MARYVALE PARISH:A HUNDRED YEARS
As early as 1904 the Right Rev Matthew Gaughran OMI, Apostolic Vicar of Kimberley and Administrator of the Prefecture of the Transvaal, was keen to establish a Catholic Community to the north of Johannesburg. At the time, there were three parishes in Johannesburg, the Kerk Street pro-Cathedral, Braamfontein and Fordsburg, all serving the mining community. The OMI owned a site on the dirt track that ultimately became Louis Botha Avenue and was the anticipated link between Johannesburg and Pretoria. He applied to the Mother General of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Angers, France to open a convent on the OMI property, with a promise of 1000 pounds, bequeathed for the purpose, to which she agreed. In May 1904, four sisters from Ireland and one from New York arrived in South Africa.
Fr T.Ryan OMI came out from Kerk Street to celebrate the first Mass, in their hastily erected convent, on 8th September 1904 and thereafter a priest came out daily from Kerk Street to say Mass. In those days, it was quite a journey. In 1905, Fr Alexander Baudry, also from Angers, who had been an army chaplain in South Africa, came out as the Good Shepherd Convent Chaplain and commenced the OMI ministry in the Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg. He celebrated Masses at the convent and attended to the needs of the laity, as is evident from the Baptism and other Church Registers.
The OMI Ministry To The Community Expands
Fr Eugene Laurent, who succeeded Fr Baudry after his death in Johannesburg in 1910, spent nearly a quarter century ministering to theconvent and “parish” of some twenty-five families and to a wide area to the north of Johannesburg, as far away as Modderfontein and Halfway House.
He was a well known figure, dressed in khaki and leather, on his Sunbeam motorcycle. He was the first priest to serve the Alexandra Township and when he was unavailable, the Holy Cross Sisters would walk from there to the Good Shepherd Convent for Sunday Mass.
Then in 1918, Fr C. de Hovre OMI established the St Hubert’s Mission at Alexandra. June 1927 saw the first meeting of the Building Fund Committee under Fr Laurent. The first Secretary was Mr Heine Kleine. Fr Laurent was succeeded by Fr Petrus Merour (32-34) who handed over to Fr Joseph Dupays (34-36). They spent their last years as chaplains to the Good Shepherd Convent as well as taking care of the surrounding communities.
A Maryvale parishioner, Romildo Ansermino, used to drive Fr Merour to Modderfontein to celebrate Mass there on Sundays. Fr Merour had completed the purchase of land for a church and convent before his death in 1934. Frs Dupays and Laurent were acquainted. They met once a week for confession and a chat and were affectionately known as ‘Darby and Joan’!
They both died in 1941.
The First Church And Parish Priest
At the time he handed over to Fr Erasmé in 1936, Fr Dupays had a parish roll of about 300.
Fr Philip Erasmé, born in Pretoria and ordained in 1931,was then given charge of the area. A born administrator, he had a
church with an attached presbytery built on the new site.
He successfully negotiated with the City Council to have the road named “St Mary’s Road” and in the new area, “Maryvale”. The red brick church, which can still be seen on the south side of St Mary’s Road) was opened by Bishop David O’Leary OMI in 1938. The sacristy was below the Sanctuary and all the items needed for services had to be hauled up.
The sisters were the sacristans. Fr Erasmé kept a canary in the presbytery, which could be heard singing from the church!
This was due more to the strict silence kept in church than the vocal effort of the bird itself!
Now it was time to lay a foundation of Catholic Education for the parish. Fr Erasmé had in mind Assumption Sisters in Grahamstown, so he drove down there to interview the Mother General. In 1939, ninety years after they landed in Port Elizabeth, Assumption Sisters arrived at Maryvale and building commenced on a convent and a school for boys and girls. Fr Francis Brannigan came to assist Fr Erasmé from 39 – 40.
