating into Xhosa. We also hired Mrs Muriel Mjokane from Lubalasi to clean the house and to do the laundry.
During July 1995 Fr Giorgio attended the course offered by the Catholic Psychological Services on Inculturation in related questions in Johannesburg.
On July the 15th a choir competition was held in Mount Ayliff: The choirs of Mount Ayliff, Lugelweni, Emvalweni and Sugarbush attended. It was agreed to form one choir for the diocesan choir competition in Kokstad, that took place the following week. This combined choir won three trophies.
From August 25 to 27 the parish meeting of the Women of St Anne took place in Mount Ayliff; about 40 women attended.
September: the visit of the Holy Father in Gosforth Park: about ten people from the two parishes were present at this great function where he proclaimed the message of the African Synod.
October 27-29: Special meeting with Ncanisa from Umtata and St Dionys from Mount Frere. It was meant to be an awareness for the leading members of the parish in ways the parish can grow and the faith can become deeper. App 30 people from the parish in Tabankulu and Mt Ayliff attended this meeting.
In November R350 – were brought to Tshona. The money was collected in the parish to build a church at Tshona.
Dec 9: Day of the Youth in the Parish with Concert and Beauty Contest. It was a lively celebration and helped to bring the youth in the parish together. It was well organised by the local people at Mount Ayliff.
January: On the first Sunday of the month the parish Council agreed that each outstation should buy some sponges and cutlery to be brought to the Mission. These will be used whenever there are meetings, workshops, courses etc. About 30 sponges and 40 cups and plates were brought by the different outstations. At that meeting also a report of the parish finances was presented.
February 17: Choir competition in Mount Ayliff. A good number of outstations was present.
Traditional songs were presented as well as a hymn in honour of our founder Daniel Comboni.
March 3: Meeting of the Parish Council in Mount Ayliff. Mr Alex Ngwadla was elected to be the new chair-man of the parish council. Mr Simon Nala retired as he is already over the age of 80 years and his hearing is impaired.
March 10: Workshop for Catechism teachers with Sr Dionys. For both parishes of Mount Ayliff and Tabankulu. About 20 people from 10 different outstations attended. It was stated at the end, that such courses should be held at least each year once.
March 11: Evening to 13 morning: workshop with Mr Ncanisa for the leadership in the parish. Invited were all the leaders of the different outstations as well as those who could be future leaders in the places. It also concerned Funeral-leaders and leaders for the Sunday-services. 30 people were present at these workshops. Not represented were the following places: Tshona, Mazeni, Ntsizwa, Mqhekezweni and Elubaleko. All the other outstations had sent some of their leaders.
March 17: The Beatification of our Founder Daniel Comboni in Rome. We celebrated this memorable day in our Sunday-Services
April: On Easter 13 people were either received into the church or baptised. Quite a number of our youth went to Kokstad for the youth Retreat starting on April 1. As the time-table for the schools had changed, many who wanted to go could not go as they had to attend school.
After Easter Br Siggi Pappe, a lay missionary from Germany came to stay with us for a few months. He finished his theological studies in Germany and wants to become a priest for the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart in Germany. Before entering the seminary he wanted to do a missionary service and experience. He came in August last year to Mount Frere.
He wants also to be here in Mt Ayliff with us for a few months to deepen his experience.
He will work especially with the youth in the parishes of Mount Ayliff and Tabankulu. Siggi started a project for the youth: to decorate candles. He organised to get the candles. Especially Kholekile Mjokane from Lubalasi is very gifted in this decorating of candles. He often comes on Saturdays just for this purpose.
June 1: Workshop with Sr Dionys for those who teach for First Holy Communion and Confession. About 20 people attended. Again the need for more such workshops was expressed.
June 30: After two years without baptism some 20 babies were baptised in Mount Ayliff.
July 6: Prayer night for the youth in Mount Ayliff. Br Siggi organised the prayer night with vigil and precession through the town. About 60 young people attended.
In July Fr Bernhard went to attend a workshop on Evangelisation in Entebbe/Uganda. He returned towards the middle of August.
During the year of 1996 we started to visit bless all the houses of Catholics in the various communities. We started with Mnikwa, Sugarbush, Ntsizwa, Mazeni, Elubaleko, Emvalweni and continued with Danti and Lugelweni. It is a good experience to pray together in the various houses and especially to pray for each other.
On the Feast of Christ the King First Holy Communion was celebrated in Mount Ayliff. 24 boys and girs received for the first time. Mrs D Ngwadla, Ms Beatrice Nyangule and Ms Cecilia Mntengwane helped in preparing the children for this great feast.
February 1:Traditional dance and Beauty Contest. A great number of youths attended.
Feb 26-28: Workshop for Catechism teachers with Sr Dionys. During this year some outstations (Emvalweni, Lugelweni, Sugarbush) started to teach catechism to the young people. The catechism lessons are still very much centred on sacraments and should become more a systematic teaching of hte richness of our faith. We try to explain more the faith, than the teaching skills.
Easter again was a great celebration with many people present. After the Vigil on Easternight we had a procession to the Grave-yard, the police, the prison, the magistrate’s office and the school to offer special prayers.
Shortly after Easter Fr Giorgio went for his well deserved holidays at home. The parish gave him a nice farewell on Sunday after Easter. He returned refreshed to Mount Ayliff at the end of July.
Fr Alois Plankensteiner came to supply for the time Fr Giorgio is on holiday. But son he took seriously ill and had to go to Pretoria for some operation and for recuperation.
May 9 and 10: Sr Maria Paulus from Bizana came and gave a workshop for those who want to join the abantwana bakaMaria. A large number of young people from Mount Ayliff, Emvalweni and Ntsizwa attended this workshop and about 40 of them were received into the first stage. Others will join later.
May 13 – 15: Another workshop for catechism teachers was conducted by Sr Dionys. Only 14 people attended. Bishop William from Kokstad came to visit and encourage teh teachers.
June: Br Uli Wiechers a lay Missionary from Germany will stay with us for one year. He has finished his studies to become a catechist for the archdiocese of Cologne in Germany and wants to stay here for one year. He will work especially with the youth.
July 20: First Holy Communion in Emvalweni: at the same time they join the abantwana bakaMaria.
August 15-17: A large group of the women of St Anne meet in Mount Ayliff for their AGM. A new committee is elected. Mrs Daka cannot be re elected as she was the chairlady for more 9 years. The new president of the parish is Mrs F Mkathi from eSingeni.
September: We receive a visit from the parish Sr Maria in Aalen Germany. They supported this parish financially during the last few years. They would like to establish closer links to this parish. Fr Bernhard showed them around the parishes of Mount Ayliff and Tabankulu.
They promised to help us with the building of the meeting-room with toilets and washing facilities.
At the end of September a workshop was organised again by the diocese of Kokstad.
Leaders from Sugarbush, Lugelweni, Mt Ayliff and Emvalweni attended this workshop.
November: On Sunday 2nd, Bishop William came to officially visit the parish of Mount Ayliff. After he celebrated Mass with the parish he attended a parish Council meeting in the Hall. He mentioned the many needs – also financial ones – within the diocese and thanked the people here for their co-operation.
Feast of Christ the King: First Holy Communion in Mt Ayliff. Again about 24 boys and girls received this sacrament for the first time. Many of them are from Lubalasi where Milicia Mjokane and Gloria Ncembu were instructing them. Also a good number came from eSingeni, were Mrs Qwane did the instructions.
December: Celebrations of First Holy Communion were held in Sugarbush and Lugelweni.
The children were well instructed by local teachers.
