The beginning of Christianity in De Aar Diocese
(History of Graaff-Reinet copied from the archive)
Graaff-Reinet enters into the history of the Catholic Church in South Africa in 1838. In April of that year, the first Bishop and Vicar Apostolic of the Cape of Good Hope, the Rt. Rev. Doctor Patric Raymond Griffith, OP, landed at Cape Town. On the 2nd July, he arrived at Port Elizabeth to make a tour of the Eastern portion of his vast Vicariate. After visiting the rising sea-port at Algoa Bay, His Lordship proceeded to Uitenhage, Grahamstown, Fort Beaufort, Somerset East and Graaff-Reinet. He arrived at the last-named town on the 21st of August at 5 pm. His host, during his stay, was Mr Abos, whose house faced the Market Place.
Letters of Introduction to Mr W. C. van Ryneveld, the Civil Commissioner, from his son, and to the “Special Justice” from a Mr J. O’Reilley, secured the friendly attentions of these gentlemen for the Bishop. Both called on him at the house where he stayed. It was no doubt due to them that one evening the Town Band gave a special performance in His Lordship’s honour, at which he duly attended. Mr van Ryneveld was particularly kind and gave the Bishop a Letter of Introduction to a Mr Baird at Beaufort West, at the same time requesting that gentleman to give the Bishop hospitality on his arrival in that town. His Lordship was well impressed by the “Gem of the Karoo”, of which he gives the following description: “This is a beautiful town. The houses are neat, white-washed and thatched and seldom more than one storey high, with a room and window over the centre of the front. The streets at each side are planted with lemon and orange trees, and very regular. Water, clear and limpid is conveyed through the streets for irrigation purposes. The whole town is surrounded by mountains – quite an oasis in the desert. One would never suppose that so neat a town could exist in such alone and desolate country”.
Ongoing round, looking for possible members of his flock, the Bishop discovered one black sheep detained in the jail for drunkenness, and another under the same influence in his own house – which led His Lordship to reflect on the evils of this vice so prevalent at the time in the Colony.
The first Mass at Graaff-Reinet was celebrated on Friday, August 24th, the feast of St. Bartholomew – (Shades of the Huguenots!) / presumably in the house of Mr Abos. It was attended by some eight Catholics and seven or eight Protestants. Among the Catholics were a Frenchman, an Italian and a Spaniard. The last-mentioned had been a Revolutionary Colonel and was now a policeman! On Sunday, 26th August, the Bishop again offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The next day he left for Beaufort West, whence he returned by cart to Cape Town.
The Muse of History tells us nothing about the Catholics at Graaff-Reinet until December 1849. In that year, the Rt. Rev. Aidan Devereux, who had been appointed Bishop and Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern Districts founded in July 1847, returned from Europe, bringing with him three Belgian Priests, several clerical students, and the first nuns ever seen in the Colony. Immediately after the party had landed at Port Elizabeth, the Rev. John van Cauweleart appears to have been sent to establish the Mission at Graaff-Reinet. He was accompanied by his two Sisters, Maria Theresia and Marie Antoinette, and Miss van der Decken, a Hollander. These three ladies appear to have been Franciscan Tertiaries.
Father van Cauwerleart, it is said, proposed to establish them as a Religious Community in Graaff-Reinet. They wore some sort of religious habit, for the Rev. Mr du Bois, the clerical student, who came out with Rev. Father van Cauweleart and party to act as Catechist and prepare for the Priesthood, mentioned at a later date that they wore the “veil of Religion”. Two schools were opened, one for boys and one for girls. In a report of the state of the Mission about 1850, Dr Devereux states that the number of Catholics at Graaff-Reinet varied between 80 and 120. They were not in a position to support the Mission. In May 1850, Mr du Bois returned to Grahamstown to complete his studies for the Priesthood and was ordained at the end of the year. He was then appointed as Military Chaplain to the troops at King William’s Town, being the first resident Priest of that Mission.
N.B. In his first Report to the Association of the Faith at Paris, compiled presumably about December 1848, Bishop Devereux writes of Graaff-Reinet: “I have not as yet visited this centre, (district) and therefore cannot speak of prospects of establishing a Mission at this little town, which contains 2,500 inhabitants and is agreeably situated on the Sunday River. As far as I can find out, there are not more than about 50 Catholics in the district and little town. I always find out many more Catholics than I hear of by report. Some think they are justified in concealing their faith until a Priest comes to reside amongst them. On the whole, I should be most anxious, had I the means to establish a Mission at Graaff-Reinet. Could two Priests be sent there, one speaking Dutch and the other English? Did they open a school there, I have no doubt, but that even the Protestants would confide their children to them”.
