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75 years of Marist presence

25/03/2015: Zimbabwe

Over 5,000 people gathered at a remote prestigious boarding school in Zimbabwe to celebrate the arrival of Jesuits and Marists to the country a century ago.

President Robert Mugabe, who attended St Francis Xavier’s Kutama College himself aged 14, also took part at the event held on March 22.

He praised the Jesuits and Marists saying students there are “moulded into upright, principled and hardworking Zimbabweans,” according to online news agency NewsdzeZimbabwe.

The College is in a rural area in the district of Zvimba. The closest village is Chegutu, 120 km southwest of the capital city, Harare.

The all-boys school is part of Kutama Mission, a Catholic mission originally run by Jesuits but now run by the Marist Brothers.

Brother James Langlois, of the Kutama College, said “our results are among the best in the country while we have a reputation for good discipline.”

“I am hopeful for the future,” he added in an interview with the Marist’s General House in Rome. “I see our sector as a small remnant, but in it one finds unity, serious commitment and enthusiasm in the service of youth.”

The Society of Jesus celebrated 100 years alongside the 75th anniversary of the Marists in the College.

The Jesuits landed in Zimbabwe in 1914. But due to problems finding suitable lay staff for the school, the bishop of Harare eventually arranged for Marist Brothers to come help them some 15 years later.

“The celebration of the centenary and the 75th were scheduled to be held last year, but for a number of reasons, the festivities had to be postponed at least three times,” said Brother Mario Colussi, secretary of the Marist’s province of Southern Africa.

The full-day event began with 10am morning Mass on the sports field of the College under marquee-tents, celebrated by the Bishop of Chinhoyi, Bishop Dieter B. Scholz.class=imgshadow

Bishop Scholz, a Jesuit himself, then blessed a new building of classrooms and a new statue of St Marcellin Champagnat on the school grounds.

Both the former and the current school heads, Brothers Bernard Chirombe and Jacob Mutingwende, as well as the provincial superior, Joe Walton, addressed the participants. And after lunch, students of the College provided entertainment for the guests.

There are currently 11 Marist brothers in Zimbabwe in four communities. They help run three boarding schools in the rural villages of Dete, Kutama and Nyanga with 2,000 students in total.

The Jesuits were the first Catholic missionaries to arrive to Zimbabwe, formerly known as the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, in 1914. They established a number of institutions, including a training college for teachers.

“Since it was not functioning well in the late 1930’s, the Marist Brothers in Canada were invited to come and staff the school on very favourable terms,” said Br. Colussi in an interview on March 20.

“A group of Marist brothers studying in London who had been destined to work in Lesotho, were told to alter their final destination to Kutama,” he added.

They began teaching there in 1939 at the Jesuit’s St Francis Xavier teacher training institution, making them the first Marists to land in Zimbabwe.

“So, 2014 also marked 75 years of the Brothers’ presence in the country and this month’s gathering, therefore, is a double celebration,” stated Br. Colussi.

The Brothers undertook the building of the St Francis Xavier’s Kutama College, organising the very making of the bricks to be used.

Br. Colussi added that although the “collaboration has proved fruitful in many ways,” there are other major challenges like the drop-out of young brothers before making their final vows.

“Another critical issue is the lack of financial resources,” he added. “It is a continual battle to make ends meet in communities, and schools, and in the province as a whole.”

Click here to learn more about the arrival of the Marists in Zimbabwe.

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