Mt Frere Mission
Church, Priests, Sisters, Laity and Hospital
1892 – 1996
The Village of Mout Frere straddles the N2 National Road and the equidistant between Kokstad and Umtata and has been the seat of a magistracy since 1876. Both the town and the district are named after the Cape Governor of the time, Sr Bartle Frere. Since 1976 the town has had an alternative local name, Kwabhaca, as it is situated in an area inhabited by the Bhaca tribe.
Mt Frere was founded by the Shaw family, missionaries in the Transkei in 1877. The village grew a great deal between 1876 and 1896 because of the presence of the Frontier Armed and Mounted Police stationed at a camp near Mt Frere.
The first resident magistrate there was Mr JH Garner, whose father had been a well-known Methodist Missionary. Even until 1955 the area was fertile missionary ground for the Anglicans and Methodists – that year the Anglican church had 26 outstations and the Methodists 69. I have no information of there churches since 1955.
Early Days in the Catholic Mission Field, Mt Frere
In 1876 the Frontier Armed Mounted Police had a camp near the village and in 1878 the Cape Mounted Rifles took it over, remaining near Mt Frere until 1896. The presence of a good number of Irish Catholic soldiers in this garrison was a matter of concern to Bishop Jolivet, who was in charge of the Natal and Transkei missions.
In 1882 he visited Mt Frere, again in September 1884 and in his diary for 1890 in was mentioned that Mt Frere was one of the settlements which was visited to celebrate Mass once of twice a month.
Bishop Jolivet Procures a site for the church.
By April 1890 the Bishop procured two acres for a mission from the Cape Government at the nominal price of L4.0.6 while another acre was bought from an Irish Catholic, a Mr Connor (or O’Connor). At last a resident priest could be sent and a church built on the site.
Priest sent to Mt Frere – 1893.
The Holy Cross sisters had arrived from Umtata to start a school for the white children of the village in 1892, so Bishop Jolivet sent Fr Follis in 1893 to minister to the sisters, soldiers and families, also local residents (white).
First Church – 1893
A small thatch-roofed church was then built by the soldiers on the site of an old butchery, with an attached room for the priest. In line with the church were two round huts (rondavels =Afrikaans) connected by a square building.
The Catholic families of the district and garrison then clamoured for a school, so the Holy Cross sisters started a school with seven pupils, with Sr Aquinata in charge. The school received a State grant of L140 per annum.
Second Parish Priest – 1894
Fr Hollis left Mt Frere and was succeeded by Fr Le Bras. As the first church was getting somewhat crowded, Fr le Brass started building the second church which was made of stone. The actual construction was done by the Irish soldier of the Cape Mounted Rifles.
Several large donations were made by the soldiers and families, so the costs were kept low and no further donations were needed. The church was dedicated to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The first marriage which took place in this church was between Annie McDonough and RJ McKenzie.
A new presbytery was built: It was a wattle and daub building with a thatched roof, being built on the site where the present presbytery was built.
Departure of the CMR Soldiers, 1896
Mt Frere mission was originally established to serve the spiritual needs of the soldiers and families, who in 1894 were very numerous. However, just 2 years later the soldiers were moved away to serve in the Anglo-Boer War. This was a tremendous loss to the mission, as the most of the soldiers and families were Catholics.
A Parish Without A Priest, 1896 – 1928
With few parishioners left or children to teach, Fr le Bras and the sisters had to leave, and the sisters went to Cala, where a Mission was being established at the time.
Fr le Bras was still concerned for the few Catholics in the village, so while was stationed at Qumbu from 1908-1923 he paid regular visits to Mt Frere. Apart from the visits of Fr le Bras, the pastoral care of the Catholics was divided between Kokstad and Umtata.
For the few remaining Catholics in the village, these were limbo years and they practised their Faith as best they could. During this time the church was used as a public school. Baptisms and marriages took place but the records were kept at the church in Umtata.
1922-1923 The Mariannhill Missionaries took over the Transkei from the OMI Fathers
1928 – A New Start at Mt Frere
In 1928 Bishop Fleischer of Mariannhill sent some Precious Blood sisters and a missionary to Mt Frere – he was F Eligius Muller. Following Fr Eligius was Fr Heymann in 1929 and Fr Storch in 1932.
Mother Aemiliana (see the Sisters’ section of the Mt Frere History) and Sr Elfleda, both CPS, started things going again in 1928. Through the encouragement of the sisters, the Europeans at Mt Frere held produce-sale for church funds that year were L10 was realised.
In May Bishop Fleischer and Fr Gereon Starch arrived for confirmation of four Europeans and 1 coloured person. This was a milestone in the church, as this was the first confirmation ceremony.
Parish Notes 1928
– Mr Fordham, a stalwart parishioner who helped wherever he could in the parish, presented an organ tothe church, the cost of which was L10.
– Christmas Day Masses were said by Fr Urquhart that day. Midnight Mass was sung and many non-Catholics were present.
Two other Masses took place and 7.30 and 9.30. In all about 50 people received Holy Communion.
– In November the Bishop , Fr Raphael and Bro. Lodiger came to measure the ground for new buildings.
– Workmen started digging the foundations for the church extension and the new presbytery in February, but non-stop rain from 8-12th March halted the construction for a while.
Opening of Mt Frere Church – 15th August 1929.
Extensions were made to the original church and 2 days after the new altar had arrived from Lourdes mission, the church and the presbytery were blessed. At the morning High Mass on the 15th, Fr Ruthing gave the sermon.
Church Items of Note – 1929, 1930 & 1931.
-Two Europeans and two African children made their First Communion on Christimas day.
– About 34 Europeans and Coloureds and about 35 Africans attended Easter Mass.
– Redemptorist Retreat at Mt Frere. All local Catholics and many non-Catholics attended. The church was so full that benches were borrowed from the Village hall. During the mission 100 people received Communion.
– A jumble sale for the parish was held on the sisters’ verandah and realised L6.
– A 90 year old chief was baptised, received into the church and died 2 days later.
– Visit of Mgr. Hanisch and the Apostolic Delegate on the 24th January 1931.
First Catholic funeral in Mt.Frere: Mrs Forham, wife of Mr Fordham the priest’s stalwart helper.
1933 – Fr Storch New Resident Priest Arrives
Items of interest:
Fr Storch bought a horse from Lourdes in order to do the rounds of the outstations and shortly after the horse ran away. It was subsequently found and later became ill – no further mention of the quadruped was made.
No Mass on Sunday? February 1934, as Fr Storch was held up in Kokstad due to the heary rains. (December, January and February are the rainy months in this area).
Fr le Bras, a former priest at Mt Frere and in 1934 already 70 years old, paid the mission and found much change and growth atMt Frere since his tenure.
Parish Bazaar, 6th October 1934
In the early days, bazaars (fetes) were the chief means of fund-raising. The ladies met beforehand to discuss the preparations. The bazaar was opened by the Catholic magistrate, Mr Doran. The ladies were very excited that the grand sun of L26 was made, and in addition L12. 10.0 was netted at a dance that evening, making L38.10.0 altogether.
A Swarm of Locusts – September 1934
Locusts can cause devastation of crops and plants in rural areas and in the 1930’s there were not the pest-control devices that we have now.
The swarm that descended on Mt Frere that year was regarded with great alarm and a great deal of bell ringing to scare them away had any effect. However the locusts moved off after a day.
Church Renovatins November/December 1934
The church was repaired and renovated just in time for Christmas: the walls were repaired and painted, windows, doors and the floor were painted a new staircase was built. Once everything was spick and span, the Christmas crib was erected.
Water rates for the Convent, butchery (which was part of the mission property) and hospital grounds amounted to L7 for the year.
December 1935. Mariannhill Vicariate Divided
Arrival of the Bavarian Franciscans and New Priest in Mount Frere.
As a result of th division, Mt Frere came under the newly-formed Mt Currie Prefecture based in Kokstad, with Mgr Kurz OFM in charge. The new prefecture was staffed with Franciscan friars.
Fr Hanno Probst OFM was the new resident priest in Mt Frere, Remaining for 2 1/2 years until July 1938 when Fr Gergard Meier followed him.
Arrival of Fr Gerard Meier
Fr Hanno was moved on the 31st July 1938 and Fr Gerard took his place. He has been there only a few months when on the 30th April 1939 Fr Cajus Grellner took over from him.
The same day Bishop Kurz made a visitation to the Mission.
World War I – 9th September 1939
War Reached Mt Frere – 21st July 1940
The effects of the War did not reach Mt Frere until nearly 8 months later, when Fr Cajus, a German national was taken to an internment camp at Andalusia in the Transvaal. All other German Franciscans who had arrived in South Africa prior to 1935 were also interned.
No Priest at the Mission
The main effect of Intenment meant no priest at the mission, hence no Mass at the mission and hospital. Fr Larkin from Port Elizabeth did temporary supply for a weeks, later Fr Jaeckel, a Belgian priest from Qumbu said Mass at the outstations and the mission.
In 1942 Fr W Nolan OMI became resident priest at Mt Frere and Fr Lukas Puerstinger from Kokstad cared for the outstations. Fr Jaeckel was then able to return to Qumbu.
In December the same year Fr Scheywaerts CICM took over from Fr Nolan and Fr Lukas continued to say Mass at the outstations.