Only a few people from Mount Ayliff managed to attend the funeral of Fr Canisius Bertsch ofm, the first parish priest of Mount Ayliff. It was on Dec. 9 at Umthunzini. A great number of people from Zululand attended the Funeral Mass. He was praised as a polite, kind and at same time courageous man.
During the school holidays in December and January Fr Giorgion visited all the communities to have a day with the youth in each one of them. A number of young people accompanied hime: Nosisa Ngwadla, Luvo Maduna, Nombuso Mxhenge, Kholekile Mjokane etc.
2. Solanus Sisters, 1937-1974
To complete the picture on the sisters, it is necessary togo back to 1937, when Bishop Kurz bought a house in the approach the Holy Cross sisters with a view to having some sisters in Mt Ayliff. He wrote to the superior in 1938,
where upon she replied that they would talk it over at some future date, but nothing definite was arranged.
Bishop Kurz then approached the Solanus sisters, who had their South African headquarters outside Port Shepstone, and they agreed. The Solanus sisters arrived in 1939 and took over the house, which had been well-provisioned for 2 years by Dr King, who was also very involved at the mission.
The Sisters’ Arrival, 1939
Repairs had to be done to the convent building prior to their arrival, as well as plastering of the walls and making cupboards. The sisters did the white-washing of the walls themselves.
Below I include a cutting from the Southern Cross:
READY TO WORK
No sooner had the sisters arrived, than they made themselves useful by cooking meals for Fr Canisius. Prior to that, Mrs King, the doctor’s wife, had done his cooking.
Convent wall on verge of collapse
The north wall of the convent being in danger of falling, Fr Canisius requested Mr Dihl, an engineer from Durban to look at it. Mr Dihl reported that the wall needed underpinning, but in the meantime trestles had to be made to brace the wall.
Sr Richards was transferred to Hlabane.
Mr Dihl built two buttresses onto the troublesome north wall of the Convent.
Also that year Cecila Lugelweni entered the Precious Blood sisters at Glen Avent Convent in Umtata, joining Maria Lulela, who had joined previously. The Adelaide Bembelo of eMvalweni joined the Precious Blood Sisters, takine the religious name of Consolata.
Christmas Tree Party for th coloured children – the sisters were of great help on that occasion to Pat Bosman and Miss Studd.
1964 29th January
The sisters received notification from their superior that they should close the Convent in July that year. However, Bishop McBride managed to extend this date to July 1965, the following year. They eventually left Mt Ayliff in 1969, a great loss to the Catholic community.
Two Former Mt Ayliff Sisters Killed in Nairobi Air Crash on 20thNov 1974
Fr Houlihan was sent a mourning notice from the Solanus sisters that Srs Richardis and Bona had been among the passengers killed in that tragic air disaster.
Fr Houlihan and a catechist attended the funeral at Maris Stella, Port Shepstone on the 3rd December 1974.
FMM Sisters 1970
July 1970. FMM Sisters from Bizana proposed supervising district nursing clinics. The need for these reached urgency proportions when our local doctors, Hendrik and Mavis de Beer left the village to care for his ageing parents farming near Cradock. Mt Frere doctors visit Mt Ayliff village three times weekly but outlying areas were left without doctors.
Attempts to run clinics without adequate supervision proved a fiasco.
Pretoria authorities or the Health Department approved verbally the Sisters plans to supervise clinics, so renovations were begun at the Convent and two sisters came to stay and oversee the work.
A visit to East London Health authorities by the Bizana sisters early in August caused sudden death to the entire plan, as they were told that the proposed new Dutch Reformed church hospital yet to be built in the village will provide adequately for outlying clinics, etc. Inadequate forsight and preliminary investigations.
Nothing further was mentiones.
4. Coloured and African (Catholic) Schools In Mt Ayliff
1931 – 1975
1931 – St Joseph’s School for Coloureds
Fr Boehmer saw the need for a school for the many Coloured children, so he started the school in 1931. Miss Martha van der Byl (later Mrs Bell) was the first teacher.
In July 1932 a new school was built by Mr Bennie of Mt Frere, the total cost being L100. They received a Government grant in December that year, with Miss Studd teching at the school from 1933-1966. In 1933 the chronicler remarked that there was only 1 Catholic pupil at the school.
Dr King helped by giving religious instruction to the Coloured community.
In 1933 9 Coloured children were received into the church and confirmed in October. The following year 13 children received First Holy Communion. From then on the chronicler noticed a steadily increasing Catholic influence among the children.
1946 – St John Evangelist School for the Natives
A small school was started in October 1946 with an enrolment of 19 pupils. In January the following year the numbers were up to 44 pupils and Miss Irene Nala was the teacher.
1948 – A New, Better School Built
By February 1948 the foundations of the school were dug and Bro Dosith completed the building by May.
27th May 1948 – Opening of the New School
Mgr Lucas Puerstinger blessed the new building, which was opened by the Magistrate, Mr van Aswegen, with all the members of the Village Management Board and seven school choirs present, as well as a large number of African people.
The building cost R940 and would not have been possible sister in Alexandra Township in Johannesburg. It was mentioned inthe chronicle that Sr Evangeline, who died in August 1946, had prayed and suffered a lot for the success of the school. 104 pupils were enrolled.
On the following page is a photo of the opening of St John’s school, and a cutting from the Daily Dispatch in English. The cutting underneath the photo is a Xhosa and refers to Sr Evangeline’s funeral.
Opening of St John Evangelist School
Addition to St John’s School 1953
The numbers at the new school increased greatly and another classroom had to be built, in teh form of a rondavel (round mud-brick room) cost L101.00. Fortunately the generous donation more than covered the cost of the additional two rooms and it was not necessary to apply to the Diocese for funds.
Mr Laridan, a carpenter, made 12 desks for the school costing L650.00.
Addition to St Joseph’s Coloured School, 1953
Another room built for Miss Studd, teacher at this school. Below, a photo of the Coloured boarders in 1953.
Miss Studd celebrates her 25th Anniversary
As a teacher
This was a great year for Miss Studd and a celebration was held by the church to honour her and present her with a gift. Fr Canisius mentioned int he chronicle that she had done wonderful work in these years for the children and for the church and had always been a devoted and dedicated teacher.
School Inspector – St Johns
He insisted that only Catholic children could be enrolled at the school.
St Joseph’s Coloured School
The Coloured school was painted and as the inspector remarked in his report in October, the buildings were in fairly good state of repair.
St John’s School
The attendance at the school jumped from 39 to 62 over the past few months since Mrs Qayiso was removed. By visiting the homes before the end of November, it was hoped to discover many more loafers and careless parents and increase the attendance still more. (From the chronicle).
Retirement of Miss Studd
After 34 years of dedicated teaching at the Coloured school, the time came for Miss Studd to retire on pension. A large party was given for her by the Coloured community and Bishop McBride came to Mt Ayliff for the occasion.
As a token of gratitude, the Bishop presented her with a transstor radio on behalf of the children, parents and former pupils, thanked her heartly and wished her a long and happy retirement.
St Joseph’s School – Resignation of Miss Hornsby as Principal
Miss Hornsby resigned as principal, as she planned to spend a year overseas.
Following her departure, the post was advertised, with two applications being unsuitable, one person being on the Education Department’s blacklist and the other had a drinking problem – the post was still cavant. After 15 school weeks without a principal and teacher for Stds 3,4 and 5 Mt Frankie de Kok of Kokstad very kindly left his post as Vice principal so as to complete the formalities for the year at St Joseph’s school.
