Holy Trinity Church
Not in his wildest dreams did Johan Badenhorst realize when he accepted the post as branch manager at Barclays’ Dominion and Overseas Bank Hopetown around 1935, that he and his family would play a prominent role in the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in this dusty cow town on the banks of the Orange River. He was accompanied by another man, Petrus Jim Nkosi, Francisca his wife and their two children Petronella and Franz respectively 7 and 4 years old. My father was the domestic and gardener for Johan. He was an exceptional cook as well as a strong and hard-working semi-literate man yet keen on educating his children. Mom was a very religious and honest housewife who vowed to educate her children about what Catholicism was all about, especially here where she found herself in a very conservative Afrikaans Calvinist community who told her to forget about this Catholic story and join them. Having been raised in Bulwer and later educated at Mariannhill in the heart of Zululand, what does she and her family understand about Afrikaans and the culture?
Her first task and priority were to find the Church. Fortunately, Hopetown had a minority of whites who were descendants from British soldiers and a few Jewish people whom she could enquire from. Yes, there was even an Indian family who could speak broken Zulu, also. The Anglicans and Methodists tried to persuade her with her family to join one of their respective churches. As it was, my father wasn’t Catholic then. He belonged to the Sembe Religious Group which was confined to Natal and the Northern provinces at that time. So he attended the Methodist Church which was the closest in resemblance to his faith group. My mother stood her ground.
In her search and enquiries, she met a young Coloured Catholic lady, also married to a non-Catholic. She was from Kimberley.
At the same time just before the Second World War, a priest, Father Marx, OMI from Kimberley was also searching for souls. He cycled all the way from Douglas to Hopetown and district. By this time, the Nkosi family was moved to the so-called Ou Kroek (Old Location). With his frequent visits, this particular occasion he heard about a Catholic family and was introduced to my mother and family. Fr Marx started to celebrate Mass in our home on every occasion he visited Hopetown. He was later replaced by Fr Behr OMI who travelled by train from Kimberley to Orange River. From there he would walk 12miles to the Ou Kroek.
When the Second World War started, both priests were interned around 1940. As a result, the flock was left without a shepherd. One consolation was that some nuns would pay infrequent visits to Hopetown whenever they could. I suppose they also travelled by train but being women there was always a good Samaritan offering them a lift.
At the end of the war, Fr Rosenbaum took charge until the arrival of the SCJs. Under correction, that was about 1949/50. That is when Fr Leonard Will was introduced for the first time to the Catholic communities of Hopetown, Brakfontein, Orange River, Witput, Strydenburg, Karreekloof and Poupan.
In 1948 all families were forcibly removed from the Ou Kroek and the Depressie Blok by the Nationalist regime to the present day Steynville. Fr Will kept the status quo by continuing to celebrate Mass in our house. Once a month on a Friday afternoon he arrived in Hopetown with his interpreter Oom Piet and visited the sick and the parishioners. Saturday morning at 6 o’clock he would hear confessions and celebrate Mass. He would then rush off to say Mass in town for the Neumeyer-Coetzee family. In the afternoon catechism classes were held. Late afternoon they would go off to Brakfontein 20 miles away to visit Oom Petrus Waterboer and family who were farmworkers.
On Sunday morning it was off to Orange River station where a group of Sesotho railway workers were staying, most of them Catholics. There were also White and Coloured families. He stayed for a few hours then returned to Hopetown where he so fondly enjoyed a sumptuous meal with the family. Of course, he contributed the lions. After that, he would sit back and say his prayers. He would go to the hotel to pick up his travelling bag and by 2 o’clock he was off to Strydenburg. After Mass, he would do visitations. From Strydenburg it was off to Kareekloof for another Mass. Around 5 o’clock they would hit the road back to De Aar.
In the late 1950s, Fr Will’s new interpreter was Mrs Elizabeth Lucky Mockson. What a caring and humble lady she was. I had the opportunity to work with them from 1963 to 1966. This is where I saw firsthand how they, Fr Will and Aunt Lucky, as she was popularly known, gave their all to spread the word of God.
As a habit, Fr Will carried a “chemist” in the boot of his car. It consisted of herbs from the German Alps that had marvellous healing effects for fevers and prenatal and postnatal ailments for women. Travelling along most of the roads, we would come across Karrietjie-mense (nomadic farmworkers and sheep shearers with their families and livestock on donkey carts). Fr Will would then stop and shout: “Is almal nog gesond? Wie soek medisyne?” or “ U bani u funa amayeza?”or “Is almal al gedoop?”. That was his life, at times very impatient when we were not fast enough to shout or assist.
Then around 1965 a young priest named Fr John Strittmatter SCJ arrived to assist Fr Will. There was a lot of sweat and tears for this young friendly priest but he was very strong-willed and determined to learn.
Fr Joe Alcaster and Fr Cecil Wienand in later years followed in the footsteps of Fr Will. Now, Fr Joe Alcaster came at a time when the Hopetown Catholics have changed the venue for Mass since my mum’s house became too small. The Methodist rented out their school hall for all activities of our church. But leadership realized that since this was a temporary measure, they should now put contingency plans in place. To build our own church became priority number one!
A delegation with Fr Joe approached Bishop Joe Potocnak SCJ on the matter to give permission to acquire property from the Hopetown Municipality, raise funds locally and abroad for this purpose.
Eventually, Holy Trinity Church was build and on 30th August 1992, the cornerstone was laid by Reverend Bishop Joseph Potocnak. The key to the Church was handed over to Mrs Francisca Nkosi by Bishop Joe Potocnak and Mons. Joe Alcaster in the presence of the congregation of Holy Trinity Church.
Though we had our own building, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Church in Hopetown. Years of prosperity came to a slow down through a shortage of priests in the Diocese. Priests from abroad, especially the USA and the UK, became less available. The result was that some members of our congregation went astray and joined the Bekeerkerke.
Fr Will aged and priests like Fr John and Fr Alcaster were deployed to work elsewhere in the Diocese of De Aar.
With the arrival of Fr Boyar, the spiritual needs of the parishioners were in dire straits and so too was religious instruction. As a matter of fact, for nearly 10 years there wasn’t any catechism classes, baptisms, First Holy Communion, Confirmations or Marriages in the church. He made a tremendous effort to normalize the situation and revive the Catholic spirit of the people. Also being Polish, he couldn’t reconcile with the mentality and attitude of most of the Holy Trinity parishioners. Such was his encounters in Strydenburg and Karreekloof. Many people found him too strict but of course, too long had the flock been without a shepherd, hence they were content with the way the Church was run.
At this point, it must be remembered that even in the absence of priests visiting Holy Trinity Church, there were a few Catholic families who kept the light of the faith burning through prayer meetings, the Holy Rosary, visiting the sick and burials. They stood united.
When Fr Jan Van Belkum arrived, nothing was different. Strydenburg and Karreekloof were outstations of the past. All Catholics there left the faith and joined other churches.
In conclusion, it would be well to mention what a great role Fr Mokesh Morar played in youth and community development in Steynville, Hopetown. He established the Advice Centre at Holy Trinity which later became Hopetown Advice and Development Office (HADO) when it moved out from the Church building. It is an NGO which is still doing exceptionally good work in the community though it is no more attached to Holy Trinity.
The faithful at Holy Trinity think our parish is back on track and can only grow from strength to strength.
Community of Holy Trinity parish, Hopetown with their parish priest Fr Jan van Belkum.