A word needs to be said about these good Belgians (Frs Jaeckel and Fr Scheywaerts) who helped out in many places during the War . These priests had been missionaries in Northen China but had to flee when the Japanese overran the area. Next mission was the Congo where the climate had been unbearably hot, so they ended up in Johannesburg where they met Bishop Kurts who was interned in a camp. Bishop Kurz was desperate for priests in his vicariate and begged the Belgians to fill in there.
Many parishes here owe a great debt of gratitude to these unselfish priests who did more than their duty, in the service of God. After they had so ably held the fort at Mt Frere and elsewhere, the Belgian priest were sent to the United States where they ministered to the Negroes. And everything started returning to normal.
The era of the travelling priests also came to an end, and the parish of Mt Frere had been scrupulous in paying the priests for their services. And the travelling priests had ably kept the parish services. And the travelling priests had ably kept the parish books – there was an even an amount in the black.
More Notes About Mt Frere – 1950- 1953 – Another Catholic magistrate who arrived in 1945, Mr . J.A .
Kelly. His son , Tony , was ordained a priest in Kokstad by Bishoop McBride in 1957.
– Return of Fr. Hanno Probst as assistant priest in 1948 for 2 years. He was replaced by Fr. Germain in 1950.
– A statue of Our Lady of Fatima arrived in December 1948.
– In November 1949 Bishop McBride confirmed 156 people in Mt Frere.
– The two rooms behind the butchery were rented at 30 per month.
– A second hut was built for the school and a second teacher taken on.
– In April 1950 Fr Guido OFM came to help with the 54 Easter baptisms.
– Financial: Propagation of the Faith collection amounted to L4 2.0. and in December the sum of L11 2.6. was collected to renovate the church.
Clerical Notes, 1950-1952
Fr Germain left Mt Frere and was replaced by Fr Wilfrid Byrne. Bishop McBride came to the mission on a visitation later that year. Fr Reginald arrived in Mt Frere in 1952 and Fr Valerian went to Matatiele.
Silver Jubilees – Bishop McBride and Fr Lukas Puerstinger celebrated their silver Jubilees in Kokstad – 1952.
Mt Frere Becomes a Parish, August 1951
The mission is upgraded to a parish with the appointment of priest in charge being Fr Cajus Grellner – a great occasion.
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in England- 3rd June 1953
It was only 5 years since the Nationalist Government had taken over and many of the English-speaking sector were still very loyal to the Royal family. Two Masses to celebrate the occasion were held at Mt Frere, with many people attending.
Special prayers for the Queen and all rulers followed Benediction.
Marian Year – 1950
Our Lady was honoured that year under the title of the Immaculate Conception and she was declared the Patroness of South Africa. Special Masses and celebrations were held in her honour throughout the year and the 8th December marked the end of the Marian year.
Items of Note 1954-1959
– The church was crowded to the door for the Easter services and the question rose again about the need for a larger church.
– Fr Peyton’s Rosary crusade, 1955. A rally was held in Kokstad and many Mt Frere parishioners attended.
– Bishop’s campaign, “Keep Catholic schools open” – 1955.
Bishop McBride came personally to Mt Frere to launch this campaign, basically a drive for funds. Goverment subsidies to Catholic schools were scheduled to stop at the end of 1959.
By 1956 the first L100 of pledge money had been collected in Mt Frere, a good effort.
– Car theft. The priest’s Chevrolet was stolen from the garage, subsequently a new van was bouth with mission savings and a loan from the Diocese. Much stricter security measures were made after this episode.
– Fr Bruno, after 6 years in Mt Frere, went to Kokstad and Fr Seraphim took his place, joining Fr Valerian at the mission.
– 1960. The Chronicler started entering the marriages in a church register in January and by June the index for the first three baptismal registers was completed.
– Mr Grandpa Fordham, stalwart helper after his conversation in 1931, died in Mr Frere and Bishop McBride presided at the requiem.
Farewell Dinner in Kokstad – Vicar-General Fr Antonine Kelly
The mission priest attended this dinner, as Fr Kelly had been in the Diocese for many years and was returning home to Ireland shortly afterwards. The occasion was also a welcome to the new Franciscan Provincial, Fr Selsus O’Briain, who later that day came to Mt Frere on his Visitation Canonica.
Decimalisation of Coinage in South Africa – 1961.
After South Africa had changed its name from Union to Republic of South Africa under the Nationalist Government which came to power in 1948, the money was decimalised from Pounds, shillings and pence to Rands and cents. This was noted in the Mt Frere housebook.
Biennal Returns to Bishop Covering June 1959 to June 1961
Mt Frere bi-annual returns were sent to the Bishop, with the note that baptisms for the 2 year period totalled 414 and confirmations 365. Collection towards the Education of African Clergy amounted to R4.50 (formerly L2.2.6) and sales of the Catholic African magazine umAfrika were increased to 24 copies at a time.
– 1961, August. Frs Valerian and Seraphim took the sisters and staff for a picnic to Kenegha Drift, which the Chronicler remarked was a most enjoyable day.
Legion of Mary
Establishment of a Curia in Mt Frere
– Bro Juniper in 1960 came to rewire the presbytery as the lighting system had been condemned as dangerous dure to usage for many years with out much maintenance ald also old age.
– While at Mt Frere Bro Juniper touched up the entire interior of the house, replaced the timber partition between bath and toilet witht a brick wall. Second ceilings were attached to some old ceilings, the walls were also repaired and repainted. The sitting room bedroom and office were refurbished.
– 1961, New electricity meter-board was installed in the church. Wall-cracks in the house were mended, hailguards were replaced on the windows.
A Bigger Church Needed
Question: To Renovate or to Build? 1964
Renovation of the church seemed financially a better option to the priests and parish at Mt Frere, so St Pientia of Mariannhill was asked to do an inspection an give her opinion. Sr Pientia was a qualified, professional painter and stained glass expert and had done murals and windows in several South Africa Catholic Churches, e.g Christ the King Cathedral in Queenstown, Thaba Maria African church near Lady Frere etc.
Sr Pientia paid the visit in January 1964 and in her direct, non-nonsense way she commented on the dilapidated condition of the church.
Then Fr Balerian asked Fr Germain an Bro Juniper of Kokstad to discuss whether it would be feasible to repair the church or knock it down entirely and rebuilding a new one. It was decided to approach Mr Bruce, a building contractor from Umtata. A two page letter was written to him containing all necessary information – his reply is to be found on the following page.
I would mention that Mr Bruce paid a visit to the old church before he gave his opinion.
Bro Juniper Draws a Plan For the New Church
In March Bro Juniper obtained an unused plan originally made for the Port St John’s church which was never built and made alterations on it. The plan was sent to Mr Bruce who obtained Mr W Johnston to polish up the plan – Mr Bruce then quoted R22,000 as a rough estimate to do the job.
Fr Valerian then approached the Franciscan Father General, who made several inspections of the building and the proposed plan, consultation with the hierarchy of the Franciscan Irish province. By August the Provincial gave the go-ahead and in early September prisoners started clearing trees in the vicinity which could be a hazard to the building operation.
Building on the New Church Starts
The contractor for the job was Mr EV. Edwards of Kokstad. First he demolished the side-aisle, back room and sacristy of the existing church and used the stones for the foundation of the new church.
After this demolition, a boarded partition covered the end of the church at the rails and Mass was temporarily said outside the rails. The demolition work of course affected the attendance of parishioners from the outstations at Easter.
By May the workmen started digging out the foundation – a week later the re-enforced concrete foundation was laid. A chip from the Rock of Calvary was placed in the foundation under the entrance doorway.
A Hitch or two
So far the building operation had gone smoothly, but the hold-up occured on Ascension Thursday. The workmen had gone away for the long week-end (Ascension Thursday was a public holiday at that time). A strong wind blew down the timber structure behind the high altar just after the second Mass and the whole end of the church was open to the elements.
However, the builders took this in their stride, repaired the damage and by June they continued with the work. By the 12th June the walls of the church were halfway up the windows. Another hitch….. A heavy snowfall which stopped work for a week, then work resumed again. The hazards of building in winter.
Progress in Building the church
July-November. In July the carpenters arrived to start on the roof, in August the foundation for the separate tower was laid-by September an open Bible was placed on the square top of the tower. Bro Juniper was meanwhile busy on the plumbing in the sacristies and Fr Valerian selected glass for the side-windows in Durban. The old church was demolished in October.
The parquet flooring blocks were laid in October as well as a week later the blocks were curling and the floor had to be replaced. The second lot of blocks proved satisfactory. In November the Stations of the Cross arrived from Italy, subsequently the two statues also arrived from Italy. By the 19th November the church was finished and the builders returned to Kokstad. Here the Chronicler uttered a profound and heartfelt.
Inside of Church & Furnishings.
January-May 1966. In January the tabernacle, ciborium and candle-sticks arrived from Ireland and soon after tiles were laid in the church porch. In February the loudspeakers were installed in the tower and 9 church benches arrived from the workshop of Mr Edwards in Kokstad – the remainder arrived later. April. Chairs and baptismal fonts arrived from a factory in Queenstown and Bro Benignus installed the confessionals which had been made in Mariannhill.
A start was made in landscaping the church grounds and by May all was ready – the invitations were sent out for the opening of the church on the 5th June 1966. Please come to our feast!
On the following pages are found an article on the opening of the Mt Frere church.
