The Presence of Sisters in the Diocese of De Aar
Graaff Reinet 1894 – 1969
Sacred Heart Convent and School in Graaf Reinet was opened in 1894, when, “it was Bishop Strobino’s wish to be nursed by Sisters, the first King Dominican Sisters were sent to the Cape Midlands. With Mother Augustine as their superior, the following sisters arrived at the Gem of the Karroo: Sr Clement,
Sr Hieronyma, Sr Appolonia, Sr Anselm, Sr Ambrose and Sr Johanna. The latter two found their last resting place in the local cemetery in 1899 and 1902 respectively. The sisters took over an already existing Catholic private School for Europeans, which due to the Sisters’ untiring efforts has flourished ever since, in spite of fierce opposition.” (Ref. Book 37/151, pg 1) According to a newspaper cutting 1952 was expected to be a record year with “a total of 234 scholars at the Convent of whom 53 are boarders” (Ref. Book 37/151, end of 1951). Three Catholic Missions were established in the vicinity, in which the sisters were involved in one way or another: St Teresa’s Mission, St Dominic’s Mission and St Xavier’s Mission.
“Owing to the fact that the Teacher’s Training College at King William’s Town was later suppressed, the Sisters sought admittance to the college at Graaff Reinet. The first Dominican students were joined by two Sisters of the Sacred Heart Congregation from as far away as South West Africa. From then on the convent school at Graaff Reinet also served as a hostel for all the nuns attending the local Afrikaans Medium College. The Principal, Mr W.E. Pienaar welcomed the Sisters and soon made them feel at home in their new surroundings. The Sisters’ attendance at this College did much to dispel the prejudice against the nuns that still lurked in some quarters”. … A new building to house the Sisters was begun on 5th Sept. 1949, as the old house had become unsafe. Twenty years later it was announced that the convent at Graaff Reinet was to be closed down at the end of 1970. The last inspection of this institution was performed by Mr J.F. van der Merwe who gave it a glowing report. … Besides administering a Primary and High School, the sisters concentrated also on arts, music, languages and commercial subjects. … When the school finally closed its doors after 75 years of service to the public, 4786 pupils had passed through the Sisters’ hands at Graaf Reinet. … an excellent contribution to the moral and spiritual advancement of youth in South Africa.
(All for God’s People pg. 101)
Middelburg 1933 - 1991
The Mission was begun under the name of ‘Mission of Christ the King’ on the 2nd of June, 1933 in the old Location with 55 pupils. “There was no school building yet, so a shed was hired which served as a temporary classroom. A couple of years later the Brothers from Aliwal North built a school with two classrooms. One of them served at the same time as Church.
“The sisters who were stationed here as well as the assistant teachers worked hard to make the school and Mission a success. Owing to the shortage of Sisters, no sister could be got for the school for several years. Teacher S. Seherie (Leherie? not sure) and his wife Franzina were the only teachers then. Rev. Father Hillekamp having done his utmost got a sister again in January 1949 to teach in the school and help with the Mission work. (School Log Book: Ref. 032/925)
“They did their best to cope with the difficult work in the little school – having a mixture of Natives & coloureds & 3 languages to teach, English Afrikaans & Xosa. There are other difficulties, especially want of room – only two smaller rooms being at present occupied by the Sisters. This is certainly not ideal & no proper enclosure can exist. However, the Prioress General was informed by the Mission Authorities that this is only a temporary arrangement”. From: Visitation Book, December 1935: (Ref. 032/926) Later they were provided with a large house, but eventually, this proved too expensive, with a monthly rent of £5.
“In 1953 the ‘Mission of Christ the King Church’ was built and a couple of years later the Hall, which was also used for classrooms…. In 1964 the school re-opened the new year with 364 children.” (Ref. 032/925) Sr Odalinde was the Principal of the school from 1962 -1982 when the school was taken over by the Department.
In Dec. 1946 Mother General bought a house for the Sisters. The Sisters moved into the new Convent on 1st
February 1947 and on 25th February the 1st Holy Mass was celebrated in the Sisters’ Chapel. The name of the Convent was changed from ‘Mission of Christ the King’ to ‘St. John’s Mission’.
The school for white children in Town seems to have started very slowly in 1952 with about 18 children, as well as afternoon and evening classes for commercial subjects, and about 20 pupils for music lessons. In July 1953 ‘The School and Boarding department closed, and a Nursery School was started”. (Ref. Chronicle 101/928 60) Apart from running the Nursery School, the sisters continued their presence among the people, with private lessons as mentioned above, catechetical work, instructing children for first Communion, Confirmation, etc, as well as instructing converts. They also looked after the Priest and the Church and served the poor in the vicinity. Their Pastoral Ministry reached out to Midros, Colesburg and Noupoort, and involved, feeding the poor, visiting the sick, people in hospital Old age Homes etc. The sisters left Middleburg in 1991.
De Aar 1988 – 1990
Already in 1980, a request came from Bishop De Palma for 2 sisters to minister in De Aar itself. At the time, the congregation could not respond to the request. In 1987 a new request came from the Bishop (attached copy of a letter, which shows that the sisters were expected to, and did minister in many places throughout the De Aar Diocese). This time the request was granted, and an agreement of employment was entered between the Diocese and the Dominican Sisters. (also attached). The first two sisters ministering in De Aar were Sr Francis Xavier and Sr Imeldine. Other sisters serving in De Aar were Sr Reglindis, Sr Rufina, Sr Infantia,
Sr Pauline, Sr Mary Kewuti. St John’s Convent was closed in 2008. Sr Mary Kewuti stayed on in the Parish House and left De Aar in 2015, to retire in East London.
Noupoort 1992 – 2000
Sr Imeldine Witteveen lived and was engaged in Pastoral Ministry in Noupoort from 1992 to 2000.
Sr Joy Mathaha lived and was involved in Noupoort in AIDS Ministry from 2003 to 2009.