Next year, the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary in South Africa will celebrate the 70th jubilee of the first and only visit of their founder, Father Joseph Kentenich, to their continent. During his stay, he saw to the needs of the sisters’ community, visited parishes and schools, took in the burgeoning life of the Schoenstatt Movement, and created a tradition which has remained until the present day: Every year the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary in Constantia invite the priests of their diocese to a festive lunch in their provincial house.
A Journey that was Anything but Smooth!
In 1947/48 Father Kentenich visited South Africa. For the sisters who had left Germany many years before and who were cut off from Schoenstatt and their families during the war, his visit was one of great joy. Obtaining a visa to visit South Africa had been a great challenge. The first application was made in 1946, but it was refused. The following year Bishop Hennemann SAC, who at the time was the bishop of Cape Town and an old school friend of Father Kentenich, tried to apply, but was also unsuccessful. The sisters redoubled their prayers and sacrifices and at the same time took the words of the founder seriously: “When I’m in difficulty I crown Our Lady, and place everything into her hands. She has always cared perfectly.” On 24th October 1947, through the assistance of Bishop Henneman, the long-awaited visa was sent to the South African Embassy in Rome. However, the sisters still had to practise patience and wait until they received a telegram on 29th December informing them that Father Kentenich would arrive in Johannesburg on the 31st December 1947.
Reunion in Cape Town
For the sisters at Villa Maria in Cape Town, the time of waiting to greet Father Kentenich lasted until 9th February. How happy they were to finally speak to their founder in person – he who had sent them out so many years before to bring the message of Schoenstatt to Africa! They could now discuss the various experiences they had made over the years and get advice on how to move forward. They could introduce Father Kentenich to the first Schoenstatt young women in South Africa, who had been meeting since 1940. He had meetings with families who were interested and also various sodalities. Father Kentenich visited schools for this purpose and, in addition, met with parishioners in those parishes in which our sisters were working. He also spent time with Bishop Henneman, as he met various priests and learnt about the situation in the country.
First Priests’ Dinner
Father Kentenich was outstandingly hospitable, and impressed the need for hospitality on the sisters. While in Villa Maria he invited Bishop Henneman, the priests of the Cathedral parish, as well as Father Mc Nulty, Father Scheu, and the rector of the Redemptorists, to dinner. The priests had a wonderfully happy time together. Father Kentenich was a very good host! After the meal, he invited the priests to come back every year on the 18th October to Villa Maria for a meal, even though he himself would not be present.
A Tradition that’s Stood the Test of Time
Today, 69 years later, this tradition is still being upheld and the invitation extended to include all the priests of the diocese. For many years, because of the large number of clergy who respond to the invitation, this gathering is no longer held at Villa Maria but at our province house with its beautiful gardens. It is a rare opportunity for the clergy to come together in a relaxed environment where they can enjoy each other’s company. After this year’s event on 26th October, Father Rohan Smuts, the administrator of the Cathedral, wrote: “As usual, an enjoyable time was had by all the priests and we extend our sincere thanks to the Schoenstatt Sisters for their annual invitation.”
On the Way to the Jubilee
Next year it will be 70 years since the visit of Father Kentenich to Africa and thus 70 years since the first priests’ dinner. The Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary look forward to celebrating this jubilee with them.