Roman Catholic Church

Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church has a history of mission work in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) running back more than four hundred and fifty years. The first attempt to evangelize Zimbabwe was made in the sixteenth century by Jesuit Father Goncalo da Silveira of Portugal. His mission was short lived as he was killed in 1560. Portugal continued to send Jesuit and Dominican Fathers into the area. But after political events in Europe caused all missionaries to leave in 1775, there was little to show for their efforts.

The second Catholic missionary effort in Zimbabwe followed along with the Protestant evangelism in Africa beginning in the nineteenth centenary.  Based on the earlier work of Fr. Silveira and is successors, in February 1879 the original “Zambezi Mission” (Catholic administrative area), which included part of Zambia, was entrusted by the Vatican to the Jesuit Fathers.  A team of Jesuits set out for Zimbabwe from South Africa that same year.  After many trials and tribulations, Empandeni Mission was established, the first “permanent” Catholic mission in Zimbabwe.

Over the years, other Catholic religious orders joined the Jesuits in Zimbabwe. Trappist Monks from Mariannhill (Mariannhill-Fathers) in Natal came up to Ingyanga District in 1896.  Their attempt to start mission was brought short by the Shona rebellion, but they returned and were ultimately successful in 1908.  As part of reorganization, in 1929 the Mariannhill-Fathers exchanged their missions in Mashonaland with the Jesuits for missions in Matabeleland (in and around Bulawayo).

More help was needed so the Bethlehem Fathers (SMB) from Switzerland were invited in – arriving in 1938.  The Bethlehem Fathers assumed responsibility for the area of present day Gwelo Diocese where they still play a supporting role.  Carmelite Fathers of the Irish Province arrived in 1953 and were active in what is presently the Diocese of Mutare.  The majority of mission stations were also staffed with Sisters of various Religious Orders.

Beginning in the late 1970’s, churches and missions passed to the control of local Catholic dioceses.  There are presently approximately 1,145,000 Catholics in Zimbabwe (representing about 9% of the population).




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  • Mark Loomis