The second plan, Fr Erasmé’s vision for a separate Parochial school for boys, was realised with much more difficulty and his strong negotiating skills were again put to the test. In 1943 StPaul’s School opened to its first eleven pupils, in a small hall in the church grounds with a Government subsidy, one of the first to a Catholic school. In 1947 the school moved to its own premises on the opposite side of Louis Botha Avenue. Mrs Brogan was the Principal and Father Erasmé the manager. Fr Erasmé arranged the purchase of more ground from the Good Shepherd Sisters, with whom he had a good relationship, to extend St Paul’s when more classrooms were needed.
About Fr. Erasmé
Fr Erasme was very interested in films. Auxiliaries to the Sisters tell of great excitement when he would arrive unexpectedly at the convent of an afternoon, bringing a film and inviting everyone to stop work and share the treat. He was a member of the Film Division of the Catholic Federation. This interest led to his being selected to represent the SA Hierarchy at the International Catholic Film Festival in Malta in July 1953. On his return, he entertained parishioners at his “Welcome Back” party with the screening of films he had taken on his tour that included Europe.
Fr Erasmé evidently took an interest in the formation of the Youth of the parish: having instituted the Children’s’ Mass at 8:00am on Sundays, he would walk up and down the aisles checking that his little flock knew their words! He started three schools in his time (the third was St Benedict’s in Bedfordview, a feeder school for St Paul’s).
OMI Priests, An Italian And A “Circular Priest” At Maryvale
The second priest to assist at Maryvale was Fr F. Malva OSM from 42-48. At the time, there was quite a big Italian community living in the area. On Sundays, he would don sports kit and meet the dads and their sons at the Convent or Patterson Park, where they would play inter-parish soccer. He ran the Social Club in the hall, which was used as a school, a club and a scout hall! He supervised the presbytery kitchen and his fellow priests, especially Fr Kennedy, soon acquired a taste for Italian food! Fr Malva also taught the Altar Servers. Fr Tom Kennedy (1948 – Jan 1954) was very involved with the parish.
He restarted a Scout Group. He was spiritual director to the Children of Mary, a strong group of young Catholic girls, from which many a vocation arose. He contributed much to St Paul’s, starting a boys’ choir and supporting the boys and the lay teachers. He took over the active Sunday night Social Club held in the parish biweekly.
After he left to become the parish priest at Mayfair, the club visited Fr Kennedy’s Social Club there.
The Knights of Da Gama was established in the Transvaal in 1949, after Fr Erasmé had visited Council No. 1 in Durban. Fr Joseph Smith, who assisted at Maryvale from 1949-50, is the oldest surviving OMI in SA, in retirement at Victory Park with Frs Hogan, O’Brien and Cawte.
The Catholic Adoption Society opened its headquarters at Maryvale in May 1951. Mrs Mary Lindsell was the Chairman. By 1955 they had placed 70 children. Fr C Doherty assisted from 1951 to December 1953 and was followed by the popular Fr L van den Eynde (1953-1958), who was later ordained Bishop in Australia.
In December 1952, the parish started The Wayside Messenger, a monthly newsletter, which was delivered to all the parishioners at a halfpenny’s postage. Donations paid for the printing. Each parish group submitted a report for publication and he little magazine was most informative on a spiritual and social level.
1954 was The Good Shepherd Convent’s Jubilee Year. Sr Mary of St John Berchmans who was one of the five foundresses, was still at the Orchards House to celebrate the event. In 1954 Fr Erasmé was appointed Oblate Provincial after eighteen years at Maryvale. The Wayside Messenger, at a loss to describe all he had been to the parish and achieved for them, had to settle for “zealous” to sum up his pastorship. Fr George O’Callaghan, the uncle of our Parishioner, Mary Chalmers, succeeded him as Parish Priest.
Fr O’Callaghan formulated “Planned Giving” and was ably assisted by Wybergh Moffat, a Knight and great fundraiser, who is still in the parish today. He was to leave prematurely in April 1955, having been selected to attend an international OMI congress in Rome and to take charge thereafter of the preaching of missions and retreats. Fr Jack O’Brien assisted for two years from Feb 1954 to June 1956.