International & General News, 1961-1963
1961. November. R1,000 was deposited by the priest in fixed deposit at the bank for 3 years. This was just one instance of financial wisdom by mission personnel.
1962. Death of Fr Caijus Grellner ofm
Fr Grellner had served in Mt Frere for a numbers of years before and after the War and at the time of his death was stationed in Zululand. A Mass was offered for his soul at Mt Frere.
Opening of Vatican Council II – 11th October 1962
An order was given by the Apostolic Delegate for the bells in every Catholic church in South Africa to be rung at 10 am to announce the opening of the Council. A well attended Mass to mark the special occasion was held in the evening at Mt Frere.
3rd June 1963
Death of Pope John XXIII & Election of Pope Paul VI
21st June 1963
The announcement of Pope John’s death came in due solemnity, and the subsequent election of Cardinal Montini as Pope Paul VI and the joyous coronation of the new Pope on the,30th June 1963.
Fund-Raising by European Parishioners, August 1963.
A meeting was held to decide whether to hold a jumble sale (second-hand clothing sale) and bazaar or switch over to the monthly envelope system which would be easier. They decided on the former and between the two events almost R500 was realised. The monthly envelope system was introduced in January the following year among the Europeans and Coloured (it had proved a success among the Africans) .
Interdenominational Church Service, January 1964
This service was held at the Catholic church, at which Bishop McBride preached. The churches represented included Anglican, Methodist, Pilgrim Holiness and Salvation Army. Despite a heavy rainstorm, the church was full and the participation was very good.
Feast of Christ the King – October 1966
A glorious day and a good attendance at the Mass and procession, but no Europeans or Coloureds present.
As a contrast, the poor turnout for Midnight Mass was very disappointing, the Chronicler felt this might be the last Midnight Mass at Christmas.
1967, February. Capab (Cape Provincial Performing Arts Board, a government supported venture which took live shows to people in the rural areas), put on the Oscar Wild-Bernard Shaw musical Satin and Tweed at the village hall.
February 17. The Xhosa newspaper Intsimbi was regularly sold at the Mt Frere Church, with 50 copies being sold that day and by November the numbers were up to 150.
September. The priests of the diocese had a Liturgy meeting in Kokstad, where Fr Vianney showed them the new way of saying Mass.
Transkei Independence on The Way – European Parishioners Staring to Leave.
By 1971 the same pattern became visible in Mt Frere as elsewhere in Transkei – the European numbers were dwindling. Four White families left during the course of the year, with only one family arriving (the bank manager and his wife).
In August the priest was busy planting rose-bushes to beautify the front of the church. November brought Fr Antonine Kelly, former Vicar-General of Kokstad, on a visit from Ireland after 10 years.
The year brought a mixed bag of events, but a good deal of activity in the parish.
In February there was a priests’ meeting in Kokstad to discuss the new regulations on infant baptisms. February also marked the start of the Bishops’Lenten campaign and the priests complaining about the same old slogging with envelopes, boxes and appeals all over again. However, the Lenten appeal for the village ended, though the struggle to collect the envelopes from the outstations until the Octave of Pentecost. However, the results were pleasing: the average each Sunday in the village was between R17 and R22.
126 people received First Communion: 4 men, 25 women, 33 boys and 64 girls. This was in contrast with the Easter baptisms which was the lowest in 16 years – 30 baptisms.
Renew – the introductory meeting in Kokstad. Fr Wilfrid preached while Frs. Egbert and Kevin gave short papers. I understand a further meeting was held in Kokstad, but Renew has not taken on in the Diocese.
A Little Bit of Humour
The Catechist had his motorbike stolen when he stopped at Mvuzi outstation- by a White hobo who proceeded to Umtata, but as the motorbike was faulty, he had to freewheel downhill and push uphill. The Mt Frere police caught up with him andin the Chronicler’s words: “They gave the cuprit just a little of the treatment he deserved” – no doubt people had a good chuckle at this one.
More serious though, was that Fr Valerian had another accident and dislocated his knee which necessitated a visit at specialist in Durban.
In July it was the feast of St Ann and the Silver Jubilee of the foundation of the St Anne’s league in the Kokstad Diocese, with about 60 ladies travelling by bus to Kokstad for the celebrations.
Some New Years were quiet but 1974 was a noisy one. In spite of mist and rain the spirits of people at the hospital and the hotel were high and kept awake till long after midnight by teating tin cans, hooting and shouting “Happy” this did not please the Chronicler.
1974. The last four White Catholic parishioners left Mt Frere, having sold their businesses to Black businessmen. It was 2 years to Independence of Transkei.
Between 1974 and 1976 Br Masseo had a busy time building a new garage and store-room, then erecting a channel for the water overflow at the back of the house and filling in the space between the rafters and walls of the house, to stop rain leaking in. He also did several other small jobs.
Looking at the amount of work he did at the Mt Frere mission and outstations, he must have been very skilled, hardworking and willing. In so many missions where there is no handyman to call on, the plumber, electrician etc has to be called, at a fee.
1976, December. The mission bought a new vehicle at Datsun panel van, with the hop of converting it into a station wagon. The cost of the can was R2995.
This article appeared in St Anthony’s Brief, a Franciscan missionary magazine, and appears on this page and page 23.
Farewell to Fr Valerian
After 20 years service at Mt Frere, Fr Valerian was moved to Cedarville. Below I include a tribute to him which was paid at his farewell function and is in the parish chronicle.
Being a man of great energy and many talents, Fr Valerian assiduously cared for his flock. He organised missions for the people, introduced the Legion of Mary and made the annual baptisms at Easter very impressive to the people.
Always keen on fostering indigenous vocations, Fr Valerian sent many girls to Glen Avent Convent to train for the sisterhood and by 1973 there were 6 sisters from the Mt Frere area. However it always worried him that no young men came forward for the priesthood.
After 20 years at Mt Frere, Fr Valerian was transferred to Cedarville. He had proved a hard worker, very efficient and he left a gap. However, his successor, Fr Gerry Griffin who was an equally energetic and experienced missionary, carried on where Fr Valerian left off.
Fr Valerian, may God bless you in your new home and may we try to live up to your standards and continue your good example.
After only a few months at Cedarville, Fr Valerian returned to Ireland after 28 years in the missions, and Fr Gerry had the sad task to drive him to Durban to catch his plane home.
Arrival of Frs Gerry Griffin & Fr Bill at Mt Frere.
The two priests introduced themselves to the people in December and spent the whole month visiting the outstations together to familiarise themselves with their parishioners.
In January 1977 Fr Gerry had a minor stroke which affected his speech and writing. A visit to a specialist and a spell of rest at the coast did wonders and by the end of February he was able to resume his usual duties. By March Fr Gerry was hard at work travelling around blessing the houses in Mt Frere.
In March a TV set was installed for the priests at Mt Frere and they pronounced the TV reception very good.
Fr Bill went to Lumko missiological institute (to this day the foremost institute in missiology) for the AGM of the Xhosa Pastoral Conference. Then in May there was a meeting at Maria Telgte mission to discuss the new Rite of Reconcilliation.
Fr Gerry’s Feast-Day, October 17th 1977
A special day for him, as 14 of his confress joined him for the celebration.
1978. January 6th.
Six Chiro girls went to Hlangwine with Fr Gerry and catechist Menziwa for a 4-day Chiro course.
Representatives also came from the Mandileni and Maxegwini outstations.
Seeking A New Bishop for Kokstad Diocese.
In January 1978.
Frs. Bill and Gerry had discussions with the Apostolic Delegate, Rev. Alfredo Poledrini, in Kokstad in the matter of choosing a new Bishop, and their opinions were sought in finding the right person. All the priests at all the churches and missions were consulted on this matter.
Appointment of MGR Napier as Apostolic Administrator June 1978.
Bishop McBride, who had been in failing health for some years, had been waiting for a successor to be appointed so that he could retire to Ireland.
The Chronicler expressed his thanks to the Bishop on his 30 years of guidance of the Kokstad Diocese and wished him a long and happy retirement – Bishop McBride died only in the 1990’s.
The installation of Mgr Napier as Apostolic Administrator took place in Kokstad on 26th June, with his episcopal ordination in February 1981 (cuttings to follow shortly).
A good attendance after a lean Christmas – over 700 people received Communion during the Easter services. The priests were able to visit the outstations and everybody had the chance of going to Mass.
Fr Lobinger (Now a Bishop) Gave a course on the New Church Ministries, 22-25 May 1978
This course, scheduled to take place in Port St Johns but due to floods there, was moved to Mt Frere. Although the venue was somewhat crowded, the overall opinion was favourable. It was felt that everyone had learnt a lot and many ideas and views were exchanged.
Miscellaneous – 1979-1981
Xhosa Regional Conference, Lumko April 1979, which was attended by Mgr Napier and Fr Bill, the main item being the finalisation of the new Xhosa hymnbook costing R2 and due to become available in December that year.
– Consultation meeting of priests, catechists and people, August 1979 at Mt Frere. The aim of the meeting was to foster better communication between and clergy, so problems could be dealt with promptly.
– Graveyard Mass in November, the month of the dead. On this occasion the priest the graves of former parishiones. As the African people have great respect for their dead, it was for them a very meaningful service.
– Crisis in Mt Frere – serious water shortage.
The Chronicler notes for January 1980. The water is running low, with no rain since February 1979. No water for most of the day, and people pleading for water every day. The rainwater tank had to be locked to prevent people stealing the water, as we desperately need for ourselves.
