This is Fr John Milcz a Redemptorist of the London Province who is of Polish decent. He worked at St Gerards Church in Harare from 1975 to 1980. He recollects that the parish priest at that time was the late Fr Hughes. Fr Milcz who will be turning 90 in August this year says that during his time there were very few houses around St Gerard’s church. He misses St Gerards and sends his greetings.
In his own words, ‘I found the people very friendly. I was happy in Zimbabwe. Please, greet everybody for me.’
Fr Andrew (Andy) Burns was born on the 13th of August 1937 in Middlesbrough. He had his first vows on the 16th of October 1965 and was ordained to priesthood in 1971. He was assigned to Africa in 1971. His first encounter with Zimbabwe was in January 1974 when he was posted as the assistant parish priest of the late Fr Jack Dempsey at St Gerard’s Parish in Borrowdale, Harare. They worked with another Redemptorist, Fr Oliver Conroy, who lived at the Adoration Convent along Borrowdale road (The convent, which was sold away, is on the first road to the right after Ridgway North Road, along Borrowdale road heading towards Domboshava). Fr Burns worked in Zimbabwe until March 1975. His ministry involed the challenging task of visiting government secondary schools and teaching catechesis of the rite of entry. He remembers the parents of Fr Stephen Buckland (Jesuit) who lived in the parish. Fr Burns also learnt Shona at the Ranchouse. Occassionaly he would go to Tafara to assist Fr George Webster when the latter was away. Mass in Tafara was still being said in a disused stable as the Church hand’t been built. Around 1975, Fr Conroy was given responsibility over the few novices that were at St Gerard’s house. Fr Burns does not recall their names.
While in Zimbabwe, Fr Burns had the opportunity to meet and interact with the legendary John Bradburne. He remembers going to Mtemwa, climbing over the mountain, and ‘skin dipping with the saint’ in a pool of water located over the mountain. He also recalls visiting Bradburne at his rondavel and being beset by a swam of bees. As Fr burns got worried, John simply said, ‘Don’t worry we are their hosts, they will respect our hospitality.’ John, Fr Burns says, had a little tin of water and bees would come to quench their thirst before they flew off. John also had a place nicknamed the holy of holies in his rondavel were he kept his bible.
Fr Burns went off to South Africa in 1975 and his place was taken over by Fathers Wilfred Hughes and John Milcz. In the 1980s there were few students enrolled by the Redemptorists. These included Charles Mandiveni and Peter. They went to the minor serminary in Chimanimani and later joined the noviciate in South Africa. All left the congregation.
In 1987, Fr Burns would become the Vice-Provincial of the South African – Zimbabwe Vice Province a role which enabled him to frequent Zimbabwe for meetings and consultations. In one of his visits for a crucial meeting of Redemptorists working in Africa, he met few young man interested in joining the Redemptorists. He vaguely remembers that they included Joel, William, Benjamin. Together with these youngman, they painted the showers in the main house in preperation for the influx of visitors. At that time, the compound consisted of the mainhouse, the retreat house, rondavels and the old chapel.
Fr Andy’s experience in Zimbabwe was a mixture of sadnesss and joy. In the 1970s it was not easy to work as a white missionary in Zimbabwe. The war of independence had began. White kids in the Borrowdale area were being called to go and fight the war. Several parishioners were sympathetic with the Ian Smith regime and hostile to the church’s anti-segregation stance. These people were particularly angry with bishop Lamornt whom they accused of siding with the terrorists. In spite of all these hardships, the overall experience was of warmth and welcome.
Fr Kevin Callaghan was born on the 24th of July 1933 in a place called Nelson, Lancashire. He had his first profession on the 5th of August 1952 and was ordained on the 6th of July in 1958. He was posted to Zimbabwe in September 1991 and worked there until 1996. During his stay in Zimbabwe he witnessed numerous growth and development both at St Alphonsus House and in the Parishes of Tafara and Mabvuku where he worked. At Alphonsus House this included the erection of a durawall, the building of a new thatched chapel and other buildings as well as the extensions on some houses. The old chapel at Alphonsus House has since been turned into a classron and the room attached to it is a storeroom. In the parishes a new large and beautiful church was built in Mabvuku while the Church in Tafara was extended. In Mabvuku the old chapel is now partly a classroom and partly a multipurpose hall. It has also been refurbished and extended.
Fr Callaghan has other interesting memories. He recalls sending brother Benjamin Posvo away for coming a week earlier than expected. Br Posvo went on to become the Vicar of the Redemptorist Region of Zimbabwe!! He says the few students who were admited seemed to live a tough life in a little house called Bethany ( seen to the right of the compound as one enters through the main entrance). He remembers two big black Lambradors dogs called Fonsi and Laso ( named after the then Superior General). They were lovely giant dogs but useless as guard dogs.
There was a European student in the community called John Foley. John came to complete his studies in Zimbwe soon after his first profession in England. He was finally professed in Zimbabwe and returned to the United Kingdom where he was ordained as a priest in March 1991.
