THE HISTORY OF CATHOLI CHURCH IN LESOTHO

The Catholic Church in Lesotho has celebrated its 150th anniversary of her foundation. The Lord “who gives increment” has blessed it with a rather fast growth in numbers of the faithful and of educational and medical infrastructures throughout the country. Born poor in poor condition like its Master, this local church then enjoyed much financial assistance from the generosity of Canadian missionaries and their co-patriots. For a period of about seven years, these men and women religious left no stone unturned in their efforts to convert and to build. The challenge facing all pastoral groups in the country is to deepen the Faith of the people and to conscientize them on their duty to support the Church and to strive for her self- reliance. The secret of success in these tasks is selfless and zealous dedication and commitment of each and all pastors to prayer life and to positive response to the expectations and aspirations of the people, particularly during the three years leading us to the local Church’s Jubilee of the year 2012. It is our hope that the pastoral theme chosen for the year 2009: “The Word of God in the Life of St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles” will be of great impact on the spiritual renewal of our Catholic communities in the country as people read Sacred Scriptures and pray together by way of lectio divina. Each of the following years will have its own theme till the Jubilee itself. Spiritual “newness” expected of good spiritual preparation will render the Christian life of the people more suitable to recall and to celebrate God’s graces poured on the local Church and through it on the entire people of Lesotho since 1862. Historical milestones:

  1. September 4, 1860: “After so many years” , wrote Saint Eugene de Mazenod to Blessed Joseph Gerard then in Natal, “ not a single conversation: it is awful! You must not lose heart because of it. The time will come when the merciful grace of God will produce a sort of explosion and your African Church will be formed. You ought perhaps to penetrate deeper among these unbelievers in order to bring it about. If you were to meet some… you would be likely to do better”.
  2. February 8, 1862: the day when the worldwide Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate were beginning their usual novena before February 17, marking approval of the Congregation and its Rule Book by Pope Leo XII in 1826, the two Oblates who had just entered Lesotho were reportedly in prayerful unison with their fellow confreres worldwide. The two were Bishop Allard and Blessed Joseph Gerard. Their special prayer intention was to be given permission by King Moshoeshoe I to evangelize his people.
  3. February 17, 1862: On this great day for the Oblates, King Moshoeshoe met the two missionaries and gave them hope that he was to give them his final answer later.
  4. February 20, 1862:They were accompanied to Tlo-U-Tle valley to be shown a site where they were to build their first mission.  But they had to go back to Natal to collect their belongings.
  5. October 1862: First missionaries established themselves in Roma, ha ‘M’a Jesu. 
  6. November 1, 1863: The official day of opening of the first Mission in Lesotho at place now known as Roma.
  7. December 25, 1864: reception of the first catechumens.
  8. April 8, 1865: The arrival of the first six Holy Family Sisters in Lesotho.
  9. 1865 – 1866: First baptism of catechumens (8/10/65) and first Holy Communion (2/10/1866).
  10. 1974: Bishop Allard resigned and left for Rome where he died on September 2, 1889
  11. February 11, 1877: Bishop Jolivet blesses the first mission chapel at St. Monica’s where Father Joseph Gerard had arrived on June 1, 1876, together with Fr. Barthélemy, later joined by Brother Mulligan and eventually by Holy Family Sisters.
  12. August 15, 1878: First baptism of catechumens at St. Monica’s. There was a sort of first pilgrimage of missionaries and neophytes from Roma to St. Monica’s for the occasion.
  13. 1894: Lesotho (then known internationally as Basutoland), that had become ecclesiastical part of Natal (1862 – 1886) and of Kimberly (1886 – 1894) became Prefecture Apostolic under Father Odilon Monginoux (1894 – 1895) and Father Alexander Baudry (1895 – 1896) and Father J. Cenez (1897 – 1908) who became Vicar Apostolic (1909 – 1930).
  14. Pope Pius XI (1922 – 1939) on the progress of Mission in Lesotho: “I have in my possession documents which establish that amongst all the Missions of the world, one of the most interesting is that of Basutoland.  There you have a people who march ahead with great strides and who at the same time ascend in the intellectual sphere, so much so that one can believe that they are called to play an important role amongst the people of Africa.” Will history prove this prophecy true?
  15. 1923: The arrival of the first Canadian Oblate Missionaries: Odilon Chevrier and Gerard Martin.
  16. 1924: Establishment of St. Augustine Major Seminary under Fr. Odilon Chevrier.
  17. December 8, 1931:
  18. February 6, 1945: Foundation of Pius XII University College (now NUL) and its official opening on April 8, 1945, in the presence of 22 Vicars Apostolic and Mofumahali ‘M’antšebo Amelia Seeiso and other civil dignitaries. In 1962 Pius XII University College became University of Basutoland, Botswana and Swaziland (UBBS), however, the university still retained its Catholic orientation.  The present National University of Lesotho (NUL) is a proud inheritor of Pius XII University College.
  19. December 1, 1952: Basutoland which had been Vicariate on till 1951 under three successive Pastors after Bishop Jules Cenez (Msgr General Martin. Administrator (1930 – 1933, Bishop J. C. Bonhomme (1933 – 1947, Bishop J. D. des Rosiers (1948 – 1951), was divided into Dioceses: Maseru under Bishop Des Rosiers and Leribe under Bishop Emmanuel ‘Mabathoana, OMI.
  20. Dioceses Establishment
  • Diocese of Maseru

The Diocese of Maseru was established in 11 January 1951. In January 25, 1961 the diocese of Maseru was raised to the status of Metropolitan, under Archbishop Emmanuel ‘Mabathoana, OMI by Blessed John XXIII established Ecclesiastical Hierarchy in Lesotho and raised the

  • Diocese of Leribe

The Diocese of Leribe was established on September 1, 1952.  The first Bishop of this diocese who was also the first Mosotho Bishop was the late Archbishop Emmanuel Gregory ‘Mabathoana, who was installed on March 25, 1953. Father Ignatius Phakoe was appointed Bishop of Leribe (He was ordained Bishop in Rome by Blessed John XXIII on May 21, 1961).

