50 years in South Africa!

On a Monday morning, the 26th of September 1962, the “Pendennis”, a well-known mail boat of the Union Castle Line, docked in Cape Town harbour with five Pallottine missionaries on board. They were the Fathers Franz Baumann, Karl Frings and Rudolf Köble together with the Brothers Alfonse Gross and Werner Vogel.

Together with Brother Helmut Müller, they were carefully selected by the provincial rector of the Northern German Province, Andreas Stock, and some weeks later, solemnly sent out by his successor, Ludwig Münz, to work in the South African Pallottine Regio, which was responsible for the pastoral care in the dioceses of Oudtshoorn and Queenstown.

It is also interesting to know that, in that time, there was still a golden rule in the Pallottine Society for the election of candidates which said: “Only the best elements amongst us are considered for a missionary life in Africa!”

Two of them, namely Father Baumann and Father Köble, left the boat in Cape Town and went to Oudtshoorn, where they started their ministry in Robertson and in Swellendam.

Father Frings and the Brothers Gross and Vogel continued the voyage and arrived on Wednesday, the first of October (feast of St. Theresa, patron saint of the missions!) in East London.

The two Brothers went to Glen Grey Hospital near Lady Frere where they qualified themselves as a butcher and as an electrician while Father Frings went into the pastoral field, first in Balfour and later in Cofimvaba.

Brother Müller, who had to wait in Germany for his visa, arrived some weeks later and came by plane. Being a carpenter, he joined the diocesan “Building team” at St. Theresa’s in Queenstown.

That was 50 years ago and during those fifty years, a lot of things happened!

Father Rudolf Köble stayed in the diocese of Oudtshoorn until 1981 when he was elected regional rector of the Pallottines and moved to his new residence at the Pallotti Farm in Queenstown. After his term in 1984, he stayed in the Diocese of Queenstown where he became the priest in charge of Butterworth. A couple of years later he moved to Merrivale, where the Pallottines had bought a property from the Dominicans, to establish there a house for their students who studied at the St. Joseph’s Theological Institute of Cedara. Later on, he served also at a Mission Station in the archdiocese of Durban but on the 12th of May 1993 his life ended abruptly in a car accident in Pietermaritzburg.

The takeover of Glen Grey Hospital by the Transkeian government meant also the end of Brother Werner Vogel’s career there, and his superiors transferred him to Qoqodala where he looked after the shop being also a “Jack of all trades” for everything possible when necessary. On the 18th of September 1994, he died in his van from a heart attack during a trip to Queenstown.

Brother Helmut Müller left the Pallottines, married, and made a living in the Eastern Cape. Not so long ago, he became a permanent deacon and serves in the diocese of Port Elizabeth.

Father Franz Baumann stayed in the diocese of Oudtshoorn and worked as priest in charge, first in Robertson and later in Mossel Bay St. Thomas. His talents in the pastoral field made him an excellent candidate to take over a newly build retreat centre in George, called Step-Aside. A serious stroke delayed that plan for over a year, but thanks to his iron physical condition and his born-in tenacity, he overcame a lot of set-backs and, in 1981, he became the rector of Step-Aside and is it still today.

Brother Alfonse Gross stayed at Glen Gray Hospital. The new owners just could not find a better electrician able to manage efficiently the whole system. Once in pension, he joined Bishop Herbert Lenhof at Ntaba Maria Convent where he still, even as an octogenarian, keeps an eye on everything which is necessary for the smooth running of the property.

Father Karl Frings is already for more than thirty years the priest in charge of Cofimvaba. Being 51 years a priest and 50 years in South Africa, he is far away from being worn out. During the last 50 years he realised a lot and even today his dynamism astonishes our younger colleagues.

50 years…. Yes, those years proved that there is a Divine Providence indeed! The Lord knew exactly whom he called and what kind of intentions He had with them. Praised be His Name!

Fr. Edward Tratsaert SAC