Aliwal St.Francis

“Silver Jubilee. Aliwal Vicariate 1923 – 1948” gives this information:

“The baptism of a Native woman by Rev. Father P. Delnatte on the  20th  November 1914 marked  the  beginning  of  a Catholic Native congregation in Aliwal North.  Quite a number of our present Catholics are converts of those early days.

The beginning of a Native school can be traced back to a class of five pupils taught by a Holy Cross Sister in 1923 at the Sisters’ Cottage Infirmary.  In June of the same year the little school was transferred to St. Patrick’s, in May Street, which had been a Coloured school.

When Rt. Rev. Monsignor F. W. Demont, S.C.J. arrived in Aliwal North in 1923 he found the Native school steadily progressing and having a roll of 50.  At St. Columba’s, now the Pro-Cathedral, about 50 Africans, 38 of whom were Catechumens, attended the services with the Europeans and Coloured congregations.  In February 1924, separate services for Natives were held at St. Patrick’s where a room was set  apart  as  a  chapel.   Rt. Rev. Monsignor Demont was the first Priest-in-charge  to  the  newly  established congregation.  On the  11th May he administered the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation to 24 Africans.  The Catechumens now numbered 42.

In May 1924 Rev. Father G. M. Schultz, S.C.J. was entrusted with the care of the Africans and he took up residence at the newly acquired farm, Aurora, situated behind the location on the Burgersdorp road.  The mission chronicler of those days reports that opposition from other  denominations was encountered but that it proved to be beneficial in the long run.  Rev. Father J.Beirle, S.C.J., who took charge in December 1925 reported the work to be going ahead and the number of pupils in the school as 60.

When in 1926 the Gariep Prefecture acquired a building site on the property of Mr. Soudom, the present St. Francis’ Mission was commenced.  Rev. Brother Bonaventure was responsible for the erection of the building and was assisted by Rev. Brothers Lazarus, Albert and Wilhelm, all S.C.J.  On the 26th June 1927 St. Patrick’s was evacuated.  On the 30th Rev. Father Beirle took up residence at St. Francis Mission, and until the present priest’s house and children’s quarters were built, both he and the first boarders slept in a dilapi¬dated church building acquired with the property and which also  served  as workshop and store-room. The Sisters’ apartments, too, were most primitive.

Doctor A. Heukamp, who arrived in April  1927, was the  first  Mission Doctor of the Prefecture.  To this day she has not ceased to work untiringly for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the Africans.  St. Francis’ Mission owes her a deep debt of gratitude.

In January 1928 St. Francis’ Mission Hospital was opened with 6 beds – at present  it  has  23.  Dr. Heukamp’s report in March 1931 states as follows:

In 1928, 69 patients attended; in 1931  500.  From  1928 to  1931,  22,500 consultations.   The  success  of  this branch of missionary activity prompted the Prefect Apostolic to engage the services of more Mission Doctors.  Dr. Heukamp’s first Assistant was Dr. R. Sandeman who was succeeded by Dr. Pattis and Dr. Loseby, both of whom gave their lives, as victims of typhus, in the service of the Africans. Dr. Pattis died on the 25th October 1933 and Dr. Loseby on the 9th March 1934.  Their deaths were sad blows to the Mission However, Dr. Heukamp and the Sisters carried on the noble work.  In town, location and district, in surgery, dispensary and clinic, in maternity, general and infectious wards they show their skill and their devotion to the poor, suffering Africans. Moreover, from 1928 to the present day, over a thousand people in danger of death have been baptised by them.

In the meantime the Catholic congre¬gation bad grown and, the provisional chapel now being too small, it was found necessary to build a church.  On the 5th May 1929 His Excellency the late  Most  Rev.  Archbishop  B.  J. Gijlswijk.  O.P.,  Apostolic  Delegate, blessed the new church and dedicated it to St. Francis Xavier.

In 1933 Rev. Father J. Beirle, the zealous Pastor of St. Francist Mission for over seven years, was transferred to Middelburg. He was succeeded by Rev. Father A. X. Kraemer who, after two years  at  St. Francis’ Mission,  was appointed to open a new Mission at Zastron.

