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(Vicariate Apostolic of Natal)

The history of the Catholic Church in South Africa goes back to 1660, when a French bishop and a few priests were saved from the wreck of the Marichal near the Cape of Good Hope. But they were only allowed to land, and no permission was given them to minister to the few Catholics who were already in Cape Town. It was not until 1803 that a Catholic priest was permitted to say Mass in Cape Colony. Fathers Joannes Lansink, Jacobus Melissen, and Lambertua Prinsen landed at Cape Town in 1803; the following year they were expelled. Pius VII by letters Apostolic dated 8 June, 1818, appointed the Rt. Rev. Edward Bede Slater, O.S.B., the first vicar Apostolic of the Cape of Good Hope and the neighbouring islands, Mauritius included. Bishop Slater on his way to Mauritius in 1820, left Rev. Fr. Scully at Cape Town in charge of the Catholics. In 1826 Rev. Theodore Wagner became resident priest. He was succeeded by Rev. E. Rishton in 1827. On 6 June, 1837, Gregory XVI established the Vicariate of the Cape of Good Hope, separate from Mauritius, and from that time Cape Colony has had its own bishops.

South Africa, comprising the country between Cape Agulhas and the tenth degree of south latitude and between the tenth and fortieth degrees of east longitude, was too much for one bishop. On 30 July, 1847, Pius IX established a new vicariate in the eastern portion of Cape Colony. This new vicariate included first the eastern district of Cape Colony, Natal, and the Orange Free State (Orange River Colony since the late South African war). The same pontiff on 15 November, 1830 separated Natal and the Orange Free State from the Eastern Vicariate. The first bishop appointed by Rome to take charge of the Eastern Vicariate was the Rt. Rev. Aidan Devereaux, D.D. He was consecrated bishop at Cape Town, 27 December, 1847 by the Right Rev. Dr. Griffith. When Pius IX erected the Vicariate of Natal, on 15 November, 1830, the area of the new vicariate comprised all the portion of South Africa extending outside the then existing boundaries of Cape Colony. The first vicar Apostolic was the Right Rev. Dr. Allard, O.M.I. He landed at Port Natal with five missionaries of the same French order. The name of this colony dates from Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese voyager, who sighted its headlands on Christmas Day, 1497, which suggested the name of Terra Natalis. In 1760 the Dutch had a trading settlement at the site of the present harbour of Durban, speedily abandoned; and more than a hundred years passed before Natal was again visited by Europeans.

After several wars between Dutch, British, and natives, Natal was declared a British colony in 1843. Nine years later, Dr. Allard and his five companions landed on the African shores. Till that time, no priest had been residing in Natal. The country had been occasionally visited by a priest from Cape Colony. The first missionary who ministered to the Catholics of Natal was Rev, Father Murphy, sent by Bishop Devereaux. Its area is about 35,371 square miles, and it is bounded on the north by Transvaal Colony and Portuguese East Africa; on the east by the Indian Ocean; on the south by Cape Colony (Pondoland); and on the west by Cape Colony (Griqualand East), Basutoland, and Orange River Colony from which it is separated by the Drakensberg Mountains. At the time of the advent of the first missionaries, the white element of the population was almost insignificant. Agriculture was practically unknown. Industry, at present a source of wealth, was altogether ignored.

The Catholic population was then composed of about two hundred in Durban and three hundred in Pietermaritzburg; it comprised only the white element, immigrants from England and especially from Ireland.The native population, scattered all over Natal, Zululand, and the Transkei, which districts formed also a portion of the Vicariate of Natal, was altogether uncivilized. The agents of the London Missionary Society had organized some missionary work for the civilization of natives. But they came out rather as officials of the Government, and therefore were not altogether ready to go through the hardships of missionary life. Besides the Europeans and natives, there was the scattered Dutch population. Natives and Dutch were not prepared to receive the Catholic faith. Among the former, superstitions, a sickening immorality, and polygamy, and among the latter, prejudices, and hatred against the Church of Rome, rendered for many years all the efforts of the missionaries apparently fruitless. However disheartening was the result of their work, the pioneers remained at their post. For seven years they had not the consolation of registering one soul for the Catholic Church, yet the intrepid and courageous Dr. Allard wanted to push further his expeditions against paganism. He founded a new mission exclusively for the natives, to whom the missionaries wished to devote themselves altogether, and he called the new mission St. Michael. Here they were destined to battle against many obstacles, privation of the necessaries of life, difficulty of communication, and poverty, which drove the missionaries to the verge of starvation.

