Marist in South Africa
In the mid nineteenth century, the Bishop of the Cape set about getting religious brothers and sisters to teach the children in his small Catholic community. Answering his invitation, five Marist Brothers landed in the Cape in 1867and established the first two Marist schools outside Europe in Cape Town. A sign reading “Marist Brothers’ Schools” can still be seen on an arched gateway leading from the Public Gardens to the original school building (now an annex to the Art Gallery). The concern of the early priests and religious was to care for their relatively small Catholic communities. For many years, the South African Catholic Church devoted the majority of its manpower and resources to the white community and comparatively little to other groups that eventually made up the bulk of its members.
The Marists spread to the Eastern Cape, the Transvaal, the Transkei, Basutoland, Natal and the Orange Free State.
In 1960, the famous “Winds of Change” speech was delivered to Parliament in Cape Town. The world was being radically transformed through a post-industrial revolution, decolonization, and, in the Church, an unexpected revolution had been launched with the Second Vatican Council. South Africa suffered the tragedy of Sharpeville and the persecution of opponents of apartheid, with Nelson Mandela and other figures involved in the struggle being imprisoned.
The SA Bishops Conference had censured the politics of apartheid. In the face of political repression, they spoke out increasingly strongly. The 1976 Soweto student riots caused even deeper soul-searching among Catholics. Some Catholic schools had already opened their doors to all and, by the late 1970s, Catholic schools registered for “Whites only” were admitting significant numbers of children of other races. More resources and personnel were being directed towards the poor and the marginalized. In the 1980s Marist communities were set up in Umtata , Slough and north of Kuruman. The Brothers’ work with the poor includes training of staff in rural schools, adult education, teaching in township schools, fund-raising for disadvantaged schools and community centres.
There are five Marist schools in South Africa: St David’s Marist College in Inanda, Sacred Heart Marist College in Observatory and Marian College in Linmeyer, all in Johannesburg; St Henry’s Marist College in Durban and St Joseph’s Marist College in Rondebosch, Cape Town.
Founded in 1817, the Marist Brothers is an international community with the goal of educating young people, especially those most neglected. Most of the Brothers minister in schools, others work with young people in parishes and religious retreats, at-risk youth settings, young adult ministry and overseas missions.
Time and again St. Marcellin said he wanted “to make Jesus known and loved” throughout the world. He would run a needle through an apple (representing the earth) to demonstrate how he wanted the message of “Ad Jesum per Mariam” (“To Jesus through Mary”) to cross the globe.
The Marist Brothers are involved in educational work throughout the world and now conduct primary and secondary schools, academies, industrial schools, orphanages and retreat houses in 79 countries on five continents, reaching almost half a million young people.