Rev. Father P. L. Meyer was the next  Priest-in-charge  at  St. Francis’ Mission.  After  a  long  struggle he obtained in 1938 a two teacher grant for the school from the Cape Education Department.  The first two teachers to avail of this grant were Sr. Florentine, a Holy Cross African Sister and X. Khosi, a former pupil of the school and now qualified teacher.  A secondary school was begun in 1939 but, owing to a Government school being opened in the Location, was discontinued in 1942.

Rev. Father Meyer was transferred to Indwe in 1941 and was succeeded as Priest in charge by Rev. Father Sahr who had been assistant to Father Meyer since March 1940. Like his predecessors at St. Francis’ Mission, he did much for the spread of the gospel among the Africans. The Catholics then numbered 820 and the Catechumens 200. He also renovated the church and enriched it by a pulpit and baptismal font. In January 1945 he was succeeded by Rev. Father A.Petersen who was later replaced by Rev. Father W. Leyens, S.C.J., the present Priest-in-charge.

In September 1945 a crèche was started at the Mission and since 1947 has been subsidised  by  the  Social Welfare Department. About 75 children are daily cared for by the Sister in charge of the crèche.  The Primary school has continued to flourish.  There are about 270 on the rolls and the Department of Education has approved the appointment of a Sister as Principal with government grant.

St. Francis’ Mission  is  proud  to number amongst its former Priests the Rt. Rev. Bishop J. Lueck, S.C.J. who, in  1939 and  1940 and again from January to November 1946 was assistant Priest at the Mission.” (SV, 8-11) ———-

The place where the first church and school, St.Patrick’s and St.Joseph’s, were situated, is difficult to find now because the streets have changed. They were situated in the old “Location” which was called “Chach” by the people. It was situated where the road branches off to Hilton.The below diagram shows by a cross + the situation where the old church St.Patrick’s was situated.  The letter “S” indicates where the old Catholic School St.Joseph’s stood. The place where the old Anglican church was, is shown by a “C”. It was that church which gave the old Location its popular name “Chach”. The old Catholic School, called St.Joseph’s was on the opposite side of the Burgersdorp road, opposite St.Patrick’s, on the West side of the Hilton road. That old school building still existed in 1953.

Some old correspondence indicates that the diocese had planned to have a High School at St.Francis but was refused permission. There were also plans for boarding facilities. The bishop suspected that there were “sectarian reasons” for the refusal by the government.

In 1947 a creche was started by the Holy Cross Sisters. Average attendance was 80 children. It was intended to enlarge it the following year. (Ann.Stat.1948)

4 July 1948 the first black priest was ordained as diocesan priest in St.Francis Mission, Elias Shea.

St.Francis Xavier Parish was canonically erected 14 May 1954.

1957-63 the Apartheid laws forced the bishop to give up ownership of the whole site comprising St.Francis Church, hospital, school and creche. Some documents indicate that the land was sold to the municipaltiy for R 600. The Church, instead of owning its site, had now to lease it from the municipality and the lease agreement contains long passages about racial segregation. Non-black staff may not reside on the premises, and non-compliance with “the law” – which means the race laws – would end the lease. The Deed of Lease is signed 12 Nov 1963, whereby the municipality of Aliwal leases this land to the Bishop of Aliwal North. (See below: in 2001 the bishop made application to the municipality to regain ownership).

The way apartheid interfered with the life of the Church was also apparent from the fact that the bishop now had to apply for permission to employ white Sisters at the hospital StFrancis. He had to explain explicitly that he was not yet able to find a sufficient number of non-white nurses.

Apartheid was also the reason why no proper church building was constructed in St.Francis. On 15 August 1968  the new large prefabricated church of St.Francis Mission is blessed by the bishop. The bishop had to apply for building the church (see his letter of 10th June 1966) to the “Bantu Affairs Department” because he no longer was the owner of the site. Since he had to mind the threats of the Apartheid government that the diocese would not be compensated for newly erected buildings if the Church had to leave the site, the bishop decided to erect an asbestos prefabricated building. He obviously feared the church could be evicted and would not be compensated for a permanent building.

Around 1970 the School was handed over to the government. Ten classrooms were leased to the municipality in the agreement of 12June 1970, while one double classroom remained in use for church purposes. In a later lease of 19 May 1980 only four classrooms are leased. Again some years later, when the government built its own school, most classrooms become hospital wards, while two classrooms are used as parish hall. During the years of bishop Lobinger the Diocese was never asked to make any lease payments for the leased site of St Francis.

In February 1975 the Apartheid government gave the white priests and white Sisters of St.Francis only one more year to reside in the black township.