September. Drought continues in the Transkei. The South African army was called in, with 20 soldiers stationed at the Umzimkulu River who were delivering water at various places.
Fr Gerry asked for delivery of 1,000 litres to the outstation Mandileni. Eventually the drought was broken to every one’s great relief, but the dates of the rain were not recorded.
– January 1980. No Electricity in Mt Frere. At that time much of the rural area was not connected to Eskom, the national electricity commission and the village electricity depended on diesel generators. The priest grumbled a bit about it but apart from such things, they were generally contented.
– Feastday of St Francis, 4th October 1981. Both priests went to Kokstad to celebrate this special day with the friars there.
On this and the following page are cuttings which appeared in the Mt Frere chronicle to mark this great occasion. Mt Frere clergy, sisters and parishioners were present in full force in Kokstad.
One of the Two Items Mentioned During 1981-1988.
Visitation By the Visitator-General To Mt Frere, 1984
This visitation was followed by a general meeting with the friars in Kokstad to give a summary of Fr O’Reilly’s impression of the Diocese.
Kokstad 2,210-00 1,720-00
Hardenberg 1,260-00 776-00
Flagstaff 1,259-08 1,404-80
Matatiele 1,248-51 1,012-33
Uganda 1,154-61 1,047-49
Lusikisiki 979-50 1,092-05
Maria Telgte 950-00 705-00
Bizana 754-67 828-42
Mt Frere 479-20 295-50
Mt Ayliff 345-74 297-13
Franklin 306-60 217-75
Tabankulu 208-00 252-00
Lugada 130-00 92-06
Total 11,285-91 9,740-53
Fr M Russell OFM
Catechetical Training of Outstation Leaders at Lumko over a period of 2 months. They learnt, among other things, to conduct Sunday services according to the Xhosa prayer/hymnal book, Bongani Nkosi. Plans were made for ongoing training. Anothe catechetical course was held shortly after, in Kokstad, for priests, sisters and laity at St Anthony’s Hall.
Mt Frere and outstations were represented at this course.
Proposed Formation of a Men’s Sodality. The women of the parish had been involved in many societies and sodalities that the men decided to meet and discuss a sodality for men. To begin with, they held monthly meetings and planned to make a decision in December.
August Parish Hall
13 Parish members met to discuss the building of a much need parish hall. The agreed method of fund-raising was to ask each adult Catholic for a R10 contribution per month and pensioners for R10 every 2 months. The people envisaged a large hall to meet their needs, with committee rooms and toilet facilities. They decided to ask the parish priest to bank the money raised.
October. Religious worker at Kwa Bhaca Prison.
Lt BL Dlomo, Head of Prison at Mt Frere, formally appointed Fr Gerry as the local religious worker to the prison, allowing him to visit prisoners every first and third Wednesday and Friday of each month.
December. Christmas Carols
On Boxing Day, 26th December, about 20 youth and adults entertained the hospital patients to a carol-singing evening, and this event was much enjoyed by the patients.
Children of Mary Course, 6- 9th, at Mt Frere.
In spite of the continual downpour of rain, the 20 girls attending found the course fruitful. The course included instruction on growth into adulthood, home, school and life education. There were also input and sharing on the Bible, the Children of Mary manual, Sunday services without a priest and an explansation of Sunday readings. The course concluded with a lively concert.
January 14 – 15th
RCIA weekend at Mt Frere, conducted by Sr Lea for parish leaders, with 18 people taking part. These people enjoyed the weekend of introduction and explanation, as did the congregation at Sunday Mass. The next lesson place in February, using a South African RCIA manual, Our Journey Together.
Progress in the Building of the Hall. 1989-1991
The amount raised up to March 1989 was R1500, then by August it was R3521. A meeting with the Bishop was held regarding the hall, and further discussions in November. Plans were drawn up and submitted for approval to the Village Management Board and Umtata, then the foundations were laid.
By March 1990 the plans were passed and the contract was awarded to Harris & Sons, Kokstad, who quoted R189,000 for the job. Mr Evaristus Gebashe wrote a letter of thanks to the Bishop for the loan of R50.000 and promised to repay the April 1990, by October the hall was almost completed and in March 1991 the Bishop blessed the hall.
The parishioners lost no time on completion of the hall to celebrate its opening and overleaf I enclose a copy of the programme, October 5& 6 October.
At a Parish meeting, the possibility of receiving Holy Communion in the hand was discussed and turned down by all. Among the African people I believe this custom is regarded as disrespectful.
Follow-up on the Pastoral plan
Bishop Napier came to Mt Frere for a meeting on the Pastoral plan, with about 20 people present. He explained how the document on this pastoral vision came into existence and challenged those present to relate to the small Christian communities in Mt Frere and the outstations.
-Sr Rita, Ms M Rode and Fr Gerry visited Tabankulu and Bizana to inform the people about the RENEW programme and invited them to a general meeting about RENEW in Kokstad.
-Visit to Elliotdale parish re Self-Help Scheme.
Several people, including the priest and a sister, went to observe the self-help projects being run in Elliotdale by Srs Gemma, Cyprian and Anton, which included wire-making, gardening and sewing under the guidance of the CDE (Christian Development Education).
The three ladies on the visit expressed interest in starting something similar in Mt Frere and Sr Gemma invited them to Elliotdale for 3 days in December for instruction.
End of the Franciscan Era in Mt Frere
The Franciscan priests left at the end of 1989 and in 1990 the Comboni Fathers took over.
An explanation is provided on the following page.
The Precious Blood Sisters come To Mt Frere – 1928
Start The Marie-Theresa Hospital – 1938
From the re-start of the Mission at Mr Frere in 1928, the sisters were running a kindergarten and a small domestic science school, but it had been their intention to open a hospital, as Mt Frere is in a densely populated rural area.
However, nothing was mentioned about the building of the hospital until 1935, the first hint being On the 3rd September some trees were planted in the hospital grounds.
Three days later Fr Storch, the parish priest, Sr Josepha and two other sisters went to Mariannhill to discuss building plans, and on the 7th September water pipes were laid to the hospital grounds. For 2 years very little was mentioned, then in August 1937 Bishop Kurz OFM (by this time the Bavarian Franciscans had taken over from the Mariannhill Fathers) inspected the building site.
Fr Lucas Lehman of St Patrick’s, Umtata, drew up the blueprints and by August, having received the go-ahead from Bishop Kurz, commenced construction. Fr Hanno OFM, the parish priest rolled up his sleeves and started digging the foundations.
Foundation Stone of Hospital Blessed and Laid 28th February 1938
This auspicious occasion was described by the Chronicler in the formal language of the day:
In the year of Our Lord 1938, 26th February , when Pius XI was Pope, the Rt Rev. Sigebald Kurz Prefect Apostolic of Mount Currie Prefecture, Sir. Patrick Duncan Governor – General over the Union of South Africa, Mr Fyfe-King Chief Magistrate over the Transkeian Territories, Mr J Kenyon Magistrate of Mount Frere, Mr H . Mundel Chairman of the Village Management Board, Dr Shearer District Surgeon, Rev.Mother Elba Superior-General, Mother Germeline Provincial of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, this foundation stone was blessed by the above named Prefect Apostolic and laid by the Chief Magistrate, of Umtata, Mr. Fyfe-King.
This hospital was built in honour of Almight God for suffering mankind, Europeans, Coloured and Natives (Africans) by the Sisters of the Precious Blood.
The erection of this hospital has been made possible by the generosity of a grat benefacor in the person
of Countess Marie-Theresa Falkenheyn, Director of the St Peter Claver Sodality, who donated several hundred Pounds for the undertaking, also the Rev. F W Storch who originated the ideal of a hospital, Mr EW Fordham, a parishioner who assisted in every way, the inhabitants of Mount Frere and district, who have contributed by means of fund raising bazaars, etc.
The architect of the building was Rev. Fr FL Lehman CMM. The builders were the Franciscan brothers. The hospital is dedicated to the founder of St Peter Claver, Countess Marie-Theresa
The Sisters move to the Hospital – 3rd July 1939
This was the day for which the sisters had prepared since their arrival at the Mission. There were six sisters:
Sr Josepha Sr Honoria
Sr Radegunda Sr Eleanoris
Sr Edelreda Sr Flaviana
Formal Opening of the Hospital – 8th July 1939
Bishop Kurz, Fr Caius (parish priest), Fr Hanno, Bro. Dositheus the Builder, Bro Juniper and Bro Magnevick and Mr Fyfe-King (representing the Chief Magistrate of Umtata) were present.
First Patient Admitted to Hospital
On the 12th July 1939 the (unnamed) first patient was admitted. The same day the Stations of the Cross were put up in the chapel by Fr Caius and in December the bell for the hospital given by Mariannhill, arrived.
First African Sister arrives
In 1943 the first African sister was sent from St Patrick’s, Umtata to the hospital, then January 1944 two more arrived. In 1945 Sr Martha, an African sister, died of TB.
Unfortunately the hospital was built just before the start of World War II and funds from overseas dried up. However, the Department of African Affairs and neighbouring benefactors helped as much as they could.
Events in the Hospital History From 1940-1953
1940 – A mortuary was built and urgent extensions to the hospital.
1943 – A children’s ward was established.
1944 – The first three nursing students passed their auxiliary nurses’examinations.
