Aliwal Cathedral


Sunday – 8:30am

A typed 3-page paper, found in the archives of the diocese, with the heading “History of the Catholic Church in Aliwal North” and relating events up to 1947, begins in this way:

“On the 25th September 1884 the Roman Catholic Mission in Aliwal North was founded by the Rt.Rev.Bishop Ricards, D.D., of Port Elizabeth. The front portion of the present church was built in 1886, and on the 7th November of the same year Bishop Ricards blessed the Church and dedicated it to St.Columba. The first resident priest was Rev.Father Patrick Neville. The foundation stone of the Holy Cross Convent, Aliwal North, was blessed on the 10th October 1906 by the Most Rev.Archbishop H.McSherry and was laid by His Excellency the late Sir W.F.Hely Hutchinson, Governor of the Cape – “well and truly laid” as His Excellency declared. The following year – 16th October 1907 – saw the official opening of the Convent as a European Boarding and Day school..”.
“Silver Jubilee. Aliwal Vicariate 1923 – 1948” gives this information:
“ALIWAL, a picturesque town in the Northern Cape, built on the banks of the Orange River and widely known as a health resort, became in time a centre of traffic and commerce and also a centre of religious activity.  The Sisters of the Holy Cross erected there in 1906 the Provincial House of their Congregation in South Africa and Rt. Rev. Monsignor F.Demont made it the headquarters of our Missionary territory.
The origin of the Aliwal Catholic Mission dates back to the 25th September 1884 when it was opened by Rt. Rev. Bishop Ricards of Port Elizabeth. The Church was dedicated by him on the 7th March 1886.  The first resident Priest was Rev. Father P. Neville who also served the surrounding district. Two Priests died here in Aliwal: Rev. Father P. Fox in 1901 at the age of 43, and Rev. Father P. Delnatte in 1921 who was 59, both of whom are still lovingly remembered by parishioners.
When  the  Sacred  Heart  Priests arrived in Aliwal towards the end of 1923  they  found  there  a  church, presbytery and a Catholic congregation numbering 163 including the Boarders and Sisters of the Convent, 25 other Europeans, 38 Coloureds and 3 Natives.

As the church proved too small for the then growing congregation, extensions were  begun,  Rt.  Rev.  Bishop  H. McSherry of Port Elizabeth turning the first sod for same in January 1924. His Excellency the late Archbishop B. J. Gijlswijk, O.P. Apostolic Delegate came to Aliwal to lay the foundation stone of the new wing on the 15th August 1924 and he consecrated the new Church of the Sacred Heart on the 25th March 1926.  This church at present serves the European and Coloured congrega¬tions, the Natives having their own church in the nearby location.

On the 18th November 1934 the first candidates from the Sacred Heart Seminary, Aliwal North, were raised to the  Priesthood.  More  ordinations followed in  1936,  1939,  1940 and 1946.  The consecration of Rt. Rev. Bishop J. Lueck, S.C.J. also took place in the Sacred Heart Church on the 15th May 1947.  When in 1936 our Mission territory was raised to the rank of a Vicariate, the church became a Pro-Cathedral.” (SV, 6)
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“Two Mission Doctors work tirelessly, also among the white population and this is now overcoming the deep prejudices among the white population against all that is Catholic.” (Ann.Stat.1948 )
Plans for the final shape of the Cathedral had been considered at an early stage. The growth of the diocese made it urgent to put these plans into practice. In 1958 the original, narrow main nave of the Cathedral was therefore taken down and in its place a wide main nave was erected and two towers were added. Now the building at last showed clearly that it was the Cathedral, the main church of the diocese.
While St.Joseph’s and Bishop Demont Schools were Catholic Schools the Cathedral was often completely filled with pupils of those schools. This changed when those schools became public schools and only the Catholic pupils attended services in the Cathedral.
The actual congregation of the Cathedral parish, besides the Sisters and the pupils of the three Catholic schools, had been quite small up to the time when apartheid ended in 1990. Up to that time only white people could reside and own houses in this area and could attend church services in the cathedral. After the ending of apartheid,  many houses were bought by black people in Cathcart street and in the surrounding area. The congregation changed and became multiracial. Its catholicity was victorious at last.
First presbytery of 1884, in use until 1971. 

In 1970 a hall was built next to the Cathedral which should serve not only the needs of the Cathedral parish but should also serve as meeting place for larger groups of the diocese.

Not only the Cathedral was too small. Also the presbytery was no longer sufficient for the expanding diocese. New needs had arisen which had to be fulfilled. Priests came for meetings and had to be accommodated for several days. Visitors had to find hospitality. Parish Council meetings had to be held in the building. The building should serve at the same time as parish office and one day also for diocesan offices. It was therefore decided in 1971 to build a new presbytery at the same place.
During 1994 the sanctuary of the cathedral was adapted to the new liturgy. The three communion rails and the large, high steel pulpit were removed. The steel work of the communion rails was used to construct a secluded visitor’s corner accessible from the entrance at the left tower.
July 1988 the Diocese bought the house of Cathcart Street No 55, next to the bishop’s house. It was altered by removing some division walls, so that a senate meeting room was established. Until then the senate had been meeting in the Cathedral presbytery. Now the senate held its meetings in No 55.  Soon afterwards the first diocesan secretary, Sr Myriam McNally obtained her office in this house. A walk-way was built between the bishop’s house and house No.55.
Four garages were built in the garden of the house, with entrance from Young Street.
March 1991 the diocese bought the corner house No 57 Cathcart street, between the bishop’s house and the cathedral. The old wire fence was replaced by a brick wall and the shabby servants’ quarters were removed.
The large open grounds of Holy Cross School, next to the Cathedral, have been the venue for the ordinations of bishops and priests for many years. Bishop Baaij and bishop Lobinger were ordained there. The ordination of Fathers Khumalo and Nkunyane in 1991, of Fr Pitso in 1995 and of Fr Kizito in 1997 were conducted on that beautiful place.
The cathedral hall became the venue for gathering of leaders of the whole diocese while in the years of apartheid it was practically only used for gatherings of priests and sisters.  In 1987 delegations from all parishes met in the hall for a consultation on the Pastoral Plan and from that time it was continuously used for such gatherings.  It became the hall of the diocesan community.
February-March 2003: the cathedral interior is re-painted and some small repairs done, by Van Oosten, Queenstown. The Catholics of Fr.Franz Aertker’s home financed the work.
Priests who served the Cathedral parish:
1923 – 30 Theo Demont SCJ
30 – 34 Peter Max   SCJ
34 – 35 Baljon SCJ
36 – 37 Edward Cahi  SCJ
37 – 41 Cassidy
41 – 44 J Lueck  SCJ
Daniel Rogers
Hermann Harmeyer  SCJ
John Magennis
48 – 69 Peter Baur  SCJ
69 – 75 Benno Hansel SCJ
75 – 89 Mgr T Lighton
89 – 200.. KH Ofenloch SCJ