After various complications, a trainee teacher, Miss Godden, also of Kokstad, took over the post. Fr Houlihan resigned as school manager after all the drama. No further mention was made of the school.
St John’s School
Because of all the political developments leading up to Transkei independence (1976), the school unfortunately had to close down. The abandoned school buildings were burned down in the fire of June 1975, as described by Fr Houlihan in the Mt Ayliff chronicle.
As sad end for two such promising enterprises.
Catechists at Mt Ayliff
Not much is mentioned in the chronicle about the catechists so I include all the snippets I could find.
First meeting of catechists and helpers with Fr Canisius once he had returned to the mission after the War. I quote his report verbatim:
About ten people were here. Some of them old and of not much use, but as long as they wish to help they are accepted. I spoke to them about the persecuted church and the duties of a catechist and instructed them especially about the church and the principal truths of the Creed. I think that I have to do that perhaps every 3 months, so that these men learn to know their faith. What we need is a workplan for the catechists in Xhosa. Below is a photo of Father Canisius with the catechists and helpers in 1946.
Two catechists receive appointments. Elias Ngqulunga and Simon Nala, after completing the two year training course at Bizana were sent to outstations, Elias to Sugarbush and Simon to Lugelweni. Mission work at Mt Ayliff was in its earlier stages and there was plenty work for them, as each catechist had to teach catechism in 5 or 6 outlying villages.
Resident catechist in Mt Ayliff. Felix Somacele was appointed as catechist to the people of Mt Ayliff – he also served Lubalasi, Ndzongiseni, Betshwana and Sigidini. Pius Dingane, former chief catechist since 1943, went to Lubaleko, where a chapel had been built and the people needed at experienced catechist badly.
Meeting of the catechists, which included a one-day retreat, followed by instructions on the sacraments.
Present: Simon, Elias, Pius, James, Anton, Raphael and Felix.
In his final entry in the chronicle before his departure, Fr Canisius wrote the following about the catechists, and I reproduce his remarks in his own handwriting:
Simon Nala and his brother in law, Pius Dingane, attended an updating course for catechists, or rather, animators and instructors for local congregations. They returned before Easter with heads sore from unaccustomed learning, but eager to make a start.
Please God time will show the fruits of their efforts.
1937 – 1995
In contrast with the meagre information regarding the catechists, the outstations were mentioned in great detail in the Mt Ayliff chronicle.
This was the first outstation, started in 1937 at the request of the people there. Fr Canisius records that in November 1937 the first Mass was celebrated there, with 10 men and 1 woman present.
On Easter Saturday 1938, 15 catechumens came from Lugelweni for baptism. However, because of the existing laws of the country, it was not possible to have a church built there before 1956. In 1959 Bishop McBride came to bless the bell, recently installed.
There was trouble ahead, again with th Government. Under the ruling of the Group Areas Act, Lugelweni was declared a white area – the church had to be pulled down and the people moved to another area set aside for them, called New Lugelweni (for the records I have referred to this place as Lugelweni).
A site for the new church was allocated in 1962 at the new village and while this church was being built, a large square building was erected to serve as a temporary Catholic church.
The new church was built with a struggle, as Fr Canisius remarks, as the bricks were second-hand and the walls kept falling down – in addition the rain and strong winds added to the damage.
In July 1963 the new church was almost complete and to celebrate, Fr Canisius planted gum trees next to the church.
On page 44 is an account of the blessing and opening of the church at Lugelweni, together with a photo taken on that occasion.
Blessing and Opening of the Church at Lugelweni
On 18th August 1963 there was rejoicing when Bishop McBride blessed and opened new church, named St Mary’s for Fr Canisius and the people of Lugelweni it had been a traumatic time. First moving to another area chosen by the Government and difficulties while building the church.
Fr Canisius meticulously recorded the contribution: from local and Mt Ayliff parishioners, church building fund, contributions from Germany and Canada. In November the stations of the cross were erected in the church.
1967 – Lugelweni
Fr Canisius had left by this time and Fr Houlihan dealt with the following matter: After Mass at Lugelweni, I went to see Veronica Majola whom we had seen on Saturday – she was thinking of becoming a witchdoctor because she is ill. She promised not to and asked for confession. But she went on Monday and became a withdoctor. The pressure exerted by African tradition was very strong at that time.
In December 1937, Fr Canisius blessed a square Mass house that had been built by a devout woman parishioner in Mqhekezweni – this served as a church. To give the occasion special significance Mgr, Kurz had been asked to open it. In spite of the rainy weather, there were 150 people present at the opening. Fr Lucas Puerstinger gave an inspired sermon.
By 1939 a proper church was built. Frs Canisius, Fr Gerhard and Fr Lucas attended the blessing of the church, and we had a fine feast up in the mountains.
Fr Canisius blessed the houses at Mqhekezweni in 1947, and mentioned that the road was pretty bad even for a horse.
Fr Canisius put in an application for a church site.
Blessing of the houses at Dutyini.
Five people were killed by lightning at Dutyini – they were attending a funeral, and being afraid to cross the swollen river to return home, all remained ina hut, which was struck by lightning. Several other people were struck by the bolt of lightning, but were not severely injured.
Fr Canisius celebrated the first Mass at Bungeni, noting that the people were eager to learn about the Faith and attend Mass. Later that year, to his distress, Fr Canisius wasrestricted in his movements because of the War and had to give the care of Bungeni to Fr Gerhard of Tabankulu.
After a temporary halt in 1958, the building of the church was on its way. Richard Lynx, a Mt Ayliff Catholic, was a charge of building operations and used bricks from Mfundisweni. Calamity struck with a vengeance – two walls were blown down during a terrific thunderstorm, which was followed by heavy rain. The ruins of the church were buried under snow.
Nothing daunted, the building re-commenced in September, this time using sand and cement as the local clay did not bind the bricks together. Later that month Bros Juniper and Benignus put up the roof of the church. The date of the opening is not recorded, but the bell was delivered in 1960.
Early missionaries learned to accept all kinds of problems with equanimity, like the time Fr Canisius returned from Bungeni on a very muddy road. Twice the people had to push his car out of the mud – the third time a span of oxen had to be used!
The small private school at eMvalweni which had been in existence since 1927, had to be closed due both to political pressure and the fact that the parents wanted their children to attend the Government school instead. Fr Canisius regretfully remarked:
A pity I had to close the school, as it was the only Native (African) school in my district. He did manage to send a teacher for the Catholic children’s religious education.
With the expansion of the local community, the Mass rondavel became too small for the crowds and a temporary square building was put up. By 1957 the church site was granted, so Fr Canisius and mission staff started fencing the site. Threats were then made to cut the wire, which Fr Canisius ignored and went ahead with the fencing anyway.
Nothing further happened.
Fr Canisius, with 21 people, dug the foundations for the new church, using 31 pockets of cement. Fr Canisius was extremely pleased with the people’s efforts and praised them highly. By December building was in full swing.
A most important event – the opening of the church in April.
Continuous rain did not deter the crowds who came to watch the Bishop bless and open the church. Two sheep were slaughtered for the occasion. In January 1961 the Stations of the Cross were blessed and the eMvalweni Catholics donated 63 candles for the church.
Fr Canisius blessed 40 houses at eMvalweni.
Fr Canisius went on home leave that year and Fr Egbert O’Dea did supply. He became very involved with the outstations, especially Sugarbush, as the church-site was granted in April and fenced 3 weeks later.
The church was built during the tenure of Fr Egbert and the tower wa built later. On instructions from Kokstad the church had to be built with mud-bricks – and again the walls fell down during the rainy season. Fr Egbert had to start from scratch, this time using burnt bricks.
