The town of Burgersdorp existed before Aliwal North and it was from Burgersdorp that Aliwal was founded. On the 12th May 1849 Sir Harry Smith ordered the Chief Magistrate of Burgersdorp to plan a town at the junction of the Orange and Kraai Rivers. (“Aliwal North 150”, p.4)
The Catholic Church did not choose Burgersdorp but rather Aliwal as its centre for the whole area and therefore the Catholics of Burgersdorp were served from Aliwal for many years. During the early years one of the priests of St.Francis had to travel by train to Burgersdorp on Sundays, walking on foot from the station to the township carrying his heavy Mass kit.
The oldest church building seems to have been a rented building in town, the one marked lower down in the diagram by a tiny black rectangle. It is now only accessible from the short dead-end of La Rochelle street. In former times it was reached through a passage which is now closed, next to the shop which in 1998 is marked “Govan Cafe”. It can be presumed that both white and black Catholics worshipped in that building. This we were told by some older Catholics, speaking about the days of their childhood, around 1947.
Later the priest bought the plot marked by a larger black square on the centre right which is on the corner of Taylor / LaRochelle streets. That house served as a chapel for black and white Catholics. In 1954 it was pulled down and a residence with chapel was built at that place with two large windows, still to be seen today in 1998. 1954 – 1962 the priest resided there.
1947-8 Mr Joseph Letlala moved to the township, coming from Beaufort, and worked as a catechist. He built a house, near where the township church is now, 191 Main Street of the township, and in his house prayer meetings, sodality meetings and priestless services were held. He received a Papal Honour in recognition of his work.
His daughter told us in 1998: “In the old days the priest came from Aliwal once a month, on 1st Sunday. He came on Saturday to hear confessions, then went back to Aliwal, came again on Sunday for Hl.Mass and other sacraments.”
A school for African Catholics was built in the township in 1951/2. The teachers of the Catholic School were Mrs Mokoena and her son, also Mr Skweyiya. — The school building had a sanctuary attached which could be opened to the school room for the Sunday services.
In 1954 a house was bought in town where the priest resided, at the corner LaRochelle/Taylor Street. Fr Harmeyer was the first resident priest. In the small chapel of the house the white Catholics had their services. 28 February 1954 this chapel of the Immaculate Conception in Burgersdorp town was blessed by bishop J.Lueck.
In 1962 the small farm “Fair Oaks” was bought, adjacent to the township and a chapel St.Pius X with a Sisters’ house next to it was built. The house in town was sold. 3 September 1962 the StPius X Church at “Fair Oaks” Mission farm is blessed by bishop J.Lueck. Two Sacred Heart Sisters reside at the convent. The chapel serves mainly the Catholics of Eureka township which was built for the Coloured population opposite the black township.
In the township 1966 three new classrooms were built parallel to the old classrooms which now became the church, with a permanent altar and a tabernacle.
During the 1970s Mr Letlala retires and two full-time catechists are employed. One of them, Mr Banisi, works mainly for the surrounding farm communities of Catholics whom he visits by motor bike. The other catechist, Mr Baibai, resides in Steynsburg. In 1996 catechist Banisi is pensioned. In 1998 both die and are not replaced since by now there is a large number of trained voluntary lay leaders who are fulfilling the same tasks.
In Steynsburg a multi-purpose church hall is built in 1972. A flat for the family of a catechist is part of the same building. In 1996 the catechist, Mr Baibai, is asked by the bishop and the priest to change residence to Burgersdorp so that the few Catholics of Steynsburg will develop their own voluntary leadership and will no longer rely for everything on the catechist. Mr Baibai receives a loan from the diocese to build himself a house in Eureka, Burgersdorp, but in 1997 he dies.
In 1996 the Sacred Heart Sisters are no longer able to supply sisters to Burgersdorp and the house next to the church which had served as convent is rented out to local people.
