Roman Catholic Church: Bethlehem Mission Society – Southern Rhodesia

Bethlehem Mission Society

Southern Rhodesia


Realizing that the English Jesuits lacked sufficient resources, Bishop Chischester, in charge of the Vicariate of Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (an area roughly encompassing Mashonaland), began reaching out to other Catholic orders for help. SMB answered the call, with the first Swiss Bethlehem fathers arriving in October 1938.  Southern Rhodesia thus became SMB’s second mission area (having first sent missionaries to Manchuria China).

SMB was assigned an area in and around Fort Victoria (Masvingo).  This would become the Apostolic Prefecture of Fort Victoria, from which the Diocese of Gwelo (now Gweru) was founded in 1955.  A part of the diocese was later separated in 1999 to become the Diocese of Masvingo.

Bishop Haene, SMB, became the first Bishop of Gwelo.  He would remain in office for 30 years until 1977.  In 1945, SMB numbered 12 priests and 3 brothers.  By 1965, another 91 priests and 47 brothers had been sent out.  Under Bishop Haene’s leadership, the Swiss fathers assumed responsibility for existing missions, including Gokomere and Driefontein and founded many more, adding 20 new missions by 1965 – an average of one mission per year!  Bishop Haene also prioritized developing African clergy and founded the Sisters of the Infant Jesus for African sisters in 1950.

Although control of Gweru Diocese passed from the SMB in 1977, the Swiss Bethlehem fathers have remained actively engaged in the country.  As of 2015, there were 10 SMB priests and 3 brothers in Zimbabwe.

Missions founded by SMB
Missions transferred to SMB control