The church was completed that year and Bishop McBride opened it, blessed it and preached the sermon. Among those present were: Mgr Antonine Kelly, Bros Octave and Juniper and Fr Bruno. The congregation was mostly African. With a few Europeans and Coloureds.
In February Fr Canisius planted 50 pine trees at Sugarbush. Also during that year the tower and arch for the church were completed, the bell arrived and also the stations of the cross. In 1963 Fr Canisius blessed the houses of the faithful at Sugarbush.
On Boxing Day (Feast of St Stephen) there was a white marriage at Sugarbush, i.e they did not wear traditional African clothes. There was a big feast afterwards.
1960 ‑ October
the foundation of the new church was laid.
Then on the 10th October 1961 Bishop McBride blessed and opened the church. Chief Gaulibas was among the large crowd present at the ceremony .
1961 – February
The church site was granted. The church ws built in due course and by June 1961 the tower was built as well
Below is a photocopy of the eNdakeni church tower
The Church site was granted and fenced immediately. By November that year the church was complete and took the builder, Richard Lynx and his brother just 3,5 months for the job.
Finances: The Kokstad Diocese provided the roof, rafters and corrugated iron, a large portion was financed by the Mission itself. Most of the money was donated from Germany and the parishioners gave generous financial help. The bell came from Germany. In Fr Canisius’s words: I asked the Christians to pray for their benefactors here and overseas.
Bishop McBride blessed and opened the church at Mnikwa. Fr Seraphim and Bro Octave assisted the Bishop. Those present at the ceremony included Mt Ayliff families i.e Bosmans, Cracks and Cornwalls, Mt Ayliff dignitaries, people from Durban and Umtata. The Africans were so many that there was no room in the church.
Repairs were planned for a hut at Mnikwa – instead a flat was built at the side. Fr Houlihan felt that this addition would be temporary, being made of mud bricks, and if it rained it would either leak badly or collapse.
The people at Mnikwa show a greater interest in the Church than others. An encouraging sign.
-On his return from a visit from Mnikwa he found that a car had landed in the Umzintlava river – the driver had lost control of the car. When the police had pulled his body out of the river, Fr Houlihan gave him extreme unction conditionally.
After the church site had been chosen, it was fenced in 1963, but building operations on the church of St Clare only commenced in 1968
Personal Reminiscences of Laura Maynard (Nee Crack) A Former Resident of Mt Ayliff
Laura, younger daughter of the late Mr and Mrs Crack, originates from Mt Ayliff and spent most of her pre-marriage years there. Her father was at one time Chief of Police in Mt Ayliff, her mother Irene was very involved with the church as was Laura’s older sister Joan. Joan, who remained single, was the capable secretary of the village Management Board for 25 years and according to a correspondent in the Daily Dispatch newspaper of January 1975, knew more about Mt Ayliff than anyone else around. Mr Crack died some years ago and Joan and her mother left the village in 1976. Both mother and daughter lived at the South Coast until their deaths in the 1980’s.
Laura married Kevin Maynard in 1964. She had two daughters, one of whom is married with young children , so Laura is a proud Granny. The other daughter will be married soon. Laura and Kevin live in Vryheid, where they are kept extremely busy especially in summer with a garden services business.
I am very greateful to Laura for the personal insights into the life of the parish, the people, the Solanus sisters and especially Fr Canisius, as the only other information I have of him is in the priest’s chronicle, written by himself.
Before I proceed with information on any of these above-mentioned subjects, however, I include a cutting and two original photos of Laura and Kevin on their wedding day with Fr Canisius. Being one of the bridesmaids, Jeanette Bischof, I know Laura well and am happy to include the page on the wedding.
Laura was full of praise for this remarkable, yet ordinary priest who dedicated 60 years of his life to doing God’s will and was zealous in his work of gathering the harvest.
He was a very warm, generous man with a lovely sense of humour. He was compassionate towards anyone with illness or problems, but was firm and strict. (I personally met him once, at Laura’s wedding, and I liked his refreshing condour).
Laura recalls that he often travelled to the outstations, some at least 60 km distant, on horseback and the African people being extremely courteous people shared their food with him- he often slept on hut floors around the fire with his host and family. He was generous and unstinting in giving of himself, gaining many converts with his sincerity.
In those days, the 1940’s and 1950’s, the pace of life was much more leisurely and Fr Canisius availed himself of every chance to get to know his parishioners and see too many things in the parish. At one time he taught catechism to three White children: Laura Jerome Bosman (now Dr Bosman of Kokstad) and another child.
Below is an obituary of Fr Canisius, who died on 5th December 1997. Laura travelled to Eshowe for the funeral of this special priest and friend who helped shape her spiritual life.
Laura remembered Sr Ehrentraud and Sr Richardus. She particularly mentioned Sr Richardus, who was a quiet and gentle person – an excellent music teacher. She shared the sacristan and church-cleaning duties with Sr Ehrentraud.
Sr Ehrentraud was an excellent cook and housekeeper for Fr Canisius. According to Fr Houlihan, with whom I spoke on the telephone, she made and sold delicious German sausages to shops as far away as Mt Frere.
Sr Bona was also stationed at Mt Ayliff before, during and briefly after the War, but Laura was too small to remember her well.
Some Catholic Families
Holeys: Laura’s maternal grandfather arrived in Mr Ayliff in 1890, one of the first White peole in the village. Mr Holey had trading stores in the village and district. Mrs Holey was extremely helpful in the church.
Irene Crack: Irene was the Holey’s daughter, who married Mr Crack who was in the Police force and rose to the position of Chief of Police. Mrs Crack continued her mother’s tradition of assistance to the priest and the church, hence was given the honour of opening the church door when the Bishop blessed the new church. Joan her elder daughter also helped in the parish in her quiet way.
Irene’s unmarried sister, a teacher, taught catechism and sewing, and is mentioned in Fr Canisius’s chronicle.
Piet and Mona Bosman
Piet Bosman, a convert to the faith, arrived in Mt Ayliff in 1938 and ran a butchery and other businesses in the village as well as a farm in the district. He married Mona Holey – they had one son, John Vianney and Mona died in 1940.
Piet and Pat Bosman
Piet remained a widower for 8 years, then married Pat Murphy, a highly intelligent and educated Anglo-Irish lady from London. Pat quickly took to rural life, often helped in the butchery, while in the church she started the Third Order of St Francis, ran the Bible study group and many other practical things like organising church fetes and children’s Christmas tree parties. Piet was a stalwart in mending, building etc. They had two sons, one of whom, Philip, died at an early age. The other is Dr Jerome Bosman.
-Van Aswegen, Audrey and her daughter. Regular Massgoers and much part of the parish.
– Miss Amy Studd, for many years teacher at the Coloured school until her retirement. She was much loved by the Coloured people for her care and encouragement – she regularly brought people to Mass on Sundays. Miss Studd died in Mt Ayliff.
– Harper family. Some members of this family were good practising Catholics.
– Bell family were also loyal and supportive of the church.
The menfolk were mainly tradesmen, builders, carpenters etc.
Being such a small parish in the early years, there were few parish societies and fund-raising fetes took places every 4-5 years. Laura can remember a special occasion when Bishop McBride made a visit to the parish and the whole parish clebrated – she cannot recall the event. It might have been a confirmation.
Laura’s reminiscences form a valuable insight into the church from the layperson’s point of view.