1948 – An X-ray room was built and the necessary equipment provided.
– A recreation ground for the nurses was provided.
1952 – Nurses’ home built, also accommodation for domestic staff.
1953 – The private nurses’training school was taken over by the Provincial Council and prospective nurses now wrote external examinations. The name of the nurses training school changed to:
Training school for nurse aides.
– A spiritual note: The annual procession of the Blessed Sacrament which took place on the 25th October moved from the church to the hospital grounds.
Matrons at the Hospital 1938-1977
There is no up-to-date information since 1977, and the matrons have all been lay people.
1. Sr M Ivona Maier (arrived 1939).
2. Sr M Idmara Thienel
3. Sr M Edgara Schmidt
4. Sr M Ludwiga Rohrmuller
5. Sr M Miltranda Rollbiecki (arrived Nov. 1961)
6. Sr M Savina Gob
7. Sr M Hildegard Motaung (African, left 1977)
Progress During The 1960’s
1960 – A maternity wing was opened.
1967 – Piped oxygen installed in the operating theatre, wards and private wards.
1969 – A separate TB block and nurses dining room were built. See on the following page for the opening of the TB block by Bishop McBride.
Marie-Therese Hospital Mt Frere
Opening of the TB Block – 4th September 1969
Retracing our steps back to 1969, the Chronicler neticulously notes this event, which was attended by Bishop McBride. The official opening of the TB block and the nurses new dining room took place at the hospital.
Mr Muir, the Magistrate and members of the Mt Frere Village Management Board attended, and the Bishop gave an address. After this, the African nurses choir gave a moving rendition of the Lord is my Shepherd. The hospital Superintendent, Dr Marais praised the Sisters for their work.
Thereafter the key was handed to Dr Marais and the official opening took place.
The Bishop blessed the wards in the TB block, whereupon all present sang the hymn Nkosi sikelel’iAfrika which since 1994 has become the national anthem of South Africa (God bless Africa) . Refreshment were then served in the nurses’ dining room.
Among the dignitaries present were representatives from the East London Department of Health, hospital staff and members of the hospital board, priests and ministers, Sr M Salvatori , Mother Provincial and Superior and sisters at the hospital.
Donors towards the building of the hospital were acknowledged and thanked, among them being: Rome, Germany, Umtata, USA and Austria. Without their large donations the additions to the hospital would have been impossible.
Impending Takeover of Hospital By Transkei
1970. The first mention of this by the Chronicle was in 1970, when hospital superintendent, Dr Marais and some sisters went to Pretoria regarding the takeover by the Transkei authorities.
1971. Another indication of the takeover – the hospital could no longer provide the priest with his meals and he had to set up his own kitchen and find a cook.
October 1971. This marked the farewell at the Anglican rectory for Dr and Mrs Marais who were leaving. They had been in Mt Frere for 18 years and would move to Ixopo. Dr Marais had done sterling work as hospital superintendent and also chairma of the hospital board for many years. The people of Mt Frere would sorely miss him.
April 1973. Dr Marais’replacement, Dr Tappeser from Germany was accompanied by his wife, and came on a contract.
October 1973. The White wing of the hospital was converted into an administration block. Also, the old dining room next to the theastre became a sitting room and the bedrooms became offices.
Meeting of Hospital Board Regarding Serious Complaints
March 1974. The rumours going round were in connection with allegations of overcharging the patients to raise money for the church, although the hospital was fully subsidised. It was decided to invite dignitaries from various walks of life to help refute these rumours, including two local Members of Parliament, three Headmen, the Bishop and Mother Provincial of the Precious Blood Sisters, Dr Tappeser and 6 businessmen etc.
The Matron, Sr Othmaris Kohler, gave a long report regarding the hospital’s state of affairs, then Mr Canca, chairman of the hospital board spoke and supported the sisters’work. All the speakers were supportive and no accusations were made. After 4 hours of discussion, the entire meeting gave a vote of confidence in the sisters. Now everyone knew the rumours to be unfounded.
Variety Concert by Hospital Staff
November 1974. On a lighter note, this concert was given in the village hall, and which the audience thoroughly enjoyed. The proceeds went to SANTA (SOUTH AFRICAN NATIONAL TB ASSOCIATION)
Additional Doctor For Hospital
In April, Dr Bierbaum and his wife came to the hospital, where Dr Bierbaum joined Dr Tappeser on the staff.
Step in the Handing-over Process – 1975
In February the control of the hospital was handed over to the African sisters by Sr Othmaris, who had been matron for 8 years. She handed the reins to an African sister, Sr Hildegarde Motaung, who had come to Mt Frere from Mariannhill. Sr Othmaris was scheduled to take up a post aas Welfare nurse at Umtata.
The remaining five white sisters would withdraw over the next 6 months, some of whom went to Mariannhill, two to Ixopo and one to Glen Avent (outside Umtata). This must have been a traumatic experience for all the sisters.
Marie-Theresa Hospital Taken over by the Transkei Government – 1st June 1975
Marie-Theresa hospital was the third in the Transkei to be taken over by the Department of Health. Mother Fredeswinde Grundhofer, Provincial superior of the Precious Blood sisters, signified the transaction by handing over the key to the Transkeian Deputy Minister of Health. No excitement over the event.
June 10 1975. As planned, Sr Savina, one of the old guard at the hospital left for Ixopo. She had done a few terms over the past 30 years. Four African sisters, including the Matron and her assistant were assigned to the hospital.
The sisters now occupied what was the Convent section of the hospital and as usual they had the use of the chapel and sacristy.
12th February. Mother Provincial of the Precious Blood Sisters came to Mt Frere to meet Transkei Government officials in the hope of trying to squeeze some compensation for the takeover of the hospital. Easy to take over, but not so easy to pay up.
Changes at the Marie-Theresa Hospital after Takeover.
Mrs A Ntuli, the new Senior Matron, assumed her duties on the 1st July. This day marked the beginning of a new era for the hospital. Everybody was made to feel that the time of the missionaries belonged to the past. (CPS Archies)
However, the following sisters remained on the staff:
Sr M Hildegarde Motaung – Matron
Sr M Lea Yina – Senior Sister and Tutor
Sr Rosemary Vezi – Theatre Sister
Sr Mary Dyan -Catechist.
Next, on 20 July, the hospital sacristy was taken over as a sewing room. As the Chronicler remarked: the new Matron seemed to have the usual new changing ideas or was it anti Catholic feeling?
Graduation of the New Nurses and Official Welcome to the New Matron
Sr Hildegarde Motaung now stepped down to second matron.
At the official welcome, Fr Wilfrid said a prayer and gave historical detail on the hospital, advice to the nurses on their vocation, the gratitude of the people, etc.
31st December 1976:
New Year’s Eve dinner. Dr & Mrs Bierbaum invited the priests for dinner, which was excellent and convivial but tinged with sadness.
Sr Hildegarde Resigned as Second Matron
In May 1977 Sr Hildegarde resigned from her post and was transferred as matron to Centocow mission hospital near Umzimkulu. There was a large crowd present at her farewell.
Sr Consolata took her place in June. There were now four African sisters at the hospital:
Sr Lea, Sr Corona, Sr Consolata and Sr Mary. When they all left, this was the end of the missionary era, there were now lay staff and no more mention of sisters at the hospital.
Departure of Dr & Mrs Bierbaum
The priests invited the Bierbaums to a farewell dinner in November, then on the 3rd December a public farewell was held in the Village hall in the form of a concert, at which Dr Bierbaum was thanked for 3 years work as Hospital Superintendent. Various Transkei doctors and Health Department representatives were present.
Precious Blood Teaching Sisters at Mt Frere – 1928 to 1988
In 1928 Mother Aemiliana and Sr Elfleda of the Precious Blood Sisters (which is the sister congregation to the Mariannhill Fathers), arrived in February to make a new start after the long gap since the Holy Cross sisters left in 1896 because all the Mt Frere congregation had moved.
Bishop Fleischer CMM had a convent built for the sisters, next door to the presbytery. A week later Sr Julia and four candidates arrived to join the original sisters. Their journey from Kokstad to Mt Frere (80 km) took 2 days.
As a welcome to the new sisters, the European congregation brought food and flowers and the Africans brought pumpkins which had been home-grown. The convent was then blessed by Bishop Fleischer and the Blessed Sacrament was reserved in their house.
The sisters start a Kindergarten
The Sisters lost very little time in establishing the kindergarten on their verandah (patio) once water had been laid on for this purpose. There were three white pupils at the beginning: Marjorie Lahee, Ray Mundell and Ray Holmes.
Money to run the school was a problem.
By January 1929, the start of the new school year, there were 7 pupils at the school. At the end of the school year in December a little party was held for the children. By 1931 there were 8 pupils.
Request for a Coloured School
Seeing what was being done for the white children, the Colourde parents asked for a school to be opened for 14 children.
Domestic Science School
The sisters started a domestic science school with 3 girls in May 1930. By 1934 the number had grown to 14 and in 1935 the girls exhibited in a National African Handwork exhibition and fared well. Sr Antonie who provided information on the CPS sisters, taught there from 1940-1943. She thinks the school was closed in 1943.
Domestic Science School
By1949 some of the sisters who had been teaching were moved to the hospital, being nurses by profession, and the need arose for a lay teacher at a salary of 5 month. A second school hut was built and painted at the cost of $7.