He was in charge of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine whereby 18 lay parishioners taught 350 children in “non Catholic” schools in the area. The young “Fr Jack” was also involved with instruction of altar servers, converts and with Catechesis he was spiritual director to the Legion of Mary. He left to continue his studies with the object of teaching.
In the meantime, Fr Michael Docherty succeeded Fr O’Callaghan as Parish Priest (May 1955-1960). Already known to St Paul’s, having preached a retreat the year before, he continued to work closely with the school as manager. He was spiritual director to the CWL and was very supportive of the tennis club. He went on to become Oblate Provincial, succeeding Fr Erasmé who had kept in touch with Maryvale throughout his period as Provincial.
A succession of Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate arrived in Johannesburg. They were seeking refuge from Poland and Zambia and found it in Lyndhurst where they opened a crèche within the Parish. By 1956 they had a convent and school and had eighty children of which over 50 were boarders.
Fr Peter O’Connor Ferrero relieved Fr van den Eynde who went overseas for some months in 1956. Fr O’Connor-Ferrero was the first priest from the Diocese of Johannesburg at Maryvale. A parishioner is reported to have asked, “What kind of priest is he? He hasn’t got his OMI!”
In those days you had ‘oblong fathers’ and ‘circular priests’! Fr Peter recalls that, at the time, The New Easter Vigil had just come into effect and was to be celebrated at Maryvale. One of the Polish Sisters had made a purple veil to cover the Sanctuary until the liturgy of the Eucharist. She had tied it up with two ribbons, which, when untied, would drop the veil to reveal the altar in its decorated splendour. Unfortunately, her knots were too tight and the pulling on them caused not only the veil to fall, but a heavy light fitting as well, which descended with an almighty crash. Such was the parish’s first exposure to the new Vigil Mass!
The New Church
By 1954, the parish had outgrown the church. All four masses each weekend were overflowing and it became evident that a larger church, with a proper presbytery should be built. Fr Erasmé wrote of the coming of a new church in the parish newsletter.
In the meantime, negotiations were started with the Assumption Sisters whereby there would be an exchange of property so that, ultimately, the sisters would take the church, which was adjacent to their convent and a new, large church would be built on the north side of St Mary’s Road
In June the first meeting of the Church Building Fund was convened. All parish groups took part in fundraising and the parish dug deep into their own pockets to make a new glorious house of Our Lord a reality. Every penny was saved, waste paper was collected, fetes were convened and social evenings held. A Bricks for the Baptistry campaign raised funds.
By Jan 1956, £10,000 was collected. In 1956 Bishop Boyle and the Sisters transferred their properties and by December 57, the coffers had swelled to £22,000.
Over his 5-year period at Maryvale, Fr Docherty undertook the building of the present church and presbytery. It was opened and blessed by Bishop Hugh Boyle at a Pontifical High Mass on Sunday, 15 November 1959 to a capacity congregation and several OMI fathers. The church, with its twin steeples, was a landmark, visible from quite a distance and people would come from afar to see the mosaic depicting “Our Lady of the Wayside” on the front facade.
The Parish Grows
This was a period of growth and many Catholics moved into the area, attracted by the fine schools and active parish.
The Catholic Information Society, which involved the laity, was started in Maryvale in July 1956. The programme from the USA and then the UK, placed adverts regarding some teaching of the Catholic faith that was misunderstood, and invited readers to write for information, or take free correspondence courses on the faith.
Several OMI Clergy were to come to Maryvale over the next few years:
Fr J. Fitzsimmons assisted from mid 1956 until 1963 and Frs N Forde, Kevin Cawte and H. Ward came in 1958. Frs Forde and Cawte stayed for a year and Fr Ward until 1961 († 1962). Also in 1958, the well-known Fr Bonaventure Hinwood OFM was a parishioner at Maryvale for the two years prior to his entry into the seminary. In
1960 Fr Thomas Bresnan served as Parish Priest for three years with Fr V. Kress from Poland assisting for a year and Fr James Hyland for a few months in 1961.
