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Brief History of St Mary’s Mission

Background

  • From 1880 to 1885 the fore-runners of the missionary work in our diocese were the Jesuits, who, led by Fr. Henri Dopelchin, arrived at Pandamatenga the 25th June 1880. In five years six missionaries had died of Malaria, and not a single conversion to the faith had taken place. (not in vain)

 

  • In 1924 St Ignatius School was opened by Fr Joseph Esser under the Zambezi Jesuit Mission which covered the present Zimbabwe and Zambia.
  • In 1930 the Marianhill Missionaries took over Bulawayo diocese from the English Jesuits (Hwange being part of the diocese of Bulawayo).

 

  • In November 1932 Fr Joseph Kammerlechner made the first trip into the rural area by bicycle, with the idea of finding a place to open the first permanent mission in Hwange District.
  • In December of the same year, Bro. Aegidius Fister, also a Mariannhiller, toured the area along the Zambezi, surveying the area.

 

  • Early in 1933 a firm decision was made to open a mission station near the Zambezi. The first place chosen was MAPETA’s village in the SIMANGANI area, on the top of a hill by the Deka river bank, some two kilometres before the confluence of that river into the Zambezi and not far from the present bridge near Simangani
  • Fr. Andrew Hotze and Bro. Mauritius were appointed to open the new mission, but Fr. Hotze had to undergo a major operation and therefore Fr. Joseph Kammerlechner went there together with Brother.

 

  • In January 1933 the first rural Catholic School in what is Hwange Diocese today was opened. Nekamandama was opened from Hwange and the missionaries reached the place by bicycle and on foot along Lukosi River through very rough terrain. (It is one of the largest outstations of St Mary’s Mission)
  • Back at Simangani, the two missionaries were busy moulding bricks and making plans for the new Mapeta Mission. At the end of 1933 the new mission was to be a centre of evangelization and a place from which most of the missionary expeditions into present day Hwange Diocese would originate. St Mary’s Mission is in all truth the mother of Hwange Diocese. It was however realised that the water at the place was unsuitable for drinking and cooking purposes. So the initial plans were changed.

 

  • They moved some 5 Km. to the West, where they chose a picturesque hill just by the Zambezi. The place was beautiful. It was going to be a mission and it would be called St Aegidius Mission, MAKWA, in honour to the late Bro. Aegidius who had died a year before of malaria contracted in this area.
  • By the beginning of 1934 the missionaries were established at Makwa. They started building operations immediately. They put up the priests’ house, the sisters’ house and the church which was probably used as a school too. The buildings at the first Makwa Mission were erected with adobe bricks.

 

  • The first two sisters to go to Makwa Mission were Sr. Reginata and Sr. Notkera both of the Congregation of the Precious Blood. Like the Mariannhill Missionaries they were from Germany. Soon after, a third sister was sent, Sr. Illidia CPS but Sr Reginata was changed. In 1935 Sr. Benita replaced Sr Illidia and Sr. Raymunda also joined the community.

 

  • Late in 1934 Fr Joseph Ebert joined the Makwa community. This man was instrumental in the establishment of St Mary’s Mission.

Conception and birth of St Mary’s Mission

  • Serious reflections on suitability of the geographical location of St Aegidius mission were done. The place was remote and scarcely populated. Missionaries had been driven that far by the Mine Company which did not want any mission to be built nearby. During the rainy season they were cut off from Wankie for almost three months.

 

  • A new place had been found nine miles South of Hwange town near the Lukosi River by the main road to Bulawayo. Fr. Joseph himself chose it. A good house had already been erected by Miss Bolton, the secretary of Mr. Tompson, the General Manager of the Colliery. The house was located on the bank of the river surrounded by impressive hills. It was on sale and Father saw the golden opportunity to get the place. It was also during 1935 that a new school had been granted and called St. Mary’s School. That was the ideal place for the transfer of the mission.
  • On the 15th of May 1935, Frs. Joseph Ebert, Brs. Basil and Srs. Raymunda, Benita, Notgrera and Mr Alfrida. Fr Erbert was in St Mary’s Mission for 15years. He built the steps up the mission and the grotto.

 

  • The house which was bought for ₤450 became the first house for the sisters. It was near the present store. There was a zinc house for priests in the middle of the present football ground. There was a provisional chapel of pole and dagga.

From St. Mary’s Mission new schools were opened: Lambo, Luseche, Nengasha, Milonga, Kanywambizi, Mbizha, and visits were made to those that were already operating.

  • The new mission was to be a centre of evangelization and a place from which most of the missionary expeditions into present day Hwange Diocese would originate. St Mary’s Mission is in all truth the mother of Hwange Diocese.

 

  • Of those years of church work at St. Mary’s, Bishop I. Prieto has this to say: “The figurehead of all the Mariannhill who worked in Hwange is Fr. Joseph Ebert CMM. He with Bro. Basil Sofka and the Precious Blood Sisters Notkera, Raymunda and Benita began in earnest the missionary work that started at Makwa from 1933 to 1936 and then from 1936 to 1950 at St. Mary’s Mission Lukosi. Makwa and St. Mary’s are a credit to the faith, zeal and dedication of Fr. Ebert and the Precious Blood Sisters”.
  • Another missionary that cycled along the roads and paths of Hwange district was Fr. Odilo Weeger CMM who stayed at St. Mary’s from 1939 to 1942. Some of the schools mentioned ealier were opened and visited by him during his long apostolic tours.