In July 1850 the Bishop called Miss Maria Antoinette van Cauwerleart and Miss van der Decken to Grahamstown to improve their knowledge of the English language, with a view to opening a fee-paying school for the support of the missionaries there. The Priest and Maria Theresia meanwhile carried on the work of the mission and the Infant school respectively.
In November 1851, Maria Antoinette returned to Graaff-Reinet. A school for girls was established with every promise of success. However, while their brother was absent on visits to the out-stations, a malignant fever carried both sisters off in the space of nine days – 24th February – 4th March 1852.
Further, in a letter to the Superior of the Premonstratensian Abbey of Grimbergen in Belgium, dated June 16th, 1850, the Bishop mentions that he had just returned from his visitation, which took him two months:
“I had to travel,” he says, “about 1,500 miles over mountains.
Natives and the elephants being our principal road makers. My wagon, drawn by twelve oxen, was my house, my bed, my all, during the journey. When I arrived at a little town, the few Catholic – many of whom had not seen a priest for years – had an opportunity of hearing Mass and approaching the Sacraments. Having finished my visitation, it appeared to my judgment the best way to fix Revd Mr de Sany at Graaff Reynault (sic) a central town containing about 4,000 people, principally Dutch Colonists. I was also of opinion that Revd Mr Hondermeyer should live with him and make the periodical excursions within a radius of 100 miles from that place, returning to his confrere and resting himself after his fatigue. Mr de Sany is already at Graaff Reynauld’s. There are about 70 Irish Catholics and I feel sure will increase daily. I have to hire a house, and Mr de Sany will fit out one of the rooms for a small chapel until we may be able to commence one”. (There is no other record of Father de Sany’s stay at Graaff-Reinet. Ed.)
From Bishop Devereux’s report, about this time, we find that there was “at Graaff-Reinet a school in the hind house of the Priest’s residence and that the pastor attended Colesberg and Somerset East occasionally”. In July 1850, Father van Cauweleart had applied to purchase a new house, 20’ x 140’ “in a side street near the centre of the town, where there are not many houses. The amount required for the purchase of the house and plot of ground of 800 sq. feet was 8,000 rix-dollars. Should the price be too high, the priests ask if they may lodge with a very good Catholic family in that portion of the house which they were occupying at the time.
In July of the same year, Father van Cauwerleart applied to Dr Devereux for permission to leave the Vicariate. We learn from “The Colonist” of March 25th, 1854, that he died at Klipheuvel in the district of George, on the 18th March 1854, a little more than a month after Bishop Devereux, who expired at Grahamstown after a brief illness on the 11th February of that year.
(N.B. The value of the paper “rix dollar”, then current in the Colony, varied between 2s., the face value, and 1s.3d., the market value. Ed.)
Not long after his consecration as Bishop and Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Ricards visited Graaff-Reinet, arriving there on the 4th August at 4 pm. He called on the Priest at 5 pm. The following day he examined the children and hear confessions. The children were well prepared. On Sunday 6th, the Bishop confirmed 21 children, and after that left Graaff-Reinet.
Rev. Dr Glynn was removed from Graaff-Reinet to Port Elizabeth in February 1872. On July 1st of that year, the Bishop who had heard that Mr Emund Lynch was very dangerously ill, started at once for Graaff-Reinet and Grahamstown from Port Elizabeth.
On Feb. 14th, 1873 we read that Rev. Dr Glynn started from Port Elizabeth to visit Somerset East and Graaff-Reinet. After this, there is no further mention of Graaff-Reinet until January 19th, 1874, when the Bishop records:
“Start for Graaff-Reinet – arrange for purchase of erf at Bedford – From there the Priest could serve the Catholics in Somerset East and Graaff-Reinet. Stationed here at Bedford he would unite Graaff-Reinet to the rest of the mission; thenceforth there would not be that isolation so fatal to the prospects of this particular mission”. “January 29th, 1874 – Reached Graaff-Reinet at 11 o’clock a.m.”. “1st February 1874 – Sunday: Said Mass and read Pastoral in Graaff Reinet, left again at 4 o’clock p.m. for Kruitfontein (Bedford). At Bedford people gave a list of subscription for Priest’s House, £124”.
