The Franciscan Order has always recognised the special call to spread the Gospel message far and wide. St Francis mentions it specifically in his Rule. This has led Friars to leave their home territories and actively seek out new areas of evangelisation. Now, as the largest missionary Order in the Church, the Franciscans are to be found in almost every country in the world. Their most precious mission is the Custody of the Holy Land, which can trace its origins back to St. Francis himself, and which was formally committed to the Franciscans by decrees of Pope Clement VI in 1342. For the British Custody in recent times the two main countries which have been associated with our foreign missions are South Africa and India.
The mission to India began in 1925 when three Friars from the then Province landed at Bombay and moved to Hyderabad, where they were given the area of Bellary as their mission field. Over the years thirty-three friars from Britain joined this mission. The last one was Joachim Tinneny, who joined the mission in December 1956 and died on 22 November 2009, having been the lone survivor in India for the past 23 years. He worked for many years in Karnataka, South India, collaborating with many parish-based ministries and groups. Bellary has been for some time a diocese with its own Indian bishop, and since the mission became a Province is now raising its own vocations and is no longer dependent on the British Custody.
Since 1948 Friars of the then British Province have been working in South Africa. The first four to be commissioned for the mission were Frs. Denis Kivlehan, Ronan Scott, Barnabas Mann and Clement Waddington. They were asked to take over a corner of the diocese of Lydenberg in the Transvaal. Soon after, their numbers were boosted by the arrival of more Friars: Cormac, Malcolm, Alexander, Marius, Athanasius, Clement, Paschal Rowland and Christopher Ulyatt. These Friars generally settled into parishes ministry. Pope Pius XII erected a new area, the Prefecture of Volksrust which included part of the Transvaal and Northern Natal. Suddenly this small group of just 12 Friars had to minister to an area the size of Ireland. Christopher was appointed first Apostolic Prefect and more Friars arrived from Britain. Bede, who had been working on the Indian mission for 27 years, also came to help.
With the presence of the Friars there were new vocations from the local people. In 1960 it was decided to establish a minor seminary to help with the education and formation of those who wanted to give their lives in service of the Good News of Jesus Christ. During this time there was a great upsurge in activity. Churches were built, an orphanage started, wells dug and programmes for education, agriculture and faith development all became part of the Friars activity. Between 1962 and 1969 there was a purposeful consolidation of apostolates, adding youth groups, Scouts and leadership training.
In the 1960s the apartheid government resettled thousands of South Africans, among them many of the Friars' parishioners. The Friars stayed alongside the people during this time and were publicly criticised in the parliament for the work they were doing. Huge Catholic communities arose in Madadeni, eZakheni, Osizweni, Amakhasi and elsewhere. Far from deterring the work of the Friars, more apostolates were taken on: a retirement home for the elderly, a printing press, catechetical and farming centres.
In 1983 the Diocese of Dundee was created and Paschal Rowland became the first Bishop. In 2006 when he reached the canonical age for retirement his resignation was accepted by the Pope. He continued to live in Natal to work among his people assisted by the Friars until his death in 2012. In 1985 The Friars working in South Africa received a degree of independence when they became a Vice-Province under the patronage of Our Lady Queen of Peace and a fully fledged Province in 2004. The Friars working in this region had the choice of joining the new Province. Most of them chose to do so and continue to work in this vast and varied country. Presently, most of the Friars are involved in parish work, at the Lumko Institute (adult education courses) and in the formation and education of local Friars.
In the 1980s the Franciscan Order launched a major initiative in evangelisation throughout Africa, especially developing areas in Central and East Africa. In more recent years many Friars have joined the "Africa Project" and work in many different parts of the African continent. The missionary work of the Franciscans is under the patronage of St. Antony of Padua.
For more information about the Franciscan Missions and if you would like to receive "The Troubadour", the magazine of the Franciscan Missionary Union, contact:
Provincial Director FMU
270 Ballater Street
Telephone 0141 429 0740
Telephone: 0141 418 0413