111th Death Anniversary of Abbot Francis Pfanner

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An abbot, born at Langen, Vorarlberg, Austria, 1825; died at Emmaus, South Africa, 24 May, 1909. In 1850 he was ordained priest and was given a curacy in his native diocese. Nine years later he was appointed an Austrian army chaplain in the Italian campaign against Napoleon III, but the war was over before he could take up his appointment. After serving as chaplain to the Sisters of Mercy at Agram for several years, he went to Rome, and there saw the Trappists for the first time. Whilst waiting for his bishop’s permission to join this order, he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In November, 1864, he was professed at the Trappist monastery of Marienwald in Austria, and was made sub-prior a few weeks later. He again went to Rome in 1866, where he reorganized the well-known monastery at Tre Fontane. Then he conceived the idea of a foundation in Turkey. The difficulties seemed insuperable, but in 1869 he was able to open the monastery of Mariastern in Bosnia, which was raised to the status of an abbey in 1879. In that year Bishop Richards of the Eastern Vicariate of the Cape of Good Hope was in Europe, seeking Trappists to evangelize the Kafirs and to teach them to work. When all others had declined the invitation, Abbot Franz resolved to relinquish his settled abbey and face fresh difficulties in South Africa. At the end of July, 1880, he arrived at Dunbrody, the place purchased by Bishop Richards for the work. But on account of the drought, winds and baboons, he declared the site unsuitable after a trial of several years. With the permission of Bishop Jolivet, O.M.I., of the Natal Vicariate, he then (December, 1882) bought from the Land Colonization Company a part of the farm Zoekoegat, near Pinetown. The fine monastery of Mariannhill was built here, and it soon became the centre of a great work of civilization. Finding the need of a sisterhood to teach the Kafir girls, with characteristic energy he founded the Sisters of the Precious Blood, who number more than 300. In 1885 Mariannhill was created an abbey, and Prior Franz Pfanner elected the first mitred abbot. But in 1893 he resigned his prelacy and began life again in the mission station of Emmaus, where he remained until his death.

The missionary methods of Abbot Franz and his successors have won the approval of all those interested in the natives of South Africa. Such various authorities as Mark Twain and the last Prime Minister of the Cape have spoken enthusiastically of the work. It has prospered exceedingly. At the date of Abbot Franz’s death there were 55 priests, 223 lay-brothers and 326 nuns working in 42 mission stations among the natives. Only a few months before Abbot Franz’s death the Holy See, at the petition of the Trappists of Mariannhill, made a considerable change in their status. The Cistercian Rule in its rigour, for which Abbot Pfanner was most zealous, was found to be an obstacle to missionary development in some particulars. Hence the name of the order was changed to that of the Missionary Religious of Mariannhill, and they were given a milder rule on a three years’ trial, after which the whole subject will again be submitted to the judgment of the Holy See.


May 24, 2020
8:00 am - 5:00 pm
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