Kolbe, Frederick Charles

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South African educator, poet, and author; b. Paarl, Cape Province, 1854; d. Cape Town, Jan. 12, 1936. He was the son of a Westphalian (German) Protestant missionary who had married the daughter of a member of the London Missionary Society. At the University of Cape Town he won a scholarship for law studies in London, where he was converted to Catholicism; Cardinal Henry Manning sent him to the English College in Rome, where he was ordained in 1882. Back in South Africa, he began a life of teaching and lecturing in addition to his pastoral duties. He not only expended much time and energy in actual teaching in Cape Town Catholic schools, but he pioneered in improving Catholic teacher education. As a member of the board of governors of the University of Cape Town and the University of the Cape of Good Hope (where he was also an examiner), he sought to create centers of intensive teacher training; he long but fruitlessly advocated the foundation of a Catholic university for South Africa.

At the request of the hierarchy, Kolbe founded (1891) the South African Catholic Magazine and until 1909 (except for two short intervals) was its editor and chief contributor. Never an organ of official Catholic opinion, it had as its chief aim the defense of the faith, although it carried many articles of general interest. Kolbe frequently defended Aristotelian-Thomistic education, then under attack by the scientists of the day, a stand that led him to a lengthy criticism of Newman's Grammar of Assent. After 1908 he devoted himself exclusively to evaluating the efforts of the Catholic schools so as to stimulate them to greater excellence. By 1898 his hearing was steadily failing, and he was suffering progressive loss of sight, but he remained a leading figure in Catholic education and in South African university circles. He confessed to being "penlazy," and many of his articles are merely transcribed lectures. His The Art of Life, however, was once considered the most perfect piece of prose by a South African. His three volumes of poems, mostly devotional and didactic, never won much acclaim, although his most famous poem, "Out of the Strong Came Sweetness," is in almost every anthology of South African literature.

Kolbe's range of interests was large; he inherited a love for botany and mountaineering from his father, he had an extensive knowledge of Shakespeare, and his insights into the psychology of education were notable. Catholics often referred to him as the "Newman of South Africa"; his close friend, Gen. Jan Christian Smuts, called him "South Africa's showpiece."

Bibliography: w. e. brown, The Catholic Church in South Africa from Its Origins to the Present Day (New York 1960).

[j. a. bell]