As I have moved from Kokstad to Howick near Pietermaritzburg, more than 200 km away, it was not possible to pay a visit to the mission, speak to the priest Fr Bernhard, look around and take photos as I usually did. I have had to become more creative in gathering information, hence the personal contribution by Mrs Laura Maynard – this is greatly appreciated and I owe her my thanks. Fr Bernhard had also provided personal notes covering his tenure in Mt Ayliff for 1995 to January 1998 – I thank him also.
The history of Mt Ayliff church needs no additional summary from me, as everything is expressed in the next.
Howick 17th June, 1998
Contribution By Dr Jerome Bosman of Kokstad
Jerome Bosman, son of hte late Piet and Pat Bosman, is a medical doctor in Kokstad who also owns a dairy farm just outside town. He and his wife, Michele a convert, are deeply involved with St Patrick’s parish and also St Patrick’s Preparatory School, and they have four lovely children.
Jerome is Laura Maynard’s cousin by marriage and likewise spent his childhood years in Mt Ayliff, which left a deep impression on him.
I am reproducing his letter to me, which contains some of his thoughts and reminiscences of this time, as well as some original black and white photos which form a valuable addition to the history of the church in Mt Ayliff.
My grateful thanks, Jerome.
C O M B O N I P R I E S T S
Arrival in Mt Frere
That year marked the changeover from Irish Franciscans to Comboni priests. According to the author of the book, Comboni Missionaries in South Africa 1924-1994, the joint decision was made between the South African superiors of the two orders to swap priests between the Dioceses of Witbank and Kokstad. The reason given was that the laity was unhappy witht he strong Comboni presence in the Witbank diocese and they wanted a reduction of the German element.
Hence in 1990 we took over Mt Frere and the Franciscans came to the Witbank Diocese, working in Witbank and Middelburg.
Negotiations Starts, September 1990
There was a meeting of the new priests, Fr Bernhard Riegel and Fr Anton Ellinger witht he Franciscan provincial and friars to discuss the change-over. Mt Frere was selected as the most suitable place for the Combonis to start, as it is a populous rural area, ready for further evangelisation. Mt Ayliff and Tabankulu were also discussed as possibilities for the future.
Fr Bernhard then went to Bizana to learn Xhosa (he already spoke Zulu fluently) in October, prior to being stationed in Mt Frere.
Fr Gerry O’Reilly – Farewell October
A very enthusiastic crowd attended Fr Gerry’s farewell and many speakers thanked Fr Gerry for the 14 very active years he spent in Mt Frere and how sorry they were to see him go, as he had been so good to the people.
Fr Gerry’s belongings were moved to Kokstad, while he went on home leave to Ireland, then to his new parish in Middelburg (Transvaal). A new era was about to begin, building on the firm foundation laid by the Franciscans and other priests before them.
Combonis arrive in Mt Frere – November 1990
Fr Bernhard finished his Xhosa course in Bizana and went to Mt Frere, being joined shortly after by Fr Ellinger.
Discussion with Parish Leaders – November 1990
The Comboni’s first action was to contact the parish leaders for a meeting, where future plans of Mt Frere were discussed in detail and included what the people envisaged for the parish.
Fr Gerry, on his return from Ireland stayed with the Comboni’s for a new days to give them some background and input on the parish generally and guidance with dealing with the people -this information was gratefully appreciated.
Dealing with practical matters, the priests employed domestic staff and a night watchman and written contracts were drawn up for all of them.
Items of Interest – 1991
Meeting of the MCCJ (Comboni) Provincial Council in Mt Frere. Six people came to study the local community and local procedures.
One of the priests went with Sr Melrose to Eshowe for a straining weekend in YES
(Youth Encounter Spirit), where he gained new ideas for youth-work.
Something for the priests comfort – a new TV aerial was put up to improve TV reception, which was rather poor.
Visitation of Bishop Napier, March 1991
His stamp appeared in the Chronicle, 20th March.
Death of Bro. John Bosco Doherty Ofm
Although his death occurrred in the Comboni era, the Chronicler noted this in the chronicle. Bro.Bosco had been very involved in the building of the Mt Frere church priest’s house and other mission building projects and the Comboni’s were aware of the hard work and love he had put into everything he did. (Bro Bosco was also responsible for many other buildings in the Kokstad Diocese as well.
He died rather suddenly in Kokstad on the 8th March 1990 at the young age of 38 years. Although he had suffered from diabetes for many years, his death was nevertheless a shock to his confreres, who spoke warmly about the phenomenal amount of work he had done and were grateful for his years spent in the service of our Lord.
The men of the parish had a meeting with the Comboni fathers in the Chiro room of the hall in March. They wanted a specific men’s group called amadodana, a group that is clearly distinguished by waistcoats and ties. However the chronicler expressed his doubts and mentioned that many priest in the diocese were not very enthusiastic about this group, as there was possibility that these men would merely wear the uniform and would not be active in the parish.
Children of Mary , April. An election of office-bearers was scheduled for April, but had to be postponed because their leader worked at week- ends
Youth – Church Music
I must regress to 1989, when at a parish committee meeting the youth requested the committee’s help in supporting them – they also asked in fund-raising for marimbas, to be used for church music. During the meeting it was decided to hold a concert on the first Sunday in October for this purpose. In April 1991 R3,700 was donated anonymously towards the cost of the marimbas, which at that stage cost R4, 000. They then decided to buy them from Glen Avent convent in Umtata.
The priests were concerned about the poor attendance at Sunday Mass at Lugangeni, so they visited them and held a meeting with parishiners. Besides this problem, other topics came up for discussion, including the building of a new church and preparing new mothers for their babies baptisms. Also in June Sr Antony went toa course on AIDS and natural family planning and it was hoped that she would pass on her knowledge to the parishioners.
65 children were baptised at the Mt Frere church. More baptisms: Fr Arturo baptised six children of Ugandan parents in June. (There is now quite a number of Ugandan doctors and nurses working in the Transkei). It was noted that very few adult baptisms took place both in Mt Frere and the outstations.
Unemployment Affects the Local Economy
Because of the unrest in the country and finances becoming tighter, there was much unemployment on the gold mines in the Transvaal and Orange Free State. Many Transkei miners were retrenched, with no hope for employment around Mt Frere.
Day of Prayer in Mt Frere
On the 15th June there was a prayer day held in the Town Hall for the following intentions: rain, forgiveness and reconciliation in the country and the peaceful building of the New South Africa. Two Anglican priests, one Catholic priests and Assemblies of God and Salvation Army ministers let the meeting, which was not well attended.
Provincial Assembly of the Combonis
The Assembly took place in Lydenburg, Transvaal, with both priests and the brother attending, in June. The chronicler ralates somewhat ruefully of an unexpected expense of R300 on the road .
Promotion of Bishop Napier to the Archdiocese of Durban
The news of this event came in June. He was expected to leave for Durban for his ordination as Archbishop by August.
Preparations for Bishop Napier’s Farewell
Various Catholic churches in the Mt Frere gathered to discuss this event. The important items also discussed were raising finances for the food and contributions for the Bishop’s gift.
Farewell for Bishop Napier in Mt Frere
On the 5th and 6th September this event took place, after much careful planning. On his arrival in town, the Bishop was welcomed by the drum-majorettes who led him to the church.
After tea there was a display of tribal dancing, speeches, presentation of gifts (a clock and R1000) and supper was served a midnight.. The following day, Sunday, the farewell Mass was celebrated – the new marimbas were used. The Bishop then greeted various dignitories and parishioners, discussed matters with the provincial of th CPS sisters, had lunch and left for Kokstad. All present declared it a splendid occasion.