In March 1975 a night school was started for illiterate adults. 150 adults came to enrole, over 100 for Sub A and 40 for secondary school, but there were only two teachers. For the next months the people came faithfully to the classes but by October 1975 there was trouble because the teachers were not satisfied about their remuneration.

In mid-December 1976 Fr Notermans was replaced by Fr Pascal Motsamai, who also took over the direction of the hospital and was now introduced to the bookkeeping of the hospital.

The Holy Cross Sisters finally withdrew from St.Francis Hospital in 1976. The Sisters decided to withdraw from St.Francis Mission because they would not be able to travel every day from town if they are no longer allowed to reside in a black area. Bishop Baaij decided to establish instead a community of Sacred Heart Sisters at St.Francis. Sr Patricia would be Superior, Sr Catherine the matron, SrTeresia the cook and housekeeper. The Sacred Heart Sisters remained for two years in St.Francis as a community. After that date only Sr Catherine continued as matron while the other Sisters left.

The priest, Fr Notermans, was replaced by Fr Pascal Motsamai. FrNotermans took over Hilton parish, residing in the Cathedral presbytery.

After the departure of the Sisters the priests of St.Francis resided in the former convent building. The convent had been built around 1975.

The great split in the parish 1980 – 1992, between promoters of two opposing church choirs.

Apparently the split started around 1980 when some members introduced rhythmic singing from other churches and started a “youth choir” for that purpose while the existing St.Cecilia church choir continued to sing only traditional hymns. Both choirs insisted exclusively on their contrasting way of singing. During Mass each openly showed its rejection of the other choir by defiantly remaining silent and not joining singing when the other choir sang. When leading the singing, the youth choir over-emphased its rhythmic movements and the other choir emphasised the opposite. The adults of both sides strongly supported the young people of their side and in the end went so far as to tell their children not to go to communion when the other choir sang. Each of the choirs had “their Sunday” on which they, without consulting the priest, prepared the liturgy, did all singing and were reading the lessons while on the other Sundays they boycotted all activies.

The priests tried to solve the problem but in vain. When bishop Lobinger arrived and had his first Mass at St Francis in 1987 the one choir tried to “sing down the other one” in his presence. The priests tried reconciliation meetings, but it was in vain. The bishop invited himself to the parish council but could not meet it. The bishop invited the parish council to his house in 1990 but they quarrelled in his presence. The bishop gave a strong sermon to the parish in 1991 but it was to no avail.

Then, before Lent of 1992 things came to a head. It again became apparent that it was impossible to prepare liturgies together. It was clear there could again be no confirmations although there had been none for twelve years. Therefore the bishop, together with the two priests and the catechist, decided to take the drastic step of closing the parish for some time. However, it was clear that the opposing sides would react by saying that there was no longer any split. Therefore the bishop, accompanied by catechist Nikani, went every day from house to house asking only one question: “Is the split over?”

On 1st Lent 1992 the bishop seated himself in front of the congregation, flanked by the two priests and the catechist, gave a pre-written sermon and distributed the printed copies of the sermon in which he stated that St Francis church would be closed until Pentecost. He then took the chalice from the altar and left. Even adult men cried tears and left in silence.

On Pentecost the church was re-opened. From then on everything was calm and soon nobody spoke about the matter. One or two leaders of the “youth choir” left the Church for good. The tensions never arose again but the parish remained rather passive for a few more years.

19 Sepember 1993 Fr.Jabulani Khumalo was appointed parish priest. Various forms of training started. The Parish Council was re-established, and a monthly meeting of Block Leaders was introduced. The parish house was renovated. Church attendance increased greatly. The theology students took active part in parish life. There had been practically no umnikelo until then but it now started. Lenten Appeal collection amounted to R 3000 in that year.

The ordination of deacon Gilbert Tokelo Pitso was a great feast on the 16th July 1994 in St.Francis church, in the presence of the whole congregation and of ten priests.

2-6 November 1994 the First Community Week was held in St Francis parish. It was a great step forward. It was continued every year. The systematic and continuos training of leaders became a firm part of parish life.

