Empandeni Mission, near Plumtree, Matabeleland South, is the oldest surviving Catholic mission in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). The Jesuits re-entered Zimbabwe from South Africa in 1879 with a team of eleven men, led by Fr. Henry Depelchin. In 1887, they opened Empandeni mission on a tract of land granted them by Chief Lobengula of the Ndebele, with Fr. Peter Prestage in charge.
Fr. Prestage started the first trade school at Empandeni, “but when few students turned up and no converts were forthcoming,” he returned to South Africa, along with the temporary withdrawal of the rest of the Jesuits in Zimbabwe. Fr. Prestage returned to Zimbabwe in 1890 as part of the “Pioneer Column,” which militarily occupied Chief Lobengula’s territory.
In 1896-97, the Empandeni Mission faced severe draught. Fr. Prestage wrote in 1897 “During the second period of our residing at Empandeni, now a period of a little over a year, we have baptized twenty-four persons, ten of whom died shortly after baptism. Death was brought on in each case by starvation… We will be glad when the famine is over.”
Fr. Charles Bick arrived at Empandeni in 1898. A year later, five Sisters of Notre Dame arrived from England to take charge of the school. “Despite strong opposition to Christianity, especially from the older generation,” 500 baptisms had been administered before the end of 1904.
The Christian congregation at Empandeni grew to 1,800 by 1923. During the 1920s, the mission established four out-stations – at Mkaya, Silima, Kwite and Mhlotshana. In 1930, administration of the Bulawayo area, including Empandeni, was transferred from the Jesuits to the Mariannhill missionaries who had previously established the Triashill and Monte Cassino missions in Manicaland.
Today, Empandeni is part of the Archdiocese of Bulawayo and consists of the Empandeni Clinic, Vocational Training Center and Empandeni Girls Secondary Boarding School. It is also the site of a convent operated by the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood (CPS).
- A History of Christian Missions in Zimbabwe 1890 – 1939 –J.M. Zvobgo
- On the Frontline: Catholic Missions in Zimbabwe’s Liberation War – Janice McLaughlin
- Mark Loomis