The advent of new missionaries enabled Dr. Allard to found missions as far as Basutoland. Religious increase was slow, owing to the small number of missionaries and the degradation of the population. Communication was extremely slow and difficult, and was generally either by wagons drawn by oxen, or on horseback; during the rainy season travel was very dangerous, owing to the swollen rivers. Amid such hardships and privations Dr. Allard felt that his life was drawing to a close. He retired to Rome, where he died soon after. Under his successor, Rt. Rev. Dr. Charles Jolivet, O.M.I, appointed 30 Nov., 1874, the Vicariate of Natal has made rapid progress in the way of Christianity and civilization. New missions were founded all over this immense vicariate, and new chapels and schools for Europeans and natives were opened. Many obstacles which in the beginning had rendered the missionary work very difficult were removed. Communication became easier, owing to the new railways and roads laid out across the country by the Government of Natal. Missionary work has been of late years carried on amongst the natives on a very large scale, owing to the advent of some Trappists into the Colony of Natal, who afterwards were organized into the "Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill". They have devoted themselves entirely to the evangelization of the natives, and as statistics show, their efforts and labours have been fully rewarded. The late Anglo-Boer war hampered much the missionary work in this vicariate, but the consequences of this war have practically disappeared. Through the treaty agreed to by the British and the Boers, the Districts of Utrecht, Vryheid, and Wakkerstroom were ceded to Natal and have been added to this vicariate, which now comprises the three above-mentioned districts, Natal proper, Transkei, Swaziland, and Zululand.

The present bishop (1910) is Rt. Rev.Henri Delalle, O.M.I., appointed in 1904. The white population of the vicariate is estimated to be about 100,000; natives, Indians, and Malays, 1,000,000; the Catholic population is 25,737 (whites, 7458; natives, 15,227; coloured, 3052). Priests: Oblates of Mary lmmaculate, 38; Missionaries of Mariannhill, 46; secular priests: Europeans, 4, natives, 3. There is a seminary, with eleven theological students. Lay brothers: Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Europeans, 4, native, 1; Missionaries of Mariannhill, 305; Marist Brothers, 7. Number of churches, 59; missions, 49. Number of schools: for whites, 24, pupils, 653; for natives, 62, pupils, 1864; for coloured, 10, pupils, 472; most of the schools are conducted by nuns. Orders of women: Sisters of the Precious Blood, 324; Sisters of the Holy Cross, 55; Sisters of Nazareth, 12; Sisters of the Holy Family, 92; Dominicans, 138; Augustinians, 67; Franciscans, 12; Sisters of Kermaria, 18. Two schools for whites, 4 sanatoria for whites and natives, and *I orphanage for coloured children are under the management of the Augustinian Sisters; and a house for orphans and aged is under the care of the Sisters of Nazareth House, with about 260 inmates. At the Bluff the Sinters of the Holy Family have an orphanage for European children; they have a novitiate at Bellair, with 10 novices. The Dominican Sisters have their mother-house at Oakford, and have also schools at Noodsberg, Genezzano, Dundee, and Newcastle. At Ladysmith and Pietermaritzburg, there are 2 hospitals, and 2 sanatoria of the Augustinian Sisters. Besides the numerous boarding-schools established in different parts of the vicariate, there are many parochial schools, some of which are under the control of the Government, and receive a subsidy proportioned to the number of pupils.


Annales des Oblats de Marie Immaculée.

About this page

APA citation. Langouet, A. (1911). Natal. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Langouet, Armand. "Natal." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph McIntyre.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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