Fr Callaghan loved and kept birds at the compound. He and the late Sr Richard Gavaza, LCBL also maintained a little vergitable garden. He has lots of memories about Sr Richard whom he describes as a prayerful woman and a saint. Sr Richard lived in Chichester convent where Redemptorists used to supply masses.
Fr Callaghan, as other priests who worked in Tafara and Mabvuku, misses the lovely people of those places – the big crowds at Sunday masses, the singing and the active life of both adult and youth guilds.
In his own words, ‘I love Zimbabwe. I enjoyed every minute of it. I didn’t want to leave but my superiors wanted me to take up a new post as Rector of our community in Clapham, London. I was saddened to leave. Please greet everyone for me. I know that Mr Bauti the catechist at Mabvuku died and I am sorry. Special greetings to Mrs Chakanyuka, a lovely person.’
Fr Barry O’Toole was born on the 18th of November in 1936 in Leeds. He took his first vows on the 6th of November 1958 together with Fr Milcz. His ordination to priesthood was on the 9th of January 1966. When he came to Zimbabwe he worked in the parishes of Tafara and Mabvuku saying masses and visiting the sick. He assisted Fr Ronald McAinsh to look after the students as well. Other ministries included offering retreats to nuns and giving missions.
He has the following kind words for us: ‘I got a great welcome and I found the people supper. We where only two whitemen in the neighvourhood that we served and naturally one would assume that there would be problems because of difference. However, far from being despised, we were loved dearly.’
Fr Martin Gay was born in 1953 in a small town called Bishop Stortford which is 29 miles from London. Redemptorists used to have a community in that town but it was handed over to the diocese. Fr Martin Gay took his first vows on the 15th of August 1974 at St Mary’s Monastery in Kinnoull, Scotland and was ordained as a Redemptorist priest on the 7th of July 1979. His first assignment to Africa was in 1980 when he was posted to Pretoria in South Africa.
In Zimbabwe, Fr Martin Gay was sent in 1980 and worked there up to 1982. He lived at St Alphonsus House in Tafara assisting Fr George Webster together with the late Fr Alistair McKay and Fr Terence (Terry) Nugent. While in Tafara he learned the Shona language under the tutorship of the famous Desmond Dale. The parish of Borrowdale was under the care of Fr Chris Jones at that time. Across the road, at Silveria House, there were two Jesuit priests, namely, John Dove and David Harold Barry. Some of the students who were being formed by Fr Terry Neugent included Peter Nyahalik and Ignatius Nyamupokoto.
During Fr Martin Gay’s time the rondavels were in existence. Bethany was the catechist’s house and the main house was much smaller than it is today. What is now being used as a classroom was the chapel and the current retreat house was Fr George Webster’s kitchen. The compound was not yet fenced. In fact it was open fields. The new Church in Mabvuku was not there and the New church in Tafara had just been completed.
Fr Martin enjoyed his brief appointment to Zimbabwe and summarises it as follows: ‘It was an exciting time because it was the end of the war and the year of independence. There were parties all over the place.’
Please meet (Dr) Fr Brian Dolan a doctoral graduate of the Alphonsian Academy in Rome. He was born in Scotland in 1949. He joined the noviciate in the London province in 1967 and went on to be ordained to priesthood in 1973. In 1983, he was appointed to the then Vice- Province of South Africa – Zimbabwe where he served for over 30 years. As part of the programme for the Conference of Africa and Madagascar (COREAM), he moved to assist with the education and formation of Redemptorist students at St Alphonsus House in Tafara, Harare. He is also a key part of the academic staff at Holy Trinity College. In addition, he assists in pastoral work in the parishes of Tafara, Mabvuku and Borrowdale. He says, ‘I am enjoying my work in Zimbabwe.’
Fr Peter Morris was born on the 15th of June in 1984 in Aberdeen. He took his first vows on the 6th of August in 2011 then received his sacrament of holy orders on the 26th of October 2015. He lived in Zimbabwe between 2013 and 2014 as part of his pastoral experience. During his spell in Zimbabwe he lived with other students at St Alphonsus House in Tafara. In the parish he did some work with the youth. His encounter with these youth from a different culture and a different background presented its challenges and lessons.
Fr Peter Morris also gave school retreats to various school children including those of St Dominics in Chishawasha, Dominican Convent in Harare and St Johns Emerald Hill. On several occasions he gave spiritual conferences to Redemptorist students and assisted some with their college assignments. In the house, he enjoyed working with Fr Gideon Sidinga in the kitchen. One of their tasks was to go to Mbare township to purchase vergitables. Mbare is a crowded township notorious for nagging vendors and pilfering thieves.
Fr Morris was very much involved in other forms of pastoral work. He preached in a mission and descries that experience as wonderful becuase of the experience ge got. He learnt the Zimbabwean approach to missions which is word centred in contrast to the United Kingdom approach which is focused on para-liturgies. It was a powerful approach in its own unