From the Archives: The establishment of Harare’s Parishes

By Brian Enright SJ

The current Catholic Directory of Zimbabwe lists twenty-five parishes in Harare. Many, if not most of these were established by Jesuits.
 
It all began when the Jesuits first arrived in Harare (Salisbury); a chapel for forty people was opened in the grounds of the Dominican Convent in 1893.  Fr Aloysius Leboeuf became parish priest, living in a room built onto the side of the chapel, and from here he designed a new and bigger church, the Church of the Sacred Heart, opened on the feast of the Annunciation in 1900.  This in turn eventually proved too small and on 28 June 1924 Mgr Brown laid the foundation stone of the present Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.  The Cathedral was opened the following year, on Sunday, 2 August 1925. Jesuits continued to serve the Cathedral until 31 December 2008, when it was handed over to the diocesan clergy.
 
Meanwhile in 1910 a church dedicated to St Peter the Apostle had been opened in ‘the native location’, later known as Harari and now Mbare.  At first the church was served from Campion House by Fr Lickorish; the first resident priest was Fr Burbridge who moved in in 1917.  A second church, dedicated to St Peter Claver, was built in 1964 when Fr Cockroft was parish priest.  The two churches are still referred to as Old and New St Peter’s and are listed as separate parishes in the Directory.
 
The Dominican Sisters opened the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament in Borrowdale for their retired sisters in 1933.  Fr Erhart was the first resident chaplain, and Jesuits provided pastoral services for the people in the area until 1960 when Borrowdale was entrusted to the Redemptorists. 
 
Fr Henry Swift was the first to celebrate Mass in Highfield, now two parishes. The Church of Mary Queen of Peace was opened in 1945 and handed over to the diocese some years later in October 1953. It was the first parish to be staffed by diocesan priests, Frs Alois Nyanhete and Simon Tsuro. A second church, The Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Lourdes, was opened in the parish in 1971. 
 
In 1940 Nazareth House opened, and priests from St George’s provided Sunday Mass from the start, best known perhaps being Fr Austin Ganley who was chaplain there from 1946 to 1959.  He died while giving Benediction on Friday, 8 May and was buried from the church a few days later, on 11 May. The present church, provided by the Sisters of Nazareth and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception was opened on 8 December 1956.  The parish, along with the Borrowdale area was handed over to the Redemptorists in 1960.
 
The big expansion came after World War II (1939 – 1945) and during the period of Federation (1953 – 1963).
Fr Henry Swift built St Fidelis, Mabvuku, in 1955, although Mass had been celebrated there since 1952.  Jesuits from Chishawasha and Silveria House continued to serve the parish up until 1978 when it was handed over to the Redemptorists, who had already opened a church in the neighbouring suburb of Tafara.
 
Fr Latchford visited the area of Rhodesville from the Seminary and was responsible for the building of the church of Our Lady of the Assumption which was opened in 1953. It was handed over to the archdiocese in October 1960, although Jesuits were asked to serve there again for a short period, 1978 to 1985.
 
Fr Lewis Clifford was the first parish priest in Mabelreign. The church there got off to a rapid start, foundation stone laid, 11 August 1957, first Mass in the new church 1 November 1957, and never looked back.  The work soon extended to Dzivaresekwa (Gillingham) where Fr W F Rea celebrated Sunday Mass for several years before a church was opened in 1975.  Mabelreign was handed over to the diocese on 31st December 2018.   
 
St Francis Xavier’s, Braeside was opened the following year, in 1958. The parish included the Cranborne, St Martin’s and Hatfield areas.  Hatfield was handed over to the Carmelites in 1960 and they built the church of St Joseph’s.   Later, in 1986, Fr Thomas opened a church in St Martin’s.
 
The foundation stone of Our Lady of the Wayside, Mount Pleasant, was laid by Archbishop Markall on 24 February 1958 and the first Mass in the new church was celebrated on 24 December the following year by Fr Thomas Cockett, parish priest from 1959 to 1982.  The land and building were the gift of Tom and Mary Birchall.
 
Also in 1958, Franciscan Friars moved into Lochinvar where Fr Ford had been celebrating Sunday Mass.  From there the friars established the parish of St Francis, Waterfalls, covering Ardbennie, Lochinvar, Southerton, Houghton Park, and Parktown.
The pariash of Mufakose began as a Mass centre, served by diocesan priests from Highfield.  The Church of Uganda Martyrs was opened in 1965.
 
Fr Byrne was the first to undertake pastoral work in Kambuzuma, while also working in St Peter’s Community School.  The Church of All Saints was opened on 30 July 1967and a second church, St Henry’s in Rugare in 1973.  Jesuits continued to serve the parish up until 1983 when it was handed over to the diocese.  Later a third church, St Clara’s was opened in 1986 in Warren Park, and the whole area entrusted to the Salesians.
 
In the years around and following Independence, the diocese opened parishes in several new high-density suburbs:  St Patrick’s, Glen Norah, (1978), St Matthew’s, Glen View (1986), Holy Trinity, Kuwadzana (1991) and Holy Cross, Budiriro (1999).  Later, the archbishop entrusted Kuwadzana to the Spiritans who went on to build the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Snake Park (2010). Budiriro was entrusted to the Divine Word Missionaries.  
 
The parish of St Peter Canisius, Marlborough grew from Canisus House:  people started attending Mass there in the 1960’s and from around 1987 Sunday Mass was celebrated in the hall of the secondary school opposite.  The present site was purchased in 1996 and the church was opened in 1998.  Originally part of Maberlreign parish, Marlborough became a parish in its own right and was handed over to the diocese 2013.
 
Twenty-five parishes. Jesuits were responsible for opening at least fourteen of these, and are still to be found in five, namely Braeside, Dzivarasekwa, Mbare (2) and Mount Pleasant.
 
All part of the process of fulfilling the mission entrusted to us by Propaganda Fide, “to propagate the Catholic Faith in the regions of Southern Africa” (Decree of 2 July 1879).
 
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