Apart from school teaching, the sisters taught catechism classes, the first being given in 1928 in (Sonkosi’s kraal – small African village of which Sonkosi was the Headman). Two weeks later the sisters started a catechism class at Mbodleni, where 29 people were present.
The sisters also baptised babies, with the first being baptised by Sr Julia. Having no transport, the sisters often made 5 or 10 hour journeys on foot to visit people in the district or outstations. Hardy pioneers indeed!
First Retreat for Sisters
In 1932 the Bishop came to give the sisters a retreat in September. During the same year St Josepha arrived, to become the new Convent superior.
The Industrial School
The Industrial school opened in the second school term of 1935 with 35 girls. In May, a month later there was a native (African) Handiwork Exhibition and the industrial school won 16 prizes at the exhibition, and they continued to win prizes for their work at subsequent exhibitions.
Registration of school granted for 2 years (1958-1959)
No mention was made in the sisters’ chronicle regarding their schools
between 1935 and 1958, so I am unsure to which school this entry pertains.
After much difficulty with the Education Department, the registration was granted, but subject to certain conditions:
1. Right of Inspector reserved.
2. No fees to be charged.
3. Only Sub A and Std II to be taught.
4. Provision to be made for teaching non-catholics the Departmental syllabus.
In March two local DVT’s inspected the school to check on the above points and were pleased with what they saw. By this time there were 69 pupils on the roll.
Catholic schools and African Catholic schools in particular always had to struggle to get what they wanted, as that Government put obstacles in their way. (My comment).
The sisters and the schools – (1959-1966)
June 1959: The Kokstad school inspector wrote to announce his arrival in Mt Frere on the 15th July to organise about a new application for registration of the school for 1960.
In September that year the school was inspected by Mr Nyimbana, the inspector for Catholic schools. The number of pupils on the roll was 78.
Nothing further was done by the Education Department, so a reminder was sent to the Group Areas Board on the question of a permit for the school, together with a no objection letter from the Magistrate.
The Village Management Board also sent a letter to the Group Areas Board stating that they had no objection to a permit being granted for the Black school to continue in a European (White).
All this correspondence and answering questionnaires did not avail and Fr Valerian was called to attend a Group Areas Board meeting in Pietermaritzburg. All the questions already answered in writing were asked again. (Chronicle’s comment: “They certainly could not be accused of being sympathetic to our little school”.
May-some good news – the school was inspected by the Catholic inspector, Mr Nyimbana, who gave them a good report. There were 87 pupils on the roll. Then in June came a blow. The Group Areas Board replied at last to their application for school permit, to say that the Minister of Bantu (Black) administration and development had refused a permit to continue.
July. In desperation Fr Valerian wrote to Fr Colin Collins of the South African Catholic Bishop’s Conference (SACBC) in Pretoria to ask if he would approach the Education Department regarding a change of site for the school to the field behind the jail, which area already belonged to the Church, as this area is an area set aside for occupation by Bantu.
Fr Valerian also contacted the local Inspector of Bantu Education, made formal application for registration of the proposed new site behind the jail, forwarded all the prescribed data – and waited. No reply that year.
The Mt Frere (White) School
In 1961, being unable to find a White principal for the local European school where numbers were dwindling rapidly, Sr Alphonsa was asked to act as principal, which she did, as did one of the other sisters. They also saw to the catechetical needs of the Catholic children.
February. The sisters waited for 7 months for a reply, which came in the form of the school inspector, Mt Watkinson, who was armed with copies of the Minister’s refusal of a permit and to close the school. He had taken precautions to advise the Village Management Board of the Minister’s refusal. On closing that there were 67 Catholic children present and the salaries paid to the two teachers were L9 and L6.10.0
A new application was made for a change of school site to behind the jail, enclosing all forms, copies and maps being forwarded to Kokstad. Three days later the application forms, etc were returned with a covering letter stating that the priests should apply to the Group Areas Board for a permit, as ths land came under the Village Management Board and was therefore European-owned, though set aside for occupation by Bantu. As there were already 4 Bantu schools in the neighbourhood, the inspector said he would not recomment the Catholic school.
Arrangement were then made for the Catholic children to come from St George’s on Mondays and Fridays to attend the sisters classes. A former teacher, Mrs Mantame then taught at Semeni school on Mondays and Fridays.
On the 31st August the police paid a surprise visit to check whether the school had actually closed as ordered, or was still operating.
The school was closed and no further mention was made of it. However, the sisters remained.
General Notes on Sisters at Mt Frere – 1970-1988
In August Bishop McBride came to Mt Frere for the profession of Sr Lucas CPS. During the same month the sactuary of the sisters’ chapel was changed to accommodate the new rites. At the same time new windows where installed.
Sr Savina returned temporally to Mt Frere while Sr Christia was on verseas leave in Germany. Bishop McBride came to Mt Frere for the soleman profession of the European sisters, no names provided. The ceremony took place at Sunday Mass and was attended by all the important local people.
In January Sr Peter Claver CPS from the Mexhegwini outstation, made her final profession at Glen Avent, Umtata. Fr Wilfrid Byrne and catechist Johannes were present at the ceremony.
On Sunday 6th January, Sr Hilaria of Dangwana made her final proffession at Glen Avent, with the sisters and catechist Johannes present. The priest was pleased to report her to be the sixth sister from the Mt Frere parish.
However, he was sorry that there had been no male vocations so far.
Sr Christia left for Mariannhill. Both she and Sr Amanda had been teaching catechism to the Coloured children for 6 years.
In February the Precious Blood sisters accepted an offer from the Transkei Health Department to take over an Old Age Home which was to be built in Mt Frere. This Home was to be one of three Old Age Homes envisaged for the Transkei. The plan intended the Mt Frere home to have 60 beds and be staffed by 6 extra sisters. The Chronicler’s …. comment: “Everything is supposed to be operational at the end of 1978″
Christmas Day – the sisters invited the priests to the convent for Christmas dinner. A treat, as the priests had for some years been organising their own meals.
Providing a Convent For the Sisters
Mother Provincial of the CPS Sisters came on 15th January to discuss the possibility of building a convent on the Mission grounds. Since the takeover of the hospital in 1974 the sisters had continued living in the hospital, but as one room had been taken for hospital purposes, their accommodation was somewhat cramped and lacked privacy. For the meantime they were allowed to use the Mission catechist’s house which was unoccupied at the time.
It was decided to renovate the house at the bottom of the garden for use as a convent, so once plans had been drawn up work began on the renovation in March. The sisters moved in even before the installation of the electricity and were delighted with their accommodation. Bishop Napier blessed the house in August.
In his homily at Mass, Mgr. Napier spoke warmly of the good work the sisters had done in the hospital, the schools and on the mission over the years and hoped they would stay a good while longer in Mt Frere. The local Chiro children provided entertainment with singing and tribal dancing, which was followed by a buffet lunch.
Two novices were staying with the sisters during this time, Srs. Mary Madikizela and Augustine Mgushelo who were both in their second year of novitiate. The idea of working at the Mission was to give them hands-on experience which would help them discern whether God was calling them. Part of the work include helping Fr Gerry, who in turn gave the novices weekly conferences and guidance at the request of Sr Lea.
There are no entries in the Chronicle for these years.
Farewell Concert for Sr Elizabeth, Convent Superior
This concert was held for Sr Elizabeth in November. She had been superior for the previous 3 years.
As well as her duties in the convent, she had been church sacristan, adviser and helper to the St Anne’s sodality and supervisor of the catechism classes in town. Such was the esteem of the outstation people that numerous choirs from various places took part in the concert.
Sr Elizabeth was given a donation of R200 by the parishioners in gratitude for her loving care and dedication to them.
The Catechists – (1963-1979)
The information I have obtained on this section covers only 16 years at the Mission, but it gives a good picture of this sphere of activity.
The Mt Frere catechists were kept abreast with church progresss and necessary introduction of important new changes and activities by means of various courses. The first course for a catechist was a 3 month training course, followed at regular intervals by refresher courses. They attended retreats and catechism teaching courses and were (and still are) of invaluable help to the priests who in rural areas have a great deal to do. Most of the catechists are good, upright, devout men, men to be admired in the church and local community, but occasionally, being flawed human beings as we all are , fall short and are asked to resign. Only one case occured in the 16 years – a good average.
There must have been several catechists, but in the 16 years the only names to be mentioned are:
Johannes Menziwa Gideon Makaula
It was noted in 1963 that there were 5 catechists working in the parish, 3 trained at Bizana and two locally.
Two catechists were of outstanding help to the priests and mission and I will give a resume of each:
Johannes was the mainstay and backbone of Mt Frere parish. In 1966 the priest bought a motorbike was bought for him to help with his catechetical work over the very long distances – of course Johannes was delighted.
Six years and thousands of kilometres later, Johannes had to trade in his trusty Yamaha motorbike for a new one bought at The Oaks Garage in Kokstad at a cost of R255.
Holy Years Pilgrimage to Rome and Lourdes, 1975. Johannes was chosen to represent the catechists of Kokstad Diocese on this pilgrimage and he travelled with 17 other catechists and two priest from South Africa on the 13th October. He experienced great difficulty in obtaining a passport but nevertheless he made it. After his return from the pilgrimage, he started on the rounds of the outstations, telling the people about his experiences.
In August 1975, Johannes and two other catechists took a Chiro group to the Ncumbe church (Tabankulu district) to introduce the children to the Chiro movement. The photo taken on that occasion was by Johannes – see following page.