 

  • In 1943 St. Mary’s School started offering boarding facilities to children of other areas. Sr. Sales CPS was then appointed to organize and take care of the girls in the boarding. Bro. Theofil CMM, who started the construction of St. Mary’s Hospital, contracted malaria and died here and is buried here at St. Mary’s
  • All the missionary work in the Hwange area was done from St. Mary’s Mission and as part of the Vicariate Apostolic of Bulawayo. Bishop I. Arnoz CMM, Vicar Apostolic was the great animator of those missionary endeavours.

 

  • In 1948 a group of Spanish Missionaries arrived in Bulawayo Diocese and were posted in the area of Hwange. Frs. I. Prieto, J. Diaz Rubio, James Turigas and Brother Vaquero were in the first Spanish expedition.
  • One year later, in 1950, Srs. Cecilia, Trinity, Dolores and Mother Jesus, of the Congregation of the Missionary Daughters of Calvary arrived also at St. Mary’s Mission.

 

  • In 1951 new blood was received in the persons of Frs. Mathias, Victor, Anthony S. Elvira, Ireneus and Bro. Emmanuel Dausá.
  • In 1953 Hwange was given the status of an Apostolic Prefecture.

 

  • The Minor Seminary was completed at the end of June 1957 here at St Mary’s Mission. It was opened in January 1958 with accommodation for 25 students.
  • The Prefecture of Hwange needed a Secondary School to form the future influencing people of the society. St. Mary’s, the mother mission and close to the mining centre of Hwange, would be the right place. Fr Mathias Ruiz took this heavy responsibility on his shoulders, preparing the building and looking for the necessary staff.

 

  •  In January 1962 the school started its Form 1. From that first Form One students in 1962 would come out the first local priest of the Diocese, (before the division of Gokwe) Fr. Robert Ndlovu, and soon after some of the sisters of the first group of the Daughters of Calvary (Srs. Josephine Sikapila, Magdalene Nehwati and Christine Mkhwebu)  and a number of outstanding figures in our society.
  • The new secondary school at St. Mary’s was also producing Form Two students, many of whom went for teacher training. The staff was increased with Frs. Anton, Hector and Vera and with Srs. Cecilia and Laura. Seminarians who successfully completed Form Two had to be sent to the newly opened Minor Seminary of Chikwingwizha in the Diocese of Gweru. Frs. Robert Ndlovu, Maximus Gumbo and Joseph Mkhwebu belongs to that first generation of seminarians. Frs. Benny, Hector and Amador took charge of the seminary successively.

 

  • A remarkable event took place in 1969. The Congregation of the Marist Brothers accepted to take over the secondary school at St. Mary’s. Bro. Basilio Rueda, their Superior General, visited the Diocese and negotiations started to get personnel and finances to develop and transform the school. Shortly before, the Diocese had bought a farm near Dete. The Marist Brothers soon saw the convenience of transferring the school to Dete where there was ample space for expansion and grounds.
  • In 1984 a major diocesan project was realized. The new trends of lay formation saw the establishment of Chimuniko training Centre which became in the district of Hwange an animation centre. The bishop thought that the adaptation of the old primary school at St. Mary’s could fulfil the need. The renovation work was done in 1984 and Chimuniko is now a real centre of pastoral and social apostolate, In this way Chimuniko links up with the past history of St. Mary’s and the diocese. Fr Richard Davila (Fr Chimuniko) with Catechist J Nyoni and Sr. Prisca Mathe formed a team that laid good and strong foundations for Chimuniko.

 

  • In 1995 the golden Jubilee was celebrated with Frs. Alexander and Louis improving the look of S Mary’s with the new Chimuniko wing.
  • A lot improvement was done in the School by Fr Louis Ruiz.

 

  • In the Jubilee year of 2000, a diocesan Marian Shrine was blessed at St Mary’s Mission by Bishop Robert Ndlovu. From then on every year in May the family of Hwange comes together to have a pilgrimage and pray, dedicating itself to Mother Mary.
  • In 2010, on the 4th of September St Mary’s Mission celebrated its 75th anniversary with a lot of renewal in the faith among the Christians. All the congregations that passed through the Mission attended the celebration. The celebration was mixed with sadness over the untimely death of one of the outstanding figures in the faith, Blanka Kwidini, who was the Sister in charge of Lukosi Hospital.

 

  • Since 1935  until 2010 the Mission has registered:
    • Baptisms                                                          6 347
    • Marriages                                                         457
    • Diocesan priests                                               3
    • Religious Sisters                                              7
  • Today St Mary’s has                                                
    • Catholics                                                          3 150 (about)
    • Out centres                                                      18

 

St Mary’s is what it is, thanks to the passion and love of men and women of God. Some are still alive. We have seen them burn and give everything for the local Church.
Others have gone before us and being there, they watch over us and pray for us to God.
In a special way we should remember and thank God for the Marianhill Missionaries, the Precious Blood sisters, the Daughters of Calvary and the SMI Fathers who are still with us today.

Some of the Priests who passed through St Mary’s Mission

Frs. Ebert, Odilo, Felix, Ignatius Prieto, Emmanuel, James Turigas, John Chesa, Emmauel Castella, Martirian Torrego, Joseph Beny, Louis Ruiz, Aloisious Anton, Matthias G. Ruiz., Ferdinand Villarejo, Amador Fernandez, Augustine Moreno, Edward García, Ricardo Dávila, Alexander Alapont, Noel Byrne, Fr Linos Dube, Elias Gwambu, Eusebius Nyathi, Jabulani Nyoni, Mgcini Joseph Moyo, Kujani T. Mpofu.

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