In January 1875 the Bishop went to Europe. He returned to the Vicariate in October, bringing with him the Jesuit Fathers for St. Aidan’s, Grahamstown. Two of these, Father Widdershoven and Van Wersche left for Graaff Reinet with Father Fitz-Henry on October 29th. Thus, according to the agreement made in London between Bishop Ricards and the Provincial of the Jesuits, Very Rev. Father Peter Galway, the Graaff Reinet mission was made over to the Fathers of the Society of Jesus, “who legally and ecclesiastically will be the owners of the house and land purchased for the mission and hold the title-deeds. In return, they undertake to take charge of the mission of Graaff Reinet and the surrounding districts, and in case the income derived from the people and the property be insufficient for the maintenance of the Fathers, to supply the deficit, without calling upon the Bishop. The district will for the present include the towns of Murraysburg, Richmond, Aberdeen and Jansenville. Any reduction of the district that in the course of the time might be needed shall be arranged with the consent of the Bishop for the alienation of any property received from him, and if the Fathers should retire from the mission, the property was to be made over to the Vicar Apostolic. The mission of Graaff Reinet remained under the Jesuits Fathers until the end of 1889 – that is 14 years. During that period the following are the chief references to Graaff Reinet, which occur in Bishop Ricard’s chronicle of the Eastern Vicariate.
“1876, January, 10th: Bishop Ricards and Rev. Father Budge, (1st Rector of St. Aidan’s Grahamstown) reached Graaff Reinet at 4.30 – to arrange to build a school 45’ X 18’ near the Church and secure the service of English teachers. Expect Government grant for Mission School, Father Widdershoven to teach French, German and Latin, and also to give lectures in Dutch on Sunday evenings, Direct Rev. Father Fitz-Henry to leave Graaff Reiner, resign Chaplaincy and come to Port Elizabeth. On the 12th of January, the Bishop left for Murraysburg and there confirmed 7 persons at York’s Hotel on the morning of the 13th”.
When the Bishop again visited Europe, in May 1876, the Catholics of Graaff Reinet contributed £90 towards his travelling expenses. The saintly Father Law, who later died of starvation at Umzilo’s Kraal on the Zambesi Mission spent over a month in Graaff Reinet, returning to Grahamstown on July 1876. Father Widdershoven left Graaff Reinet in June 1877. He had held the Military Chaplaincy, which had been established before the Voluntary Bill and which was allowed to continue five years after the passing of that measure. The chaplaincy was a source of income to the mission for it carried a salary of about £100.
When the Bishop returned from his overseas visit in 1880, he was given a great reception by the Catholics of Graaff Reinet and by their priests: Fathers Gordon and van Wersche S.J. An address was read and £40 presented.
In September 1881, Rev. Father Blanca S.J. succeeded Father Gordon S.J. as “chaplain” at Graaff Reinet. On February 27th 1882, Bishop Ricards records: “Note to Father Blanca, enclosing a letter from Bishop Merriman, (Anglican Bishop of Grahamstown, father of the statesman John X Merriman) about the cemetery in Graaff Reinet” -. This letter must be in the Ed. archives of St. Aidan’s College or of Graaff Reinet Parish, for there does not seem to be a copy of it in those of the Vicariate. On May, 6th, 1882 this entry occurs in the Bishop’s chronicle: “Hear news of the death of Father de Wit – thrown from his horse and killed on the spot – a very excellent man, R.I.P.” The diary does not record whether the accident occurred in Graaff Reinet. A requiem Mass was sung for Fr. De Wet’s soul in St. Patrick’s Church, Grahamstown.
In September 1882, Rev. Father Weld S.J. visited Graaff Reinet before taking over Dunbrody from the Trappist. A few days later there is an entry in the diary regarding the departure of Fathers Bridge S.J. and Widdershoven S.J. for Europe. In July 1883 Father van Wersche, who had gone to Dunbrody in December 1882, returned to Graaff Reinet. On May the 16th he received faculties to erect the Stations of the Cross in the Church at Graaff Reinet.