Fr Arturo’s Arrival July 1992
Once he arrived, Fr Anton started training him to serve the parish. On the 28th July, being Fr Arturo’s birthday, the sisters invited the two projects to Lourdes mission for the day, which was very pleasant.
Farewell for Fr Anton (Ellinger)
Welcome to Fr Arturo Velazquez, 25th July 1992
This event took place in the parish hall, an occasion of mixed feelings.
Once Fr Anton left, Fr Arturo became assistant priest, being appointed by the Bishop. In August Fr Arturo and Sr Antonine CPS visited some of the outstations.
Women of St Anne’s
In July the women of St Anne’s League held their AGM at Mt Frere, the number attending the AGM being 75. There 22 new members were clothed, while 8 women made their first step this was done at the concelebrated Mass.
Visit by CPS Provincial Superior
Sr Christopher came in August for discussin with the sisters. Unfortunately the Bishop was unavailable at the time and they were unable to see him. Among other topics, Sr Christopher and the sisters talked about Sr Rita’s transfer, the extension to the convent and returning aportion of the sisters’ garden to the parish.
Political Unrest – August
The ANC organised a general stay-away from work as well as mass-action throughout the country. A few people marched through the town, no buses came from the outlying districts, all bisinesses, shops, offices and schools were closed for two days. In particular the bottle stores (liquor shops) remained closed and the townspeople were careful not to court trouble by staying at home.
Diocesan Farewell to Bishop Napier in Kokstad
A concelebrated Mass was held at the Kokstad Show grounds on 20th September 1992, where there was a long sermon in English and Xhosa.
Local – October
A huge clean-up campaign was conducted throughout the Transkei. In Mt Frere the litter was removed from the streets and the scrap cars put out of sight.
Enthronement of Anglican Bishop in Mt Frere
In December 1992 the Anglican Bishop of Umzimvubu diocese was enthroned at the St George’s Anglican church. Both Frs. Artuno and Bernhard attended the ceremony and the celebrations afterwards.
The New Year was ushered in with a heavy thunderstorm and light hail in the early afternoon.
Meeting of the Comboni Fathers with Fr Tom (Bizana and Lusikisiki) and Fr Lucas (Flagstaff) in Port St Johns for discussion on parish and spiritual matters. The Mt Frere priests welcomed the contact with other priests, as they were rather isolated in Mt Frere.
There was another meeting in Kokstad on a pension scheme for workers and compansation for retired catechists, also financial support for their widows and families on the event of their death.
Preparing Mothers for their Babies Baptisms
25 ladies received training on the instruction of these mothers. Many trainees came from several outstations and the chronicler remarked that it was a good turn-out.
Night watchman Mugged
Acadia Dlamini Jam-jam, the watchman recently employed by the Comboni fathers, was attacked near the bus-station when off-duty and he lost a great quantity of blood. Consequently he had to have a transfusion in hospital and was several days off work.
October 4th 1992
Installation of Bishop Napier
As Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Durban
Bishop Napier was presented to the Durban arch-diocese by the Franciscans of Kokstad, Durban and Dundee as well as by the members of the Third Order of St Francis. About half the priests of the Kokstad diocese attended the function.
Arrival of Bro Erich Fischnaller 1993
He is a valuable member of the Mt Frere mission team, helping with practical work, e.g building churches. He has built at least three churches in the Mt Frere area. Initially however, his plan was to start community and self help projects.
I include a copy of a photo o Bro Erich from the Comboni book, as well as a picture of the church at Nomkolokotho, which he and his team built in 1994.
Preparing the Men of the Parish to Hold Communion Services
As both the priests were away from Mt Frere at least once a month, a series of training sessions were held with the men so that a communion service could be held in their absence.
Political Assassination of Chris Hani
Just a year before the first democratic election in South Africa ws held, a key man in the ANC was targeted by the right-wing (White) in an attempt to cause civil war.
April 19th 1993. Funeral of Chris Hani
This funeral was televised, with hundreds of thousands of ANC supporters attending and some very emotinal speeches. All people in the country held their breath and prayed that day. Praise God, there was no violence.
In Mt Frere there was a memorial service held in the Methodist Church. The mood of many became apparent: anger, rage; the faults of the white Nationalist Party regime were spoken about. The ANC youth representative spoke about his frustration and the feeling of wanting to kill a European.
After a march through town, the people presented a memorandum was handed to the police station, to be sent on to the Prime Minister, Mr F W de Klerk. They were already angry and inflamed, when a car with white occupants drove past, some youths chased it, but fortunately for the occupants of the car, the driver was able to take evasive action and get away. Such was the feeling of the Black people at that stage understandable but very frightening for all, especially white people.
Lay-Helper for the Mission
On the 4th May Fr Arturo brought a 21 year old German, Thomas Hein to Mt Frere – he wanted some practical mission experience and was to stay for a year. For the hard-worked priests, his presence was most welcome.
June 1993 A day for the youth wa held at Mt Frere, where Mr Makeba and another gentlemen addressed the youth on the subject of education. About 60 youngsters attended. In July Fr Arturo went to Pretoria for a Comboni vocations-workshop which lasted three weeks.
As the roads department were working on a dirt road near the mission, Bro Erich asked them to level a piece of ground between the hall and the workshop. Then during the July holidays a few altar servers prepared the foundation for a retaining wall in this area as the ground sloped and the rain would wash away the soil.
These postulants came to Mt Frere, also to get hands-on mission work and were soon busy cleaning the sacristy and confessional and removing unnecessary clutter. More importantly, they started work on an alphabetical baptismal register for the parish.
Joint Birthday Celebration
The youth held a combined birthday party for Fr Arturo and Thomas Hein in the hall after Sunday Mass and everyone enjoyed the party.
The annual drought was broken when 40mm of rain fell that day and more fell some days later.
In early 1994 there were excellent rains, even better than in 1993. Some fields were ploughed that had lain fallow the previous year and everything was green.
, a treat to the eyes.
A month later the rains were still falling.
MGR Slattery arrived in Kokstad and was welcomed by the Friars at the Kokstad friary.
Cutting From Osservatore Romano
Ordination of Bishop Slattery in Kokstad – February 19th 1994
Bishop Slattery was ordained by his predecessor, Archbishop Napier of Durban Archdiocese. According to the chronicler: Many bishops and priests attended the ordination at St Patrick’s school grounds. The number attending the occasion was about 2,000. Almost no Whites and only a few Coloureds, English and Afrikaans-speaking. The Black people were either Xhosa or Sotho-speaking.
The Mt Frere contingent went by bus and presented to the Bishop an oxhide shield with knobkierie (a long stick with a knob at the end, used by the rural Xhosa men as a means of defence) and a mask made of game-hide: traditional headgear of a respected elder in the community. Fr Sardi, the Comboni provincial and Fr Giorgio Stefani also attended the ordination.
First Democratic Elections, April 26-29 1994
This election was noted in the Mt Frere chronicle as follows: The elections for Parliament and regions took place. All went peacefully. Transkei ceased to exist and was incorporated into the Eastern Cape Province. Transkei is no longer a separate country (homeland).
Parish News May/June
-Thomas Hein’s year in the parish came to an end, so the youth who were his special concern, organised a farewell for him in May. Sr Dioyns Ngcobo was welcomed on the same occasion as the new parish sisters.
-A vocations workshop was held in Mt Frere for all boys in the diocese and a pleasingly large number – 110 – attended.
-Three garages were added to the parish hall building, and a meeting hall above the garages, all greatly needed.
Arrival of Fr Giorgio Di Stefani
Fr Giorgio came to Mt Frere to learn Xhosa and he was subsequently put in charge of one of the other parishes.