Gideon regularly attended the catechists’courses and refresher courses, assisted Johannes withe the Chiro movement. He was also present at an interview with the catechists in 1973 when Fr John of Maria Telgte came to ask them their wants needs and suggestions. He used to go on retreat with Johannes. In June 1973 a mention was made of the funeral of Gideon’s mother at her home at Ngwetsheni.
Extension work on the Catechist’s House
Additions were made to this house in March 1974: an extra bedroom, kitchen and verandah. By November the alterations to the house were completed to the catechist’s satisfaction.
Five Catechists went to Minor Seminary
In July 1975 the five Mt Frere catechists went to Umtata for a course on teaching catechism, conducted by Fr Hirmer and Sr Gemma CPS – experts in this field.
1976: In July the pagan father of Johannes was baptised by Fr Wilfrid and in November Johannes went to Lands End Mission in Umtata for a youth leader course.
1931 – 1979
According to the Catholic Directory 1994-5, there are 12 outstations served by Mount Frere, namely:
Mandileni – St Michael’s
Lugangeni – St Lawrence
Mpoza – St Joseph
Dangwana – St Mary’s
Cancele – St Francis
Ngwetsheni – St Anthony’s
Mount Frere mission serves a very large rural area, so it is necessary to have outstations with resident catechists if possible, to bring the Good News to a large population of Catholics.
Names of Outstations served by Mount Frere and Mass Times
36 years ago there were only 9 outstations and the details were as follows:
Dangwana – 1st Sunday of each month
Lugangeni – 3rd Sunday
Mandileni – 2nd Sunday
Maxhegwini – Tuesday after 4th Sunday (afternoon)
Mhlotsheni – Thursday after 3rd Sunday
Mnyamana – Tuesday after 4th Sunday (morning)
Nomkolokoto – Tuesday after 3rd Sunday
Tina – Tuesday after 3rd Sunday
Overleaf I will discuss some of the outstations in greater detail
The first Mass to be concelebrated at any outstation was on the 4th November 1931.
This was one of the earliest outstations, first mentioned in August 1939, when Sr Elfleda of Mount Frere walked 12 hours to visit the people there.
Opening of the church: August 1956. The resident priests at Mt Frere, Frs Valerian and Bruno rolled up their sleeves and began to make cement blocks on site. Bro Masseo OFM erected the steel frame of the church and the church was painted.
Opened in 1958. This was the time when the Government put obstacles in the way of church-building and from the date of application to the actual opening the priest had to battle.
Fr Egbert O’Dea came from Mt Ayliff for the occasion.
A concert was held, with the proceeds from the collection going towards the cost of the church. Chief Makaula and the local Headman were also present.
St Anne’s sodality started their monthly meetings in 1968, with representatives from various outstations attending.
Opened December 1960. Mr Joubert, a building contrantor, and his sons of Kokstad started work on the Dangwana church in May 1959 – very quickly as churches went in the 1950’s. A mention was made of Mass on Christmas Day at Dangwana (1968 and 1970).
In 1978 there was a visitation and blessing of the houses at Dangwana, which took 2 weeks. Then in 1979 a mention of the troublesome catechist from Mt Frere who had joined the Dutch Reformed church and took some Dangwana Catholics with him.
June 1979 – the porch of the Dangwana church was reroofed at last, with great difficulty.
Church blessed and opened July 1959.
Bishop McBride confirmed 96 people the same day – not only Mandileni parishioners but from Mnyamana, Maxegwini and Tina who did not have churches at the time. In November 1961 ten new members were received into the Sacred Heart Sodality.
Two episodes of lightning strikes in 1962 – first the house of James Mkhize the catechist, then the church and there were murmurings of witchcraft. Bro Juniper came from Kokstad in November 1963 to put up a lightning conductor and that ended the lightning strikes.
Catechist Makaula built himself a house, which was later blessed and opened. In October 1971, Fr Nial left with a contingent of Chiro youth for a weekend and Mandileni, got stuck in the mud from the copious rains at Buffalo Nek and had to be pulled out by a tractor. It is uncertain about the fate of the chiro weekend.
In November 1978 there was a ceremony of blessing the graves, which pleased the people, as they honour their dead family members. Then in January 1979 the Bishop’s Lenten appeal fund granted R400 for two much-needed water tanks for Mandileni – Bro Juniper put up these tanks, gutterings and pipes soon after.
In July 1961 the priest visited the little outstation and decided to say Mass once a month in future instead of 6 times a year as previously. At this stage 10 people receiving instruction.
Opened September 1961 (St Francis’s church)
After many difficulties with the Government , permission to build the church was at last granted in February 1959. In July 1960 a temporary prefab arrived and was pressed into use immediately. Mr Joubert the builder came from Kokstad started on the church and in January the following year the bricks were burnt on the site.
December 1971. Fr Valerian said Mass at Buffalo Nek at 8 am after which he went on to the Tina outstation.
Opened July 1966
This outstation experienced more difficulties than most – consequently the lapse of time between the application for the church site and the opening of the church was 8 years. The site was beaconed and fenced 4 years before the church was opened.
Building the church was also a prolonged affair. Mr Joubert of Kokstad undertook to do the job, but there were two heavy snowfalls which delayed progress, then he had to abandon the work because of ill-health. A Coloured man, Mr Barnes, continued the job and completed it by January 1966.
On the following three pages is a copy of the church’s opening – the account is taken from the Franciscan missionary magazine, St Anthony’s Brief , Vol 22. No. 10, October 1966.
The Opening of St Anthony’s Church at Maxegwini – 31st July 1966
1967 – December
On the last Sunday of 1967, 56 people received Holy Communion. In December 1970 there were 70 at Communion and two marriages lined up. Peter Mbongwe was the catechist at Maxhegwini at the time.
August 1970 – 20 baptisms
July 1972. Big day for Peter Mbongwe – his remarriage after the death of his first wife. A big crowd attended the Mass, including a busload of people from Mt Frere.
December 31st 1972 -83 people at Communion that Sunday. A pleasing growth in the congregation.
April 1974 marked the first Mass at Maxhegwini for 5 months on account of the rain and bad roads. In September 75 people received Holy Communion including many Mnyamana folk.
1976, with washed out roads and bridges seemed a repeat of 1974 and the outstation was not visited for 3 months. In August the priest visited Maxhegwini together with two catechists, as the people had lost their local catechist. The people were exhorted to pull together without a catechist, James Mehlomakhulu promised to look after the outstation for the time being and Gideon Makaula promised to visit there every month.
Opened August 1973
In June 1971 a church-site for Ngwetsheni was granted.
Bro Juniper brought the fencing material for the church site in October and the site was fenced by November. Next, in March 1972 Hulley’s brickyard made the bricks and brought them to the site in September. Fr Bernardine brought the prefab church to the site in September.
Foundations were started in October 1972. Two Africans from Kingwilliamstown contracted the job and Br Masseo was clerk of works, making an occasional visit from Kokstad.
Then the glass for the church was delivered by Marshall’s in Durban and cost R65. By February the building was up to the window-sills – slow progress, as the builders went hom for Christmas and only returned in February. In March the builders resumed work seriously, but according to the Chronicler, seemed more interested in beer than building.
Bro Masseo to the rescue! He came with his workmen to finish the church.
Meanwhile the previous two builders were in trouble with the Headman and were chased out of town.
Fortunately the bricklaying firm of Caswell from Mt Ayliff and Mr Jasson of Mt Frere came to help Bro Masseo with the work, which was finished in May. Bro Flanna arrived with benches for the church. By May only the plaster needed to dry before the painting could be done. Then it was finally finished in time for the opening in August.
Opening of Ngwetsheni Church – August 1973
The church was opened by the Headman and blessed by the Bishop. Unfortunately , although good weather had been expected, the good Lord thought otherwise and sent snow, rain and mist since four days prior to the opening. (Chronicler)
The priests managed to skid out to Ngwetsheni in the morning, but apart from a busload of people from Mt Frere, there was very little representation from the outstations.
The Bishop and Bro Flannan arrived at noon and everything went ahead as planned.
The Chiro choir accompanied by the Mt Frere catechist on his accordion acquitted themselves well at the singing. The Anglican priest, Fr Miyathaza chaired the collection afterwards, at which over R200 was collected, which covered all expenses for the occasion. The mist did not lift at all that day, but it did not dampen the spirts of the congregation and the Bishop went home cold but well-satisfied.
1974. The Bishop confirmed 162 people at the church. This group included people from Mandileni, Maxhegwini, Mnyamana and Tina outstations and brought to an end confirmations for the few years. In 1979, following the pattern at other places, the priest did a visitation and blessing of all Catholic homes in Ngwetsheni.
Opened January 1973.
In April 1972 Fr Valerian said Mass at Qwidlana for the first time and it was held at Tokwe’s home, which is an hour on horseback from Mt Frere.
September 1974. Mass was said at Qwidlana, where catechist Mbongwe was building a little Mass house.
Opening date not mentioned.
December 1971. Mass at Buffalo Nek at 8 am.
A little outstation which is showing signs of growth is Buffalo Nek. Though it does not have a place on the monthly loist, we try to visit it on public holidays and as today, on the Mandileni Sunday.
16th December 1972. Apublic holiday and Mass was said at Buffalo Nek, where there was a very good attendance.