Fr Frank McGreal also arrived in 1961. A learned Latin Scholar, studious and a teacher, he also led the choir as its conductor. He went on to teach at St Benedict’s, (the High School that Fr Erasmé had built to provide secondary education for the boys at St Paul’s, in 1970). He has served Eldorado Park for the last twelve years and Fr Hyland is in Germiston.
In February 1963 Fr O’Callaghan returned as Parish Priest for two years. In September 1963, a Paulist Mission was held at Maryvale. He was assisted by Fr Norman Butcher who served till 1966.
Fr. Erasmé Completes The Building Of The Parish
In 1965, Fr Erasmé returned, happy to be involved in parish work again. He organised the building of the Norwood Chapel of Ease, which was blessed and opened in 1968, also by Bishop Boyle and dedicated to St Joseph the Worker.
By then, Fr Thomas Barry, was here for a year and from retirement in Pretoria says, “Maryvale was a good parish”. Fr Kenneth Gray (1967-1969) and Fr Ignatius Fidgeon (1968-1969) assisted in the parish, to be followed by Fr Seamus Carroll, (1969-1970) and then by Fr Robin Mountford (1970-1971), who went on to study African languages.
By the time he left in early 1972,Fr Erasmé had built a parish centre, opened in 1971. This was one of the first of its kind in Johannesburg and was named the “Philip Erasmé Centre” to commemorate his commitment to Maryvale. Many parishioners attest to benefits it provided. Their lives were centred around the parish and they spent all their free time there, attending spiritual gatherings and social events, some weekly as well as regular dances and fundraising events. With the centre, Fr Erasmé’s plan for a Council of Knights of Da Gama resident in Maryvale could be realised. His work of building a great parish was done. Fr Erasmé died on July 10 1974, aged 68 and in the 44th year of his priesthood at Rivonia.
The Parish Continues To Prosper Under The OMIs
The next Parish priest was Fr James Towell (1971-2), who served for just over a year until he was called to become the OMI Provincial. In 1972, Fr Fidgeon, well known for his love of dogs, returned for a year, this time with a spaniel, Kim. He was joined by Fr Joseph Leathem. Fr George Clarke, who also arrived in 1972 stayed until 1975. Fr Clarke is remembered for his ability as a magician!
Fr Cawte came back as Parish Priest in 1972 and ran the parish for ten years.
Fr Terence Kelly arrived a year later to assist, also leaving in 1982. Fr Kelly was then about 80 years old and a great Homilist. He is remembered for referring to the sick he visited on First Fridays as his “Old Ladies”, although possibly as much as twenty years his junior! They celebrated the 75th Anniversary of Our Lady of the Wayside in 1980. Fr Cawte instituted Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist:
He chose 5 men and Fr Barnard prepared them. Fr Ronnie Cairns, well known as Pastor in Charge of our sister Parish, St Hubert’s in Alexandra, ministered from 1976 to 1980 in Maryvale. He is remembered as a priest who achieved much in the spirituality of the parish. He divided the parish into “wards” for the purpose of establishing small faith sharing groups and celebrated Home Mass at each group’s commencement. Fr Anthony Bailey, currently at Mayfair, assisted them in1979.
St Paul’s School went co-ed in the latter Seventies: the first Head Girl was elected in 1978.
The Last OMI’s At Maryvale
The ‘80s saw the last few OMIs come to Maryvale. Fr Sandy McNabb served for the year prior to his death in 81. Fr Terence Barnard was a young priest when he arrived in Feb 1980, having been ordained just four years previously. A homegrown priest, born in Durban, he studied for the priesthood at Cedara and was to work at Maryvale under his previous superiors: his Novice Master, Fr Cawte and later Fr Hogan, his Provincial. Far from being overshadowed, “Fr Terry” was able to bring much of himself to the parish.
Apriest always out with the people, he was responsible for a renewal programme, “We, the Parish”, which was very successful. He initiated “Marriage Encounter”, a spiritual programme for married couples, to which he was very devoted. Another ministry that he was very involved with was that of The Youth to whom he brought a Programme, “Fully Alive” and an Adult Education Class. He initiated the Charismatic Prayer Group, which met weekly and in which he was very involved.