Weather – August
A storm caused havoc in Mt Frere and district, which destroyed several houses. At Lugangeni outstation the roof was blown off a house and a school building built by Bro Erich was completely destroyed only days after its official opening. What a disaster!
Boreholes were drilled in Mt Frere to look for underground water to augment the water supply. The borehole yielded 800 litres per hour, regarded as very good. Two water tanks were bought to storage of the water.
Two Comboni Priests for Mt Ayliff
The Comboni Provincial and Bishop Slattery came to discuss this matter. The priests were quite honest in stating that they all preferred to remain in Mt Frere, but were prepared to accept whatever decision was made. Finally Frs. Bernhard and Giorgio were chosen for Mt Ayliff and Fr Arturo and Bro Erich stayed on.
Retreat for the Men’s Group
The men (amadodana) organised a retreat for the men of the area and they came from Bizana, Lusikisiki, Flagstaff and Mt Ayliff, with fourteen from Mt Frere. Bishop Slattery was their spiritual director.
Items on the parish
January: Eight people from Mt Frere were confirmed on the 8th. There were none from the outstations.
February: Vuyiswa Gebashe was now employed as part-time parish secretary and Xhosa teacher.
April: Three Precious Blood Sisters were appointed as ministers of the Eucharist and they made their promises during Sunday Mass.
RCIA. About 30 adults started the journey towards the catechumenate and by June were given their first anointing at a very moving celebration.
Arrival of Assistant Parish Priest – Fr Maximo Huaman Inga
On the 5th June 1994, Fr Maximo, who hails from Peru, arrived at Mt Frere. The plan was for him to learn Xhosa, then be appointed to the parish – the chronicler wished him well.
The same day, Fr Anton formerly of Mt Frere, and two fellow Combonis, Frs Okhelo and Adat from Sudan, paid a short but very welcome visit to Mt Frere.
League of St Anne’s
New and prospective members spent a day in preparatin for the examination which was conducted by Fr Arturo, Sr Ambrose, Mrs Gebashe and the secretary. Eight ladies joined the the first year and three became full members.
Blessing of New Church at Nomkholokotho.
This church was built by Bro Erich (photo shown alongside that of Bro Erich’s a few pages back).
It was blessed by Bishop William. Several priests, including Fr Arturo, sisters including Sr Ambrose and two Poor Clares from Kokstad, the town choir and parishioners from Mt Frere and other outstations, were present. The Bishop was met at the entrance of the village by singers, dancers and imbongi or praise-singer. The chronicler regretted the absence of Bro Erich, but was glad that so many people were involved on that occasion, thanks be to God the builder of the Church.
In July Fr arturo went on business to Mariannhill and Durban, taking two altar servers and two of their friends, giving them a welcome outing.
Success of the Church Choir
At the end of July the local choir came first in the small choir section in Kokstad, where a choir competition took place – they came home rejoicing. In spite of the excitement they even remembered to bring birthday wishes to Fr Arturo.
October: Singingini community fared well with the baptismal preperations, and Sr Dioyns did a dress-rehearsal and gave them a few tips for the actual occasion.
Fr Arturo planned to involve the whole parish in the Christmas celebration and collected a team of four people to help him: among them was a lay missionary from Germany staying for 10 months to help with the youth, Bro. Siegbert.
Evidently it was successful, as Fr Arturo expressed his satisfaction that all went off well in spite of the heavy rain.
January: Sr Dionys ran a workshop for catechism teachers preparing adults and children for First Communion.
June: Bishop William asked Sr Ambrose to take a team of trained women to parishes in the diocese to explain the concept of birth control.
8th June. Fr Arturo was spiritual director on a day of recollection in Kokstad (St Patrick’s parish) for members of the various Bible study groups. The quiet day took place at the Poor Clares convent just outside town and participants declared they had received great spiritual input.
Mt Frere – Fr Arturo with a Group of Young Men
August: Sacred Heart members held a meeting to discuss non-active members in the group – it was a very positive meeting, lasting well into the evening. Good results were expected from this meeting.
7th August. Bhiza:. Fr Arturo and two men from Bhiza, an outstation, discussed a possibility of a site for a church with the headmen and the chief’s council at Bhiza. The African method of discussion was a new experience for Fr Arturo and he remarked on it. The chief and headmen were agreeable to this proposition.
Launching of St Augustine’s Society
This society spiritually and financially supports and promotes vocations to the local clergy. At the launching of the society eight people joined.
24th September 1996
Blessing and Opening of New Church at Bizana
The new, larger church for Bizana was built by Bro Erich and his workers and wa opened by Bishop William of Kokstad in the presence of the large crowd of clergy, religious and laypeople who had travelled great distances to be present on this auspicious occasion.
Workshop on Inculturation
This workshop was an inter-Diocesan gathering, Kokstad and Umtata dioceses, held at Mt Frere, the participants being priests and lay leaders. The workshop was a very fruitful and enjoyable experience for all.
Comboni Retreat in Transvaal
Fr Maximo went to Maria Trost mission for a week’s retreat. Then in October he went to Johannesburg for an evangelisation meeting, the first time he had participated in such a meeting.
Fr Maximo wrote his Xhosa examination through the University of South Africa (UNISA) – by correspondence – in November 1996 and though he found the examination very difficult, he passed and was well pleased. Fr Arturo finds Fr Maximo to be a very willing asistant, doing sterling work among the youth.
Mid-December: Towards the Millennium
This diocesan celebration was organised by Bishop William to introduce 1997, they year of Jesus Christ, was held at St Patrick’s Preparatory hall. Fr Maximo together with many Mt Frere Parishioners took part in it, joining the very large crowd present. It was a very happy occasion and the Holy Spirit was definitely among us.
Resident Priests at Mt Frere Misison
From 1890 – Present (1997)
1. Fr D’Arcy Follis OMI ………………………. 1890-1893
2. Fr Casimir Le Bras OMI ………………….. 1894-1896
Between 1897 – 1927 Mt Frere was Administered By Clergy From Qumbu and Kokstad
3. Fr Eligius Muller CMM …………………………. 1928-1929
4. Fr Bernard Hwymann CMM …………………… 1929 – 1932
5. Fr William Storch CMM ………………………… 1932 – 1935
6. Fr Hanno Probst OFM ……………………………. 1935 – 1938
7. Fr Gerard Meier OFM ……………………………. 1938 – 1939
8. Fr Caius Grellner OFM …………………………… 1939 – 1940
9. Supplied During World War II:
Fr Jaeckel from Qumbu
Fr Lucas from Kokstad
Fr Nolan OMI (living in Mt Frere) 1943
10. Fr Caius Grellner OFM …………………………… 1945 – 1951
11. Fr Wilfrid Byrne OFM ……………………………. 1951 – 1954
12. Fr Bruno Byrne OFM ……………………………… 1955 – 1959
Fr Valerian Gavin OFM (Asst) ………………… 1956 – 1959
(Also supplied by Fr Aelred Devine)
13. Fr Valerian Gavin OFM ………………………….. 1959 – 1976
14. Fr Gerry Griffin OFM …………………………….. 1976 – 1990
Fr Bill Lovett OFM ………………………………… 1976 ?