Rev. Father Hennebery the famous missionary of the Congregation of the Precious Blood preached a mission at Graaff Reinet from October 31st – November 11th, 1883. The Bishop, who went up from Grahamstown on the 8th November, heard Confessions, confirmed 25 people, sung High Mass and preached the sermon on the closing day. There were 112 people at Hl. Communion on this occasion.
On the 7th February 1885, Bishop Ricards lectured in the Town Hall of Graaff Reinet to “a fair audience” (i.e. fair in numbers, not a bevvy of fair ones). The next day, Sunday the Bishop sang Mass, preached and confirmed three people. There was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, followed by a Procession around the garden at 6.30 p.m. The Bishop read Acts of Reparation and confirmed 3 more people.
On the 19th September 1885, the Bishop wrote to Rev. Father Weld, enclosing Mr Sandford’s letter about a Convent at Graaff Reinet and Cloete’s property on the market. - - - Here we have the first mention since the days of the Misses van Cauwerleart of a possible Convent at Graaff Reinet. The idea “caught on” evidently for Graaff Reinet Church. Rev. Father Weld calls at Bishop’s House, Beaufort Street, Grahamstown, and say erf purchased for Convent in Bourke Street – wished to arrange about parochial school.
On February, 18th (1887?). Rev. Father Weld expressed a wish to have some district about Graff Reinet marked out for the care of the Parish Priest stationed there, and asked if a Priest from Dunbrody might attend Alicedale. On the 23rd February, the same year, the Bishop left for Europe. Meanwhile, Father Daignault S.J. must have taken charge of the mission of Graaff Reinet, for there is a record on May 23rd, 1887 of his serious illness there. On July the 5th, 1887, “Mr Fagan went to Graaff Reinet to train the Novices there”. It is not apparent whether these Novices were of the devout female sex. - - They may have been, for there is a note on the 31st January 1888 “Father Daignault appointed Superior - - speaks to Father Weld about Sister Clavor”. - - This lady was a Mrs Egge, who had tried her vocation in the Convent at Grahamstown but left again. It is certain, however, that the Jesuit Fathers had a scholasticate or a Noviciate at Graaff Reinet - - Father Rizonelly was a novice there. On June 17th, 1888 Father van Wersche died at Dunbrody.
Father Daignault called on Bishop Ricards on December 12th, 1888, and asked whether His Lordship would not permit Mother Mauritia of King Wm’s Town Convent to found a community at Graaff Reinet, a Sister Claver’s health unfitted her for the work there. On this, the Bishop comments, “that it would seem advisable to reduce the large number in King, but I have made up my mind that the nuns of Holy Rosary Convent, Port Elizabeth should extend that way and the King nuns go northwards”. Mother Mauritia, however, was very eager to go to Graaff Reinet and on January 9th, 1889 she telegraphed to the Bishop that Father Daignault wanted her to go to Graaff Reinet immediately to establish a Convent there. The Bishop replied: “You may go to Natal. I have promised Bishop Jolivet”. The good Mother tried again, sending a second telegram: Please let me go to Graaff Reinet – absolutely necessary.” To which the Bishop replied: “Will not consent to your founding Convent in Graaff Reinet.” In his journal, he comments: - - “Always before my mind to reserve extension in Graaff Reinet direction to Port Elizabeth Convent.” On the 11th, His Lordship received yet another telegram, this time from Rev. Dr Allen, Chaplain to the King Nuns – “Please allow Mother Mauritia to go to Graaff Reinet – business urgent – “. This evoked another refusal – “Wired yesterday Prioress, I cannot consent to the making of the foundation in Graaff Reinet.” Then followed a letter from Father Fagan, referring to the Bishop’s refusal “to let Mother Mauritia go to Graaff Reinet.” The good Mother was moving heavens and earth to get to the Karoo. There must have been some strong magnetic influence, drawing the King Dominicans thither. On the 12th January, the Bishop “had a long conversation with Father Daignault S.J. of St. Aidan’s about affairs in Graaff Reinet”. On the 16th of the same month, His Lordship received a letter from the Rev. Mother Prioress of the Holy Rosary Convent, Port Elizabeth, in answer to a confidential one he had written to her on the subject of the proposed Convent in Graaff Reinet.