He moved on in February 1985 and currently serves various parishes on the West Rand.
Fr Patrick Hogan, who arrived in 1981, became Parish Priest when Fr Cawte left in 1982. Fr Hogan was an exboxer and a very good tennis player. He ran the “Tennis and Tea” club for his fellow priests and deacons on Mondays, a tradition that continued till very recently. Rev. Les Stickells, a Deacon at Maryvale, is probably the last remaining member of the club. Dick Descroizilles approached Fr Hogan for permission to start an adult enquiry group. It was granted and the group met at the Norwood Chapel-of-Ease.
This course still runs today and is once again led by a parishioner, Ivor Glendenning, at the Parish Centre.
Fr Timothy O’Dea came to help out for a few months in 1984. He was of poor health and often had to sit whilst celebrating Mass. Fr Colin Mason was to serve for only a couple of months in 85 as the end of June 1985 marked the end of an 80-year commitment to Maryvale by the OMI fathers. It was time for the Order of Mary Immaculate to carry out new missions and they left behind them a self-sufficient, established parish. We at Maryvale owe so much of who we are to the faithful and steady succession of dedicated Priests of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. We pray that wherever they are, God continues to bless them personally and in all their Missionary work.
Our Recent History
Fr Brian van Zeil, a South African convert to Catholicism, ordained in 1973, was the first Diocesan Pastor in Charge from July 1985. He systematically organised the parish. He liked carpentry and would be seen in the garage working with wood in his free time. One year, on Good Friday, he processed into the church buckling under a heavy wooden cross he had made himself. Fr van Zeil wrote to his flock weekly and his letters were personal, spiritual and informative.
At about that time, Fr van Zeil granted Rev Dick Descroizilles’ request for a post Enquiry Group course to prepare candidates for Baptism. Dick and Elfriede Descroizilles and a few other couples led it for many years, at first at the Chapel of Ease.
IIn 1986 a Polish priest, Fr Stanislaus Marut SC stayed at Maryvale and contributed as best he could for a few months, prior to his death in September. A “Life in the Spirit Seminar” ran for eight weeks. A Charismatic Renewal Prayer Group was meeting every week on Tuesdays.
On Monday 8th Decemeber a concelebrated Mass was held with the unveiling of a stone plaque donated by the Portuguese community to commemorate 80 years of devoted service by the OMI Missionary Priests at Maryvale.
Also in December, a formal lease was signed between the parish and the Polish Catholic Chaplaincy (represented by Mgr Jan Jaworski) whereby the Polish Community would take over complete control of the Chapel of Ease. And finally, Fr van Zeil said that, “at 50 cents, the Southern Cross is good value for money”. “It costs R4 now”, as Fr Maurice Kelly pointed out in 2005, “but in my opinion, it is still good value for money”!
Fr Ralph Milburn from Pretoria Diocese was appointed assistant pastor to Maryvale for pastoral experience in February 1987. By March he was hosting social get-togethers for the Youth on Friday evenings. Fr Terry Barnard was appearing on TV1 occasionally in the religious prayer slot, “This New Day”’.
In April, the parish travelled to Durban to see the Passion Playm and Fr Patrick Hartin a Maryvale Vocation, who had assisted in the parish was reclaimed by the Diocese. The parish bulletin renamed “The Wayside Messenger” when it became a weekly publication, celebrated its second birthday.
In July, Mrs Lydall opened the Soup Kitchen that still runs today. She and other volunteers, including Mrs Waspe, fed the poor daily. July also saw the first lay sacristan, Ms Elizabeth Dymond, appointed to help when Sr Mary was busy at the school.
Sr Mary’s departure from Johannesburg in September saw a petition from the parish and St Paul’s to the Assumption Sisters asking for her return, which she did, but just for her Farewell in December.
In August, Father Ralph was appointed Pastor in Charge at Hercules, Pretoria. He had been of great assistance to Fr van Zeil and the parish during his six months stay and Fr Ralph gained much from his mentor that would prepare him for his next challenge.