Why July is a Special Month for Pretoria’s First Black Catholic Parish

(Left) The original church of the Most Holy Redeemer, built in 1921. (Right) Stigmatine Fathers Michael D’Annucci (left) and Charles Mittempergher, who served the mission in Mmakau for many years after their ordinations. Fr D’Annucci was murdered in a hijacking in Pretoria in December 2001 (he was declared a martyr in 2002); Fr Mittempergher died in Italy in December 2017.
Credit: The Southern Cross.

The Most Holy Redeemer, a Catholic Mission in South Africa’s Archdiocese of Pretoria, will, in a few months, mark 100 years of existence as the first Catholic Mission that was constructed by black people to serve those who lived in the villages on the outskirts of the city.

In a communique shared with ACI Africa, Daluxolo Moloantoa, a member of the Catholic Mission, quotes a diary entry made by founding Priest, Fr. Camillus De Hovre who detailed the humble beginning of the Mission and its eventual growth in one of South Africa’s capital cities.

Fr. De Hovre said he was approached by men from a village in the Province who had the idea of construction of a church in their village.

“One evening, on returning home at St Teresa’s mission in Bantule location, I found a deputation of seven men sitting around my dwellings. They had come from De-Wildt (now known as Mmakau Village) to ‘find the True Church’ in Pretoria, as they stated,” wrote Fr. De Hovre.

The Priest who was a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) added, “My bicycle came into good use as I began to make several trips to the village to speak to the people.”

In due course, a stone church named the Most Holy Redeemer was built by the local people and put under the stewardship of OMI.

In his communique, Mr. Moloantoa notes that the mission of the Most Holy Redeemer was the first African Catholic mission in what is now the Catholic Archdiocese of Pretoria.

“The founding of the Most Holy Redeemer mission is an example of the few cases where the initiative came from the indigenous people themselves,” says Mr. Moloantoa.

He adds, “It is one of the few instances in South Africa, and indeed on the continent, where the indigenous people went out to seek the Catholic faith by themselves elsewhere. The mission is also unique in that it was the first black Catholic parish in the whole of the Pretoria Archdiocese.”

And in one of his writings ahead of the celebration of the Catholic Mission’s 100 years of existence, the Content Manager at Scalabrini Institute for Human Mobility in Africa (SIHMA) notes, “Its establishment acted as a base from which 68 outstations were later founded. Today they are all fully-fledged congregations in their own right.”

He says that the Mission’s school, which was established shortly after the construction of the church and named De-Wildt Primary School, would become the first school in the village.

“It was at the Most Holy Redeemer mission where Fr Joseph Verot, also a member of OMI, published the first Catholic hymns and prayer book in Setswana,” Mr. Moloantoa who is also a journalist with the Southern Cross, South Africa’s only national Catholic weekly newspaper writes, referring to a local language spoken in South Africa.

“It was also under Oblate superintendence that the mission extended its tentacles into other areas, even beyond its 75km from Pretoria,” he says, and adds, “Similarly, it was to the Most Holy Redeemer mission that several surrounding communities were directed in their own search for the Catholic faith.”

Though the Mission was established in January, it is July that is most special to its calendar because of two special occurrences. It was in July 1923 that the foundation stone of the Mission was blessed. And it was also in July, in the year 1962, that the mission hosted a revered figure, Mr. Moloantoa recalls.

The Mission recalls July 25, 1962, when John Baptist Cardinal Montini, then Archbishop of Milan in Italy, came to visit the mission.

“He was accompanied by Archbishop Garner and Archbishop Joseph McGeough, the Apostolic Nuncio. The Cardinal said Mass for the primary school and spoke at length with local congregants,” writes Mr. Moloantoa.

He adds that less than a year later, on June 21, 1963, Cardinal Montini was chosen as the new universal shepherd of the Catholic Church, taking the name Pope Paul VI. He was beatified in October 2014 and canonized on 14 October 2018. His feast day is September 26.

As a remembrance of his visit to the Most Holy Redeemer mission, the new Pope sent a big Easter candle for the mission, which Mr. Moloantoa says “was used over several years.”

One other notable personality in the Catholic Church who visited the Mission, in 1988, was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was beatified in October 2003 and declared a saint on 4 September 2016. Her feast day is September 5.

The memory of the role that the Mission played during apartheid in South Africa also lives to date.

At this time, the Sisters of Mercy had taken over management of the Mission with a firm resolve to start a school that would offer an “alternative” education from the one that was given in government schools, the Bantu Education, which was intentionally inferior.

In 1975, the Sisters admitted the first learners to Tsogo High school (Tsogo is Setswana for “Resurrection”).

“At the height of the social unrest of the 1980s, the mission became a natural refuge for many political activists escaping the wrath of the apartheid state,” notes Mr. Moloantoa in his sharing with ACI Africa.

He adds, “Many hid in the nearby mountain and came down to the mission at night for food and necessary ablutions provided by the nuns and priests. In other incidents, activists were hidden in the sanctuary of the nuns’ convent or church, as the security police could not enter those spaces.”

Mr. Moloantoa notes that students of Tsogo High School, as well as activists who benefited from the compassion of the mission, went on to occupy major social, economic and political positions in the new political dispensation after April 1994, when the apartheid system in South Africa officially came to an end.


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]