Mother Rose Whitty wrote that she had no objection to the King nuns going to Graaff Reinet. She could not undertake the work there at present. Father Daignault called again and once more pressed the matter of the Graaff Reinet Convent. The Bishop remained firm and asked Mother Rose to send four Sisters there. When Father Daignault came again to see the Bishop he once more put his difficulties about Graaff Reinet Mission. The Bishop accordingly arranged for Father O’Rourke to visit Middelburg from Bedford and for Father Rozzonelli, then with the Jesuits, to look after Pearston from Graaff Reinet.
On the 8th March, Father Daignault again returned to the charge, saying he would like nuns to form King for Graaff Reinet for Sister Peter Claver had sailed for Australia. In August, the Bishop wrote again to Mother Rose, concerning the Graaff Reinet foundation. But this was not to be, for, in November 1889, the Superior of the Jesuits gave notice of his intention to give up the Graaff Reinet Mission. Thereupon the Bishop resolved to send Father Fanning there.
On Sunday, 10th November 1889, the Bishop records that he sang Pontifical High Mass at Graaff Reinet, with Father Deignault S.J. deacon, and Father Temming S.J. as sub-deacon. Twenty persons were confirmed. The Bishop preached again at Vespers. On the 11th November 1889, His Lordship visited Mr Beranger, Mr Hudson, Mr Sandford, the Dutch Church, and the Catholic schools, and arranged about the valuation of the property. In the afternoon he called on Mr Steabler, and received visits from the Catholic ladies of the Parish, - - Mesdames Burke, Daly, O’Reilly, York, Williams and Phillips.
By January 8th, 1890, all the business concerning the transfer, back to the Bishop, of the Graaff Reinet mission property were completed, and Father Daignault left on the 15th for Zambesi Mission. He got his wish for “King nuns” when the Pioneers made their long trek northward. - - Bishop Ricards agreed to let the Sisters go - - for the expansion was northwards. - - The question of a Convent at Graaff Reinet then fell into abeyance, until it was renewed by Bishop Strobino in 1894.
In March 1890, Father Fanning began a new Presbytery at Graaff-Reinet, but not being able to raise the necessary loan, he was obliged to stop the building.
Bishop Strobino, the coadjutor to Bishop Ricards, was consecrated in St. Augustine’s Church, Port Elizabeth on November 1st, 1891. On the 24th November of that year, a church bazaar was held in Graaff-Reinet, realizing £100.
In October 1892, Rev. Father Colgan S.J., who had come out from Ireland with Father Cullen S.J., to preach missions in the Colony, began one at Graaff-Reinet on the 23rd of October. It ended on the 30th of October.
Rev. Father Fanning remained in charge at Graaff-Reinet until May 1893, when he was transferred to Uitenhage. Father McTernan was then appointed temporarily to Graaff-Reinet until Father Rozzonelli, who had meanwhile joined the secular clergy of the Vicariate, should go there.
When good Bishop Ricards died on November 30th, 1893, he was succeeded by his coadjutor, the Rt. Rev. Dr Peter Strobino. The new Vicar Apostolic had a great soul and a giant intellect in a frail and diminutive body. His predecessor’s motto had been: “Caritas omnia sustinet”. For his device, the “little Bishop”, as his flock affectionally styled him, chose: “Spes non confundetur”. Hitherto Bishop Strobino had resided at St. Augustine’s, Port Elizabeth, and he now desired to keep that as his headquarters. But after a long and arduous visitation-tour of the Vicariate, he became very ill, and the Doctors advised a long rest and residence on the Karoo. The Bishop chronicles in his diary: “Doctors absolutely forbid residence in any of our larger towns, (both lungs are affected) near the coast. This is a serious turn of affairs. It is only Graaff-Reinet with the established mission in a very dry part of the Karoo, but its situation is most inconvenient as it will take me out of my centre. However, I decided to try Graaff Reinet for a few months and left for it early in February 1894. During my stay here, I carefully considered the plan of establishing a Convent. At present, the Congregation is not properly attended to. Many children grow up without proper religious instruction. Besides, I am anxious to do something for the coloured people. Some of these were Catholics once. Now I am told they go to the Protestant Church school. The nuns from King Wm’s Town would be the best for this kind of work. Have written to the Mother Prioress, (21st February 1894) to inquire if the nuns would take over the following proposal: - - Convent to be established in June next. I would give over present buildings, reserving only Church and sufficient portion of land to build a residence for myself later on near the Church. The nuns to pay the Vicariate a sum to be agreed upon at a later date, if they remain in the place.”