15. Fr Bernhardt Riegel MCCJ ……………………… 1990 – 1994
16. Fr Anton Ellinger MCCJ …………………………. 1990 – 1993
17. Fr Arturo Velazquez MCCJ ……………………… 1992 – present
Fr Massimo (Max) Huaman Inga ………………. 1994 – present
Fr Erich Fischnaller MCCJ ………………………. 1993 – present
S o u r c e s o f I n f o r m a t i o n
1. Mt Frere Priests’ Chronicle, 1892-1997
2. Fr Marcel Dischl CMM. Transkei for Christ …. 1982.
3. Fr Arturo Velazquez MCCJ, Priest in Charge, Mt Frere, verbal discussion.
4. CPS (Precious Blood Sisters) Archives, collated by Sr Antonie, Bethany Convent, Pinetown.
5. JB Brain, Catholics in Natal 1886-1925. Archdiocese of Durban , 1982.
6. Comboni Missionaries in South Africa. 1994
7. Newspapers & Periodicals:
– Southern Cross (Catholic Weekly)
– Kokstad Advertiser (weekly)
– Osservatore Romano
– Daily Dispatch (weekly, East London)
– St Anthony’s Brief (Franciscan missionary magazine)
8. Editor, Compliler, Photographer.
Mrs. Jeanette Sandford, Kokstad
Visit to Mt Frere Mission
As that day was a public holiday (Heritage Day), my husband and I visited the mission to see Fr Arturo and take photos of the various buildings and hear a little more about the Comboni’s work there.
The mission faces on to the national road running through Mt Frere from Durban through to Cape Town, but for security reasons is totally surrounded by high vibrocrete walls topped by razor wire. We gained access from the side street.
The ground area of the mission is very large and slopes towards the river – there are many buildings dotted around. Fr Arturo welcomed us at the side gate, helped me with my introduced us to the chairman of the parish council, a sister and some parishioners. The priest’s house is situated in the top corner, nearests the main road, is large and comfortable, having been added on to over the years. I was delighted to find a friendly tabby cat on the back doormat.
Later that morning Fr Arturo and the parish chairman went to the chief in an outlying area to speak to him about the possibility of selling the Mission a piece of ground to build a church. The negotiations needed serious thought and gifts exchanged, while the chief said he would discuss the matter with his headman and a joint decision would be made.
Before he left my husband Vincent and I sat in Fr Arturo’s lounge and asked about the presence of the Comboni’s in the Franciscan area, very distant from the Transvaal where the Comboni’s are mostly based. Apparently Kokstad’s previous bishop, Bishop Napier was anxious not to give the Franciscans the monopoly in the diocese and decided to introduce priests of another congregation to the area, thus bringing fresh ideas with them.
As a result an exchange was made, with Fr Gerry O’Reilly and another priest went to Middelburg (Transvaal) and Witbank and three Combonis came to Kokstad doicese – there are now four priests and a brother. The Combonis consulted with Bishop Slattery so as not to change the ethos of the area and yet follow loosely the local pastoral plan. Their addition is to evangelise to such an extent that there will be local priests and the churches become independent of the missionaries. Hence his plan to send the parishioners on as many training courses as possible.
The Combonis chose to come to Mt Frere, as this is a large rural area and desperately in need of evangelisation. (The Franciscans of course made a wonderful start and got things going, but still more is needed.)
After the conversation with Fr Arturo and Fr Maximo, we looked around the mission property to take photos.
First of all, we took photos of the church, the interior of which we had never seen before. The
impression on entering the church is that it is light and airy, with many attractive windows, the rear window extending almost the width of the church. The bright, attractive colours. The walls are a pale lemon, the parquet floors are highl polished as well as the stations of the cross are carved of wood and varnished with clear varnish.
The very life like and poignant figure of Jesus on the crucifix behind the altar is backlit and striking. Behind the crucifix is a stone wall taken from the original 1894 church and which blends in very well with the overall look of the church.
The sacnctuary is open and uncarpeted, with a smallish carved altar in the centre – a carved wooden panel on the front. There is a colourful, patterned Java print cloth over the altar, this material being much-enjoyed by the Transkei rural women.
The dark carved wooden benches which were made in Umzimkulu are also highly polished and enhance the general look of the church.
The entrance/exit double doors are on the side of the church, leading out to a large porch, the floor of which is covered by a circular woven mat, locally handcrafted and has a roof in case of inclement weather.
The area around the church is surrounded with concrete and grass, With colourful flowers in the priest’s garden. A little distance to the rear of the church is the tower made of breeze-block and topped with a concrete Bible painted red.
The ground slopes downfrom the church and where it is levelled, the hall was built in 1991. I took two photographs, one of the side-view and the other of the end section which was added on – below is the double garage and above the large youth activities room. I did not see the interior of the hall, as it was occupied at the time.
Towards the end of the property is a mini-farm, with large areas of flourishing market vegetables and nursery plants under irrigation. There are also fols, ducks rabbits etc. No doubt this enterprise has been encouraged by Bro Erich Fischnaller, who apart from being a builder responsible for churches and schools in the area, receives bales of second-hand clothing form Germany which he sells to the local people. He has a large building next to the bottom fence which services for this purpose as well as for his building materials. Bro Erich’s delightful little Alpine-type chalet neatly-stacked timber alongside it. My husband, being something of a carpenter /handyman remarked somewhat enviously on that lovely wood.
The Convent is situated below the security-fanced mission in an area of its own. It is a spacious, airy building with charming outlook from its long verandah and a large, delightful garden with shady indigenous trees, lawns shrubs and masses of variegated flowers. Four sisters, all African, still live there, one of whom works at the hospital and three are involved in parish, outstation and Convent activities in their quietly unassuming yet vital way.
Across the street from the Convent is the hospital, which was opened in 1939 and handed over to the Transkei government in the 1970’s. It must have been a beautiful building once, with high ornamental gables. A German-looking tower over the chapel, long and gracious windows, a certain style.
Unfortunately, through neglect and lack of finance, both exterior and interior are now in a sad state of disrepair. The equipment is outdated and nursing facilities inadequate, staff complement below numbers and the building has not grown to cope with the increasing number of patients from the large surrounding areas.
We spoke to an off-duty nurse who told us that very recently a very ugly concrete wall has been build around the perimeter. There are also plans to repaint interior and exterior fairly soon – hopefully these plans will include extensions and renovation.
Fr Arturo also mentioned that until recently there was only one doctor at the hospital, a Chanaian, but now the arrival of two Cuban doctors have eased the situation greatly.
Staff complement at Mt Frere
Fr Arturo Velazquez, the priest in charge is from Mexico and came to Mt Frere in 1992. He is young, full of enthusiasm and is very spiritual.
Fr Maximo (Max) Huaman Inga, his assistant, hails from Peru – a descendent of the remarkable , ancient Inca civilisation. He arrived in 1992.
Bro Erich Fischnaller, comes from Germany. He is a builder by profession and has built several churches and schools in the area. He is also the co-ordinatoer of the mini-farm and the sale of second-hand clothes. I did not meet him.
There are at the moment three priests at Mt Frere who are learning Xhosa, two from India and one from Ghana.
A Personal View of the Mission
In spite of having all the necessary modern conveniences including TV, video machine and telephone, Mt Frere town is very small and primitive with no entertainment for the mission staff. I heard not a single grumble from the priests, who obviously have come to terms with their limitations.
Their cheerful dedication to their work impressed us, not least of all the daily use of a foreign language to communicate with the local people. They serve the people humbly, are patient with the African people’s slowness in making decisions and allowing the people their say in matters and not dealing with them in a pariarchal way.
Few lay people it seems know much about mission work and the priests were anxious to share their lives and difficulties with us. They warmly welcomed us and asked us to come again.
We always find such warmth on the missions and on this occasions returned home with the good feeling that God’s labourers in this small place are doing much good.
May God bless these missionaries, and the pioneers before them whom we praise for their efforts and are certain God will richly reward them in Heaven.