Small Christian Communities also became the backbone of parish life at that time. The “block system” had existed in the parish since many years, perhaps since around 1980, but it was more an administrative institution. By mid 90s one could say that “everything starts in the SCCs and everything ends there”. The neighbourhood communities met weekly and it became clear that they will not easily die down again. People realized that in these communities things which are important for everybody are discussed, decided and done. Each SCC has two funeral leaders who only bury those of their area. Each SCC has communion givers. Babies are often baptized in the SCC meetings which take place in one of the houses. The people preferred to choose one house where they always meet because this makes it easier to know where the meeting will be held without having to ask each week for the new house designated for that particular week. By 1995 there were 14 SCCs but a few years later their number increased to 17. The priests visit them regularly. However, from around the year 2000 the SCCs were less active.

A monthly leaders’ meeting was introcuded as the centre of all planning. As from around 1996 this meeting was prepared and directed by the small executive of the Parish Council. All leaders of SCCs, all funeral leaders and liturgy leaders attend the monthly meeting.

In June 1996 a Catholic Womens League was established  in St.Francis, consisting mainly of young professional women. They are active, e.g. they have a transport system to bring old people to Church and they are also active in other areas.

The parish community often voiced the wish to renovate or even replace the prefabricated asbestos church building of St Francis parish. During Community Week 1994 the Parish Council brought this wish to the bishop, emphasising that this had been their desire for many years. The bishop said that since they already had a church, they would have to prove through collecting own funds that they were serious about this wish. Architect Brusse made a plan in August 95. However, the collection of funds progressed only very slowly. In 1997 the parish told the bishop that they were now doubting whether it was perhaps better to build a second church or chapel in block H, the far other side of the township and the bishop mentioned it might be better to spend more funds on that and try to make the existing church more liturgically meaningful by constructing a sanctuary at the long side, with an altar picture and beautiful windows.

In October 2000 to December 2001 St.Francis church is renovated. A new and beautiful sanctuary is added on the side wall and the entrance is now from the North side, opposide the new altar. Two sections of asbestos wall are replaced by a brick wall and the congregation hopes to replace all asbestos walls bit by bit in future years. The congregation has collected sixty thousand Rand for these renovations. This is the first time ever that the congregation has contributed a substantial amount to buildings at St.Francis.

In March 2001 the bishop made application to the municipality of Aliwal North for restoring ownership of St.Francis site to the Church.  (See letter 101 Municipality… but only in 2005 steps are taken towards this goal. The site is valued at R 30ooo and the municipality offers the diocese to purchase it for R 3000).

The Holy Thursday liturgy of 12 April 2001 will be remembered by many. The bishop officiated. The entrance rite included the ritual slaugthering of a “cattle” (substituted by a fowl) in a solemn, well prepared way. In his homily the bishop explained that this was similar to the way in which the Christians of the Early Church continued to slaughter an Easter lamb at their Easter celebrations at the beginning of the Eucharist of Easter. Although the true Easter Lamb was the centre of their celebration, the slaughtering of the old Easter Lamb was important for them because it re-enacted what God had done for them in the past. The older members of the congregation were very happy about this liturgical affirmation of their ancestor beliefs, while the younger ones saw no real need for it.

January 2005 a House of Hope is established for assisting AIDS sufferers, by renovating some old rooms next to the garage at the presbytery.

Priests who served St.Francis Parish:

1925 –  Gerhard Schultz SCJ  with …

25 – 33  Johannes Beirle SCJ with …

33 – 35 Aloys Kramer  SCJ with …

35 – 40 Patrick Meyer SCJ with …

38 – 39 William Leyens  SCJ with …

39 – 40 J Lueck  SCJ as assistant priest

40 – 45 Bernhard Sahr SCJ with …

45 – 49 William Leyens SCJ with …

46 – 47 J Lueck  SCJ as assistant priest

48 – 51 Elias Shea SCJ as assistant priest

49 – 52 Peter Platten  SCJ with …

51 – 60 Heinrich Braun  SCJ, with Fr Notermans and Fr Helbig

60 – 71 Assistant priest Rudolf Helbig SCJ

55 –  Jan Piet Notermans SCJ, with two other priests

68 –  Assistant priest M Teetsa SCJ

72-78 Pascal Motsamai SCJ as assistant priest

74-82 Mathias Ntaka SCJ with Fr Maneli and Fr Teetsa

75?-82 Joseph Maneli SCJ as assistant priest

82-89 Willi Wilson SCJ

89-93 Pascal Motsamai SCJ

91-2003 J Khumalo

2003-2008 G T Pitso

2008- Paul Musafiri