“16th March 1894. Received answer from Mother Prioresss and Chapter of Senior Sisters in King that they accept my proposal and will open the Convent in Graaff Reinet next June. Thanks be to God a thousand time.”
When the Bishop went back to Port Elizabeth for Holy Week and the Consecration of the Holy Oils, he once more consulted his physicians concerning the place of his residence - - -. All advised him to remain on the Karoo, where he “might have lived for many years in the dry climate if he did not over-exert himself”. He decided, accordingly, to return to Graaff Reinet for the time being. On the 19th February, he had received a letter from the Propaganda authorities saying that he might fix his residence anywhere, but could not yet ask to be relieved of his burden.
On the 14th March 1894, His Lordship resolved to take over from Father Mac Ternan the management of everything in Graaff Reinet. On the following day, he announced to the people that he would reside at Graaff Reinet for some time, that a Convent would be opened and they should give him better support. It was necessary for him to build a residence as soon as possible. A fortnight later, a meeting was held in the schoolroom to arrange about the new house. The Bishop already had £200 in hand towards it and would borrow £500, which the people were to repay. A bazaar might be got up for that purpose. At this meeting, a Committee was elected to work with the Bishop. The Members were: Messrs. Healy, O’Reilly, Arnold, and Archer.
On St. Patrick’s Day the Bishop who loved the Green Island well, chronicled: “Picnic of Congregation in Graaff Reinet a great success – all pleased – prizes distributed on the grounds,” On the 21st March the Bishop returned to Port Elizabeth, from where he went on to East London and King Wm’s Town. At the latter place, a meeting of the Border Clergy took place and the Bishop suggested the establishment of a “Sick Priest’s Fund”. On April 3rd, the Bishop was in Grahamstown, where his Doctor now told him he might work three months in the year in the winter.
By May, the masons and carpenters were busy at work to form the Sisters’ choir at a cost of £20. 5. 0. This the Bishop would pay himself. An entry in the diary on this day date reads: “Patching up a house, forming enclosure outside, painting some doors and windows, sisters will pay. From to-day engaged Miller’s house for self and Priests – will move into it about 15th inst., Rent £3 per month, subject to one months’ notice”.
By June things were ready for the coming of the Sisters. The event is thus described by the Bishop in his journal:
“25th June 1894. On my return to Graaff Reinet, from Queenstown, East London, via King Wm’s Town, I brought with me the Sisters for the new foundation at Graaff Reinet. Convent began on my feast day, (29th June). The Catholic of Graaff Reinet gave a grand reception to the Sisters. The Convent opened with seven Sisters - - Superiosess, Sr. M. Augustine; Music teacher, Sr. M. Amanda; School teachers, Srs. M. Ambrose and Clement, Needlework teacher, Sr. M. Apollonia and two Lay-Sisters - - Srs. M. Dominic and Arnolda. Mother Prioress and Sr M. Ursula came with the party. The General Manager of Railways most kindly placed a first Class Saloon at our disposal and we travel in it right up to Graaff Reinet. May God bless the foundation”.
“26th., 27., 28th June, Travelling with Sisters. Grand reception at 7 o’clock p.m. Most hearty greetings at Station. Ladies have Japanese lanterns all along the garden – grand dinner and evening first rate. The Convent school opens with some difficulty.The Dutch Minister has preached against the Papists – has threatened eternal punishment on any of his congregation, who should send children to the nuns’ school. However, we do not mind. Divine Providence will help, Protestant obstacles and prejudices notwithstanding. The agreement about the Convent is in the archives. Should the Sisters finally decide to settle down and take over the premises, they are to pay the Vicariate £900 stg, and leave to the mission the Church and the plot of ground, about 50 feet from the back of the intended new house for the Priest. There is also a clause, binding the Sisters to have a school for Coloured children - - i.e. for Catholics, who may turn up.”
On the 1st July 1894, Father Mac Ternan took charge at the Izeli Convent Farm. The Bishop made up his mind to try and carry on alone until the arrival of new recruits in September. These were Doctor Ughetti, Fathers Frese and Schmidt. On their landing on the 14th September, the first-named was assigned to Grahamstown. Father Schmidt was sent to East London to help Father Kelly, and Father Frese went to Graaff-Reinet to help the Bishop. His arrival is noted thus: “September 15th, 1894: Father Frese arrives. Very little English”.