  • Diocese of Qacha’s Nek

Bishop Des Rosiers became the first bishop of the newly established diocese of Qacha’s Nek on April 30, 1961.

  • Diocese of Mohale’s Hoek

Mohale’s Hoek Diocese was established on November 20 1977. On April 2, 1978, Bishop Sebastian Koto Khoarai was ordained first bishop of the newly erected diocese of Mohale’s Hoek.

21.          September 14 – 16, 1988: The Servant of God, Pope John Paul II visited Lesotho and proclaimed Father Joseph Gerard Blessed on September 15, 1988.

22.          May – August 1989: The Catholic Church in Lesotho lost three bishops in succession through death: Archbishop Alphonsus Liguori Morapeli (17 May, 1989), Bishop Joseph Delphis Des Rosiers (22 June, 1989) and Bishop Ignatius Phakoe (23 July, 1989). Thus there was a funeral of a bishop on first Saturday of each of three successive months: June, July and August, 1989.  It was all just about one year after the Apostolic Visit of the Servant of God, His Holiness Pope John Paul II, to Lesotho and the Beatification of Father Joseph Gerard, OMI.

23.          1997 – 2000: Four years leading to the great Jubilee of the Year 2000 were well celebrated in Lesotho, beginning with preparations for the Eucharistic Congress that took place in Poland (1997), followed by the three years leading to the Holy Year.  Fifty-nine pilgrims from Lesotho and a couple from South Africa celebrated Christmas 1999 in the Holy Land and the New Year’s Day in Rome.

24.          12 September 2009 – Archbishop Tlali Gerard Lerotholi, OMI was consecrated Archbishop of Maseru, while Bishop Augustinus Tumaole, Bane, OMI. was consecrated on 19 September 2009.

25.          October 9, 2011 – Launch of the inauguration of the Jubilee Year marking 150yrs of arrival of the first missionaries of the foundation of the Catholic Church in Lesotho.

26.       Arrival of Religious Congregations and Sodalities in Lesotho

Congregations

  • Holy Family Sisters - This is the oldest and first congregation to arrive in Lesotho in 1865.  They were requested by Bishop Allard to come and educate Basotho.
  • Holy Cross Sisters – This is one of the oldest church congregations which arrived in Lesotho in 1908 at St. Gabriel Mission at Ha Malephane.  It was Bishop Cenez who requested the Holy Cross Sisters to come to Lesotho.
  • Holy Names Sisters – The congregation arrived in Lesotho in 1931.  Most of its work is concerned with education Basotho. 
  • Sisters of Charity of Ottawa – The Sisters of Charity of Ottawa arrived in Lesotho in 1931   through the invitation of Oblate priests
  • The Sacred Heart of Jesus – This congregation arrived in Lesotho in 1935 at Christ the King mission, Ha Sekake in Qacha’s Nek. 
  • The Sisters of St. Joseph – This congregation of St. Joseph arrived in Lesotho in 19038
  • Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – This congregation arrived in Lesotho in 1937 at St. Monica’s, Leribe.
  • The Handmaids of Christ the Priest – The congregation arrived in Lesotho in 1966 through the request of the late Archbishop Emmanuel ‘Mabathoana, OMI.
  • Sisters of Good Shepherd – The congregation of the Sisters of Good Shepherd from Quebec, Canada was welcomed by Bishop Bonhomme in Lesotho 1935.
  • Oblates of Mary Immaculate – Theirs is a Missionary Congregation founded in France by Saint Eugene de Mazenod on 25 January 1816.  The Missionary Oblates first arrived in Natal in 1852.  Ten years later Bishop Allard, Father Gerard and Brother Bernard were well received by King Moshoeshoe I and offered the site of Tloutle (Roma) on 20 February 1862.

Religious Sodalities

  • Sacred Heart of Jesus – Among the religious sodalities the first to be launched by the Blessed Fr. Gerard in 1902 was Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Bara ba Pelo e Adorehang).  In 1969 Sisters of the Sacred Heart (Barali ba Pelo E Adorehang) were formed by Fr. Shea.
  • – St. Ann followed The Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1932 and it was started by Bishop Bonhomme OMI in Loretto Mission in Maseru.
  • – St. Cecilia whose mission is to praise the Lord through singing was established in 1946 by the late Fr. Benedict Marole at Roma.
  • Immaculate Conception of Mary – The sodality was introduced in Lesotho at St. Monica’s by Fr. Johannes Leuta on 05 September 1955.
  • Other Religious sodalities and organizations – The Catholic Church has other religious sodalities and organizations.  These are The Legion of Mary, Ban aba Maria, Masolenyana A Kriste Morena and Baena Ba Setefane.  Libini tsa Bach aba Kereke (LCYM), CLC, Libini tsa Moea O Halalelang, Catechists and Khumamelo Ea Eukariste.

Roman Catholic Church Hospitals

  • – Roma. In 1937 under the leadership of Bishop Bonhomme, St. Joseph’s Hospital was established.
  • Paray Hospital – Thaba-Tseka. Paray Mission Hospital was officially opened in early 1938.
  • ‘Mamohau Hospital – Ha Lejone. ‘Mamohau Hospital in Ha Lejone was established in 1945.
  • Seboche Hospital – Makhoakhoeng. Seboche Hospital at St. Charles Mission, Makhoakhoeng in Butha-Buthe was established in1958 and it became fully functional in 1963.
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