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Mariannhill Missionaries, Congregation of

MARIANNHILL MISSIONARIES, CONGREGATION OF

The Congregation of Mariannhill Missionaries (CMM, Official Catholic Directory #0750) traces its origin to Mariannhill Monastery, established in 1882 near Durban, South Africa, by a group of trappist monks headed by Father Franz pfanner. It became an independent society in 1909.

The first foundation, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Ann, combined their names into Mariann-hill, and grew so rapidly that by 1885 it was raised to the status of an abbey with Pfanner as first abbot. Although the first missionary efforts were limited to the Zulu natives in the immediate area of Mariannhill, by 1899 there were 22 mission stations and 285 members of the congregation. The mission stations were centers of learning and civilization where the priests and brothers taught the natives to read and trained them in farming and other skills and trades. Colleges to train native teachers were set up at Mariannhill and Mariazell. In much of their work, the missionaries were ably assisted by the Sisters of the Precious Blood, a community also founded by Pfanner.

The missionary work had been undertaken with the approval of the general chapter of the Trappists held at Sept-Fons, France, in 1879, but it became increasingly clear that the monastic and the missionary ways of life were incompatible. When the problem was referred to the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith in Rome, it directed that a general chapter of the Mariannhill monks should be held to discuss their situation. This chapter, which met on May 11, 1908, under Bp. William Miller, vicar apostolic of the Transvaal, recommended that the 300 Mariannhill monks be banded into a new missionary society loosely tied to the Trappist Order. However, the Holy See decided that the Mariannhill Society should be entirely independent of the Trappist Order and a decree of separation was approved by Pius X on Feb. 2, 1909. The constitutions for the new Congregation of Mariannhill Missionaries, approved June 24, 1914, set up a modern religious congregation, to be governed by a superior general and his councilors. Because of World War I, the first general chapter was not held until 1920, when Adalbero Fleischer was elected as first superior general. The distinctive garb of the society then adopted consisted of a simple black cassock with a red cincture for priests, a black cincture for clerics, and a black belt for the brothers.

After the separation from the Trappist Order, the society expanded to the rest of the world. The first European seminaries were opened in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Subsequently establishments were made in the United States, England, Canada, and Spain. The Mariannhill fathers continued to work in South Africa, among the people of Natal and Southern Rhodesia. Mariannhill and Umtata in South Africa and Bulawayo in Southern Rhodesia were raised to the status of dioceses.

The Mariannhill fathers, always interested in furthering a native clergy and native religious life, established an indigenous religious order of priests and brothers and another order of sisters under Fleischer, their first superior general. The first native priest from Mariannhill was ordained in Rome in 1898.

In the United States, the Mariannist Missionaries are found in the Archdiocese of Detroit. The U.S. provincialate is in Dearborn Heights, MI. The generalate is in Rome.

Bibliography: b. hofmann, The Founder of Mariannhill (Detroit 1946). b. huss, Mariannhill: Half a Century of African Mission Life (Detroit 1935). f. schimlek, Mariannhill: A Study in Bantu Life and Missionary Effort (Mariannhill, Natal, South Africa 1953).

[t. mock/eds.]

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