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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > Z > Prefecture Apostolic of the Zambesi Mission

Prefecture Apostolic of the Zambesi Mission

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The prefecture comprises all Rhodesia south of the Zambesi, that part of Bechuanaland which is north of the Tropic of Capricorn and east of the 22nd degree of longitude, that part of Rhodesia north of the Zambesi, south of the Congo Free State, and west of the 30th degree longitude. Originally it also included a part of North-eastern Rhodesia, which is now included in the Vicariate Apostolic of Nyassa. All this territory is under British rule, by far the larger portion being administered by the British South Africa Chartered Company. The Zambesi mission was founded in 1877, and entrusted to the English Province of the Society of Jesus; its limits were defined by Propaganda in 1879. It was in this latter year that the first party of missionaries under Father henry Depelchin, the first superior, started from Grahamstown in Cape Colony, with four wagons drawn by oxen, on a journey of five or six months to Bulawayo, a thousand miles in the interior. There were then no railways in the country; communications were slow and difficult, and the prices of the necessaries of life were enormous. Many lives were lost from fever and privations. The Matabele natives were not yet prepared to receive Christianity, and the cruel rule of their despotic king, Lobengula, rendered fruitless every effort of the missionaries. An expedition led by Father Depelchin himself pushed further north beyond the Zambesi in quest of more promising fields; but from various causes this attempt failed. Another unsuccessful expedition under Father Augustus Law went three hundred miles east to the Portugese border. With the advent of the British South Africa Company a new era opened for the mission. In 1893 Lobengula was deprived of his power, Bulawayo, his capital, seized, and Matabeleland conquered. Missionaries availed themselves of the advantages which the new rule guaranteed. Sites suitable for mission stations were selected. The Sisters of St. Dominic entered the country about the same time, took charge of the public hospitals, and later opened schools for the children of the settlers.

The progress of the mission has been necessarily slow. Little is to be expected from the adult native population owing to their pagan practices, especially polygamy; hence the hopes of large and successful communities must be built mainly on the education of children. Moreover, the work has been hampered again and again by those difficulties which have retarded the material development of Rhodesia: wars within and without the borders, cattle plagues, famine, locusts, etc. Meanwhile, the introduction of railways has removed one great obstacle to the establishment of mission stations; one line traverses the mission from south to north. Father Henry Depelchin has been succeeded by Fathers Alfred Weld, Alphonsus Daignault, of the Canadian Province, Henry Schomberg-Kerr, Richard Sykes, Ignatius Gartlan, and R. Sykes who has lately returned to the post. There are 32 Jesuits and 22 Jesuit lay brothers, and 3 priests and 6 brothers of the Missionaries of Mariannhill. The towns of Bulawayo, Salisbury, Gwelo, and Umtali have each a church and a resident priest. At Chishawasha and Driefontein in Mashonaland, Empandeni in Matabeleland, and Monze, north of the Zambesi, there are large mission stations for the natives. The Sisters of St. Dominic (numbering 82) have schools for the Europeans at Salisbury, Bulawayo, and Gwelo, and a school for native girls at the mission station of Chishawasha. The Sisters of Notre-Dame (9 in number) have two schools for natives at the mission station of Empandeni. There are 10 Sisters of the Precious Blood in the prefecture. The Jesuits conduct a school for European boys at Bulawayo, receiving a small annual grant from the Government. There is also at Bulawayo an observatory under the care of Father Edmund Goetz, S.J.; it has a small annual subsidy from the Government. The Europeans number about 1300; in Southern Rhodesia the native population has not yet been estimated with even approximate accuracy. The Catholic population comprises about 740 Europeans and Indians, 1400 natives. Several books have been written in the four languages spoken in Rhodesia, mostly by the Fathers of the mission-grammars, catechisms, prayer-books, Bible stories. Besides these Father Julius Eorrend has published an important work entitled: "A Comparative Grammar of the South African Bantu Languages".


SCHREIBER, Life of Father Augustus Law (London, 1893); Missiones catholicae (Rome, 1907), 423; MAXWELL-SCOTT, Life of Father Henry Schomberg-Kerr (London, 1901); History of the Zambesi Mission in Zambesi Mission Record, I-III (London, 1898-1909); SPILLMAN, From Cape to Zambesi, The Beginnings of the Zambesi Mission, compiled from the diaries of Father P. Eorrde and from the reports of the other missionaries (Freiburg).

About this page

APA citation. Langouet, A. (1912). Prefecture Apostolic of the Zambesi Mission. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Langouet, Armand. "Prefecture Apostolic of the Zambesi Mission." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael T. Barrett. Dedicated to the Catholics of the Zambesi Mission.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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