On Christmas Eve this year (1894) Midnight Mass was celebrated in Graaff-Reinet for the first time - - “All were respectful and devotional.” remarks the Bishop. “On Christmas Day great numbers of communicants – very satisfactory. Father Frese says 11 o’clock Mass.”
Having begun the Convent, the Bishop now occupied himself with the plans for an Episcopal residence. He secured a loan of £500 on the mortgage of the Graaff-Reinet mission land, hoping to cancel the bond when the nuns should take over the property. A bazaar held by the Graaff-Reinet ladies for the purpose of raising funds realized £300. Trust in Divine Providence was not confounded.
On the 6th January 1895, Father Frese left Graaff-Reinet for Queenstown, and the Bishop was assisted by Father Gerard, a Trappist, who was to spend a year in the Vicariate in order to improve his English. While the Bishop was planning the erection of his house, and a new school building for the Sisters, the estate adjoining the mission property was put up for sale. It consisted of a house, outhouses and a beautiful garden. The Bishop bought it for £810 in March 1895. “Of course”, writes his Lordship, “no new house is to be built now. The Sisters can have the whole of my present ground down to the Church”.
The “little Bishop’s” health had by this time grown definitely worse. His spine was attacked by the disease and walking became difficult. He purchased a pair of crutches on October, 26th. These were afterwards given to the “Mother Infirmorum Sanatorium, King William’s Town. Under such circumstances, he could do little or no parochial work, so Father Nicholas Brown was summoned to Graaff Reinet from St. Augustine’s Port Elizabeth. The Sisters from King undertook the necessary nursing as the Bishop’s condition grew steadily worse. On the 22nd December, we find this entry in the Bishop’s journal: “The Doctor says, I am not likely to work, except I put on a plaster-of-Paris jacket. I consent under the circumstances.” Father Brown returned to Port Elizabeth on Christmas Day. Under that date, the record in the diary continues: “Today Doctors come to fix on plaster-of-jacket – suspended by arms and neck, operation painful – lasted three-quarters of an hour. The jacket will set”.
The next day, the pain caused by the jacket was so intense, that the Doctors had to remove it, - only to put it on again two days later, - “My spine gives way”, writes the Bishop, “and it is absolutely necessary to wear a jacket”.
The year, 1896 began in pain, “Thanks be to God”, chronicles the sufferer. On the 2nd of January, 1896, the Journal has this pathetic entry: “My birthday – 40 years. – The Holy Will of God be done. May He be thanked for all His Blessings.”
The suppressed cries of agony occasioned by the frequent putting on and taking off of this veritable Shirt of Nessus throughout this last year of the Little Bishop’s life are too sad, and the utterances of his perfect patience and absolute conformity to the Devine Will are too sacred to be repeated.
On the 15th January, at the Doctors desire the Bishop travelled to Port Elizabeth. The journey was very painful. A great crowd of his people were at the station to meet their beloved prelate, who was brought to Nazareth House, to undergo further well-meant – but none the less torturous treatment. Here he remained until the 12th of May when he returned to Graaff Reinet.
Meanwhile, Father Mac Ternan had rejoined Dr Ughetti at that mission. The Bishop had several times solicited Propaganda to allow him to retire from office. They now consented to appoint a coadjutor. The Rev. Father Mac Sherry of Dundalk was chosen for the post and consecrated on the 2nd August 1896. The news greatly cheered the Bishop. He longed for the coming of his coadjutor, yet felt that, that if it were not hastened, they would never meet. So it proved.
Bishop Strobino’s short but full and heroic life closed at Graaff Reinet on October the 1st, 1896. His remains were conveyed to Port Elizabeth and laid to rest at his own request next to those of his former colleagues and friends, Father O’Donoghue, who had likewise in a short space of time fulfilled many years.
On Sunday, 20th December 1896, Bishop Mac Sherry landed at Port Elizabeth. After saying Mass at Holy Rosary Convent, he attended the “Te Deum” sung in St. Augustin’s and visited Bishop Strobino’s grave. On the 22nd December, the new Vicar Apostolic proceeded to Graaff Reinet. There on the following day, he said Mass, preached and imparted the Papal Benediction. He left again for Port Elizabeth on the evening of the same day.
N.B. This brings the History of Graaff-Reiner mission down to the end of 1896.
Information concerning later time must be sought from the S.A. Catholic Magazines, Catholic Directories.