Mariannhill Monastery

1882 Abbot Francis Pfanner – South Africa

Mariannhill Monastery History

The name alone arouses curiosity. Its founder, Abbot Francis Pfanner fascinates. Its history offers something amazing. Thomas Merton has spoken about the missionary work of Mariannhill in these terms:

Here was the astonishing spectacle of a Trappist mission in which the contemplative monks had achieved in few short years, a success more spectacular than many active order had dared dream of. The most astounding thing about this new mission was that it was operating on purely Benedictine lines. It was an apostolate of prayer and labour (ORA ET LABORA), of liturgy and the plough. What was taking place in the outposts established by Dom Francis Pfanner was exactly the same process that had marked the Christianization of Germany and all northern Europe by the Benedictine monks hundreds of year before.(1)

Furthermore, after having visited the Mariannhill mission Mahatma Gandhi sang its praises.

In time this missionary work of Abbot Francis and of his monastery, dedicated to Mary and Saint Ann, brought about “an Order within an Order”. Contemplation and intense missionary activity meant a marriage that the Order of the Reformed Cistercians could not bless.

So in 1909 Pope Pius X decided to separate Mariannhill from this Order. The Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill was thus born. A providential birth that would make the expansion of this remarkable work possible! The new family will draw its fundamental inspiration from Abbot Francis. this great missionary monk, and from his monastic community, missionary like him. Everything had started in 1882 with the initiative of this courageous apostle: when he founded his monastery that year, he had already received from Rome the mandate to go and “spread the light that enlightens the nations.”

1999 was the year of the 90th anniversary of the death of Abbot Francis Pfanner (May 24). It was at the same time the 90th anniversary of the separation of Mariannhill from the Order of the Reformed Cistercians (February 2), in other words of the birth of the Missionaries of Mariannhill. Can we blame the spiritual sons of Mariannhill for being proud of their origins? For wanting to talk about their family? Obviously, it is out of the question for them to claim as their own the merits of the generous years of the beginning. Nevertheless, “noblesse oblige”: they ought to go and draw from these roots of theirs the sap of a new spring shoot. They ought to permeate the present with the dynamism of their past. They cannot keep for themselves alone the wealth of their heritage, while always remaining open to the Spirit who “blows where he wills.”

(1) In The Waters of Siloe, Harcourt, Brace and company, New York, 1949, (1st edition), page 1157.

Brothers - Mariannhill Monastery Cloisters