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Apostolic Movement

First Schoenstatt missionaries arrived in Africa 90 years ago

Sr. Ann-Marie Nicholas

Sr. Melitta joined the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary in August 1930. As a part of her discernment process, she expressed to Father Kentenich her desire to work in mission countries. He assured her that she would be allowed to go if a door opened for the sisters to go to a mission country. In 1932, during the Christmas season, Father Kentenich informed her that negotiations were underway to run a mission station in Africa, and she would be part of the first group to travel there if it materialised.

Discovering Gods will

In 1932, as the National Socialists were gaining power in Germany and the political situation became more dangerous, Father Kentenich sought ways to safeguard the mission of Schoenstatt. At the same time, he was approached by Mgr. Vogel who was looking for sisters to serve in South Africa. Fr. Kentenich also had a good connection with Bishop Henneman in Cape Town who was also interested in welcoming sisters to his diocese. Trusting in Divine providence, Fr. Kentenich, officially sent out the first group of seven sisters to Africa on 17th December 1933.

Trusting in the MHC

Father Kentenich’s decision and the willingness of the sisters were courageous. The sisters venturing to an unknown land were young and inexperienced. They also believed that they would never return to their homeland. The Schoenstatt Sisters’ community had been founded only seven years before and was still developing.

Father Kentenich and the sisters trusted in the covenant of love with Our Lady. Before their departure, he reminded the sisters to believe that “Mater habebit curam” (Mother Takes Care) can work miracles. The sisters even printed the letters MHC on their wooden trunks to remind them of this reality. His last words to the sisters before their departure from Schoenstatt for Rotterdam were:

“Child, do not forget your Mother. And then it will come true: ‘Servus Mariae nunquam peribit’” (21st December 1933)

Departure from Germany

On 23 December, the first group of missionaries, Sisters M. Liberia, M. Melanie, M. Irmine, M. Roswitha, M. Melitta, M. Tarzisia, and M. Rosalie, set out on their voyage to South Africa from Rotterdam, travelling by steamboat. The adventurous journey took almost four weeks.

And with great joy, they arrived at the first port of call in South Africa, Cape Town, on 18 January 1934. Allowed to leave the ship, they went that evening to search for a Catholic Church; they visited various churches, but none were Catholic. The following morning, together with a group of Dominican Sisters who had travelled from England, they found the Catholic Church and could participate in their first Holy Mass in South Africa. Later that morning, they used their few English words to search for Bishop Henneman. After a joyful meeting, the sisters returned to the Steamboat to prepare for the afternoon departure to East London.

Arrival in Africa

On 23 January, they reached East London and were greeted by three Pallotine Fathers who drove them to Stutterheim. They spent the night at the Dominican Sisters’ convent where the first photo of our sisters in South Africa was taken. With great excitement, the sisters finally arrived in Cathcart, where five of them would begin the work in the mission school, parish, and health care clinic in the area.

The people of Cathcart welcomed them warmly with a festive meal. Already that afternoon, two of the sisters, Sr. M. Irmine and Sr. Melitta, travelled on to Queenstown, where they were to take up their new tasks in the Bishop’s household and as parish sisters.

First photo in Africa

A surprise: Mother is the first to arrive in Africa

The sisters found themselves with very little after they moved into their new home and realised that much work needed to be done. However, they also discovered the fulfilling joy of helping others and leading them to God.

One of the great joys for them was that when they arrived in Stutterheim, they discovered a large MTA picture in the chapel of the Fathers’ house. Our Lady had travelled ahead of them to South Africa! During their mission in Africa, they continuously experienced that Our Lady cares, just as Father Kentenich had told them before they departed: “Mother takes care – Mater habebit curam.”

We are grateful to the pioneering seven Sisters who bravely came to South Africa to help spread Schoenstatt’s mission in the world. Today, we have Sisters working in South Africa, Burundi, and Kenya and assisting the Schoenstatt Movement in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Nigeria. From South Africa, our sisters were sent out to Scotland, England and Ireland, as well as to Texas, to help build up Schoenstatt in the English-speaking countries. Many of the challenges differ from ninety years ago, but we continue to trust the MHC and experience Our Lady’s constant care.

Source: Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary –


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