From September 1999 to 2001 Fr Noah Ssekitto who is parish priest of Molteno, resides at the presbytery in Burgersdorp together with Fr Nkunyane who serves Burgersdorp, in order to make it possible that priests reside together and not insolation.
In October to December 2000 the church in Burgersdorp township is extensively renovated. The former appearance was that of a classroom:
The former classrooms wee a long, narrow room which made it difficult to celebrate the liturgy in a communitarian way. The windows were typical classroom windows, the wooden floor was weak and broken, and the benches were beyond repair.
The entrance was from a narrow set of stairs.
There was a small sacristy that had apparently been added when the former sanctuary had been added to the classrooms.
During the renovations of 2000 a round sanctuary is added and the church becomes about 15% larger in this way. The altar is now on the long side of the church. A wall replaces the wire fence of the yard towards the street above and a small bell-tower is included in that new wall. The church now no longer appears as a classroom but as a real church. The Holy Cross Sisters of Aliwal North donate the benches of their former chapel and its tabernacle to the renovated church. It is now one of the most beautiful churches of the area.
The earlier drawing above showed the arrangement of the building until 2000.
In 2000 a beautiful sanctuary is added, the room is enlarged, and the yard is closed off by a beautiful wall. The congregation has collected funds for several years to contribute to these improvements. The Archdiocese of Cologne has given a large subsidy and also the Pontifical Mission Societies of Rome. The Holy Cross Sisters of Aliwal North have donated many church benches for the renovated church. The renovated church is solemnly blessed 14 December 2002.
In October Father Emmanuel Nkuyane goes for a sabbatical renewal time of nine months to St.Anselm, England. After him Fr Pitso and Fr Jabu Khumalo will make a sabbatical. It is the first time that local diocesan priests are getting a sabbatical. In the case of Burgersdorp this also raises the question from where Burgersdorp parish will be served in future, after the return of Fr Nkunyane.
In 2001 a new situation arises in Burgersdorp because a new township of four hundred houses is been built across the railway line, often referred to as “Phumlamqeshi”. Large numbers of people are now passing the Fair Oaks parish centre during day and night. The parish premises of Fair Oaks are no longer safe. The farms on both sides of Fair Oaks have been completely vandalised. Attempts are therefore made to sell Fair Oaks and to acquire a house somewhere between the town and Eureka.
In September 2002 a house is bought near the Showgrounds, as Church House, being Erf 1097, from Mr Prinsloo. It will serve as a chapel for the English and Afrikaans speaking community. A wall is removed in order to create a larger room which will be the chapel. It is not intended as a residence for a priest. During 2001 and 2002 Fr Noah of Molteno serves the parish and if a second priest can be appointed for the area he will also reside in Molteno.
In September 2002 Fair Oaks property is sold to LITHA LETHEMBA, in order to create a hospice centre for Burgersdorp. The property is sold for the low price of R 55ooo, just enough for purchasing the new house near the showgrounds plus the cost of moving.
14 December 2002 the renovated church St.Mary’s in the township is solemnly re-dedicated. It retains the name of St.Mary’s, but a second name is added and will be displayed over the entrance: “Nkosi, yandisa ukholo lwethu”.
January 2006 regular services in English are introduced in Steynsburg, for English speaking Catholics. They meet every Wednesday, rotating between their houses, and weekly about twelve people take part.
Priests serving Burgersdorp Parish:
- 1954-64 Harmeyer – 64, residing in town, as from 62 residing at Fair Oaks
- 64 -70 Braun – 70
- 70 –72 Recker – 72
- 71 –75 H.Hirmer -75
- 74 – ? A.Lemahieu –
- 76 –82 W.Wilson – 82
- 82 –86 M.Ntaka – 86
- 85 –90 M.Mandew -90
- 85 –86 P.Motsamai – 86
- 90 –92 Z.Mpambani -92
- 91 -2001 E.Nkunyane – Sept 2001, residing at Fair Oaks
- 2003 Paul Musafiri, residing in Molteno
- 2005 Deo Ssengendo, residing in Molteno