Roman Catholic Church: Driefontein Mission

Roman Catholic Church

Driefontein Mission

Rev. Skyes, Prefect Apostolic of the Zambesi Mission, purchased Driefontein farm in 1904 from Jan Engelbrecht, an Afrikaner who had converted to the Catholic faith.   “Driefontein,” known locally as “Guta,” is Afrikaans for three fountains.  Located 50 miles north of Ft. Victoria (Masvingo), the site allowed the Jesuits to expand to a new part of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

Work on the mission began in 1906 with the arrival of Fr. Emil Schmitz, assisted by Frs. Lindner, Hornig and other Jesuits.  The first brick buildings were completed by 1908.  A large church, constructed in distinctive orange brickwork, was finished in 1912.  With Driefontein as a base, a number of “out-schools” were established in the near-by “Chilimanzi Reserve.”  The increase in Catholic conversions in the reserve led to founding of Holy Cross Mission in 1914.

In 1921, Driefontein opened a 2-year training school for African teachers and catechists.  A year earlier, Driefontein Superior, Fr. W. Withnell, had advocated for establishing such a school arguing that the Catholic Church “could not extend its work in the mission field because of the lack of qualified African teachers.”  Unfortunately, the school closed two year’s later for lack of financial resources.

Control of the mission passed from the Jesuits to the Missionary Society of Bethlehem (SMB – or Swiss Bethlehem fathers) in 1947.  At various times, Sisters of the Precious Blood, African Sisters of the Infant Jesus, and German Dominican Sisters have also served at the mission.

Currently at Driefontein:

  • Driefontein High School and Primary School (built in 1934);
  • Industrial school (Metal work training, art-workshop, etc.);
  • Two major hospitals: Driefontein Sanatorium, specializing in the treatment of Tuberculosis – the largest in Zimbabwe, and Muwonde General Hospital (120 beds, located in buildings formerly used as a reformatory for young offenders);
  • Gweru Diocese Regional House, a retirement home for Catholic priests, formerly where the Bethlehem Fathers learned to speak Shona);
  • The Mother House where Catholic nuns are trained and residence of “The Mother General,” head of Catholic nuns in the Gweru Diocese; and
  • A 14,000-acre farm, which supplies the hospitals and schools.

References

Contributors
  • Mark Loomis

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