Opening date not mentioned.
February 1974. The priest was not able to go to Mnyamana because of a last-minute message that a bridge had been washed away and the road was impassable.
June 1978. Visitation of the homes started on the 14th – 15th June. There was a very good turnout for the occasion.
Transkei Politics and local News
January 1974. Good News – the proposed petrol rationing has been postponed.
February 1974. Hulley’s Garage in Mt Frere was sold to the Transkei Government. This was the end to another era, as Hubert Hulley had serviced the mission cars for many years.
He also contracted to make cement blocks for the various outstation churches when they were built – in addition he did the cartage for the blocks. He had been on call whenever anything went wrong with the mill or engine and was a good friend to the priests. Mr Hulley retired to his farm outside Sutterheim, Eastern Cape.
Preparation for Independence Day
In September 1976 there was a week of preparation at Mt Frere, both in school subjects and sports activities for the school children. This took the form of elimination contests, with the winners going to Umtata on Independence Day, 26th October.
October 1976 – the Eve of Independence – the magistrate asked that all church bells be rung to celebrate the occasion and the Catholic bells were rung that day.
Transkei Indepence Day – 26th October 1976
Everything was quiet in Mt Frere that day – it was much like any other public holiday, but all were aware that this was a new chapter in the history of Transkei.
Day of Mourning for the Late Pres. Botha Sigcau
President of Transkei
The President died during the week and his funeral cortege passed through Mt Frere at 1 pm. Afairly large crowd collected in the town despite the rain which fell heavily.
Mount Frere News
October 1978. Tragic news of the death of Mr Simpson of Cedarville, great friend of Frs. Bill and Gerry. He was killed in a car accident when going to Mass and the accident happened directly outside the Franklin church. Fr Larry O’Shea , the Franklin priest at the time, administered the Last Sacraments. RIP
The rest of the family went to hospital with injuries.
Visit of New Prime Minister Chief George Matanzima to Mount Frere.
September 29th 1979
The Prime Minister came visit Mount Frere and address the local people and was accompanied by most of the cabinet ministers. The day was miserable and rainy, but there was a fairly good turnout, thanks to the generous provision of meat.
Below is a cutting from the East London Daily Dispatch in connection with the Mount Frere Council.
On pages 70-71 are reproductions from the Transkei Government Gazette dated 7th January 1988, giving the names and posts of the new Transkei Ministers.
Much political activity in Mt Frere, as the village was village was visited by active members of the Trade Unions who held public meetings and marches, urging a new deal for Transkeian workers. This political activity was part of the build up to the release of Mr Nelson Mandela from prison and the ushering in of Independence in 1994.
In November important ANC leaders who had been political prisoners for many years on Robben Island off Cape Town were released by the South African Nationalist government in 1989.
A short time later there was a big rally in Umtata to celebrate the coming of men such as Walter Sisulu and G Mbeki – Mbeki is now Vice President of the New South Africa.
The weather is a subject of great importance and in rural areas even more so. Over the years the chroniclers have been meticulous in recording the weather conditions.
In the Eastern part of South Africa the general pattern is rain in December , January and part of February, drought in winter from April through to November, snowfalls in the mountainous areas usually in June, July and August, the occasional thunderstorms, lightning strikes in open places, and occasional gales which cause much damage and destruction.
Drought recurs frequently, leading at times to water restrictions boring for underground water, putting up rainwater tanks to conserve rainwater. The rainy season in the Transkei often disrupts the life of the people, with rivers that were completely dry in winter to bursting their banks, washing away bridges and lives being lost by drowning.
I quote below the chronicler’s remarks on the weather pattern between 1969 and 1973:
1969, January. Water shortage during the rainy season, very serious. The drought continues and the Village Board had to start working on boreholes to find subterranean water.
Fortunately a month later the rains came.
1971, April. A very wet year, with bumper crops being expected from all areas of the district – even the weeks are flourishing.
1972. A familiar weather pattern: Scorching hot weather with no rains and no crops.
1973, February came the sad lament – good rains, but they came too late for the crops. June the same year: A cold and dry June came to an end with badly -needed rains.
Among the South African farmers, there is the frequent quotations: Seven years rain followed by seven years drought.
Snowfalls are not very frequent in Mt Frere district, but I will give a few instances:
1962, August. Snow fell in Mt Frere district, which was followed by rain which brought on a cold snap. (A few days of intense, biting cold)
1963, March. Very early. Snow on the Matatiele hills (on the Lesotho border) and Mt Fletcher. This put an end to the month – long rains, but winter arrived with the snow.
1964, June. Snow remained on the surrounding hills for a whole week. The snow was so deep in places that Fr Valerian had to abandon his car and walk kilometres to one of the outstations. The telephone lines were broken by the weight of the snow and were out of order. On the 24th June, snow fell again, preventing Fr Valerian from visiting the Mhlotsheni outstation.
1965, May. The Mt Frere hills were covered with snow and by June, the middle of winter, the weather was still very cold.
However, some heavy, welcome rains came, which lasted about 24 hours. The church was being built at the time and progress was halted for some time because of the snow. Another heavy snowfall came in July.
Storms and Gales.
1967, June. A bad storm took place in town and district, were trees were uprooted and floodwaters caused much damage. In May that year there was frost and snow and it was very cold.
1977, September. A gale force wind which blew off the roofs of many houses (corrugated iron and insecurely attached).
Lubacweni looked like a tornado had hit it. Thank God no damage to the Mission buildings, just a few trees blown over.
There was no electricity all day. The following day there was a heavy rainfall, preventing the priest from visiting some of the outstations for the second time in the row.
Several instances of hail were mentioned in the chronicle, I will mention only two:
1929, March. Hailstorm at 8 p.m – 80 church and convent windowpains broken, the chimney was knocked off and both vegetables and maize destroyed. 30cm of hail on the ground for 4 days. In Transkei and East Griqualand hailstorms are quite common and generally unexpected, so many churches fit hailguards to the windows.
1964, October. The first of the summer rains, then on the 22nd October a severe hailstorm which destroyed vegetables, flowers, shrubs and some crops. At the Mission fifteen panes of glass were broken.
With frequent droughts, prayer services for rain are quite often held in South African churches and halls. One of these services was held in Mt Frere in 1966 with not many people attending. However, God listened to the people’s prayers and soon afterwards the rain pelted down for 2 days.
I have experienced this myself.
Other Hazards – Snakes
1964, April. With the dry weather came the snakes. In one week Fr Valerian killed one snake and the mill-man, Zenophon, killed three.
Shortly afterwards a parishioner had a bad scare when entering the church by torchlight and encountering a snake.
Keeping an eye on the snake, the lady called for the catechist, who did the dirty work and killed the snake with the fire-extinguisher.
Life on a Mission is rarelly dull!
The small farmers in the area grew a good deal of maize, there was a need for a mill, so the mission had an engine and equipment installed – the mill started operating on the 15th September 1939. This was mainly intended to help the farmers and perhaps make a small profit. Mr Ernest Fordham of Mt Frere took care of the mill, also the rentals and the financial side of the Mission.
In September 1941 a mention was made of the mill return for that month: L18 4 11, then in December 1943 the chronicler noted that the profit for that year had been swinging between L6 and L30 per month, depending on the month.
Not good news in March 1950. A complaint came from the Mealie (maize) Control Board that their inspector found on his visit to Mt Frere, and I quote: that the records of your milling transactions are not being kept in the prescribed form. The Board may cancel the registration of millers who fail to observe this requirement and failure to keep prescribed records constitutes an offence. The Nationalist government had come into power in 1948 and the unkind tone of the letter seemed to be intentional.
First indication of engine trouble came in 1958 and a new Lister engine had to be bought in Pietermaritsburg, costing L 316. Fortunately for the mission Fr Oliver of the Franciscan Missionary Unit paid the account.
In 1963, because of constant use of the engine, the cement block under it had to be replaced and Bro Juniper suggested that no work be done for 4 weeks to allow the block to dry. An inconvenience to the customers.
By 1968 other mills in town started up and the mission mill was losing customers and consequently, revenue. It was decided to reduce the operating days to Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. The engine needed overhauling in 1971 – the delay was 3 weeks and the cost R389.
1973. The cost of the milling licence was increased to from R20 to R30. To add to the troubles, Bro Juniper had to take the engine away to lay a new foundation, a process which took a month and the mill was once again idle, for a month.
1974. This time it was a new engine, with the old one dating from 1958 being sold for spares and the mill being out of action for another month. Certainly the mill was now not a viable proposition.
During a tremendous thunderstorm that month, the house of Mr Bernard Dzingwa the millman was struck by lightning. Both his huts, thatch over mud walls, were burnt to the ground and Mr Dzingwa’s mother and sister were killed in the accident.
Mr Dzingwa had to be away for a few days to see to his affairs and in the meantime Frs Bill and Gerry became temporary millers, an ardous task as they soon discovered.
In 1989 it became sadly obvious that the mill which had served the mission and local people for many years, was coming to the end of its usefulness. It was no longer and economical proposition, what with local competition in milling the mealies and also South African firms doing it much cheaper on a national scale. That year the mill returns reflected a nett loss of R431.26.
In 1990 the mill was out of action, so the final decision was made to remove the mill in May 1991. Mr Billy Noble and his men removed the engine and took it to John Deere Tractors envisaged to use the money for the hall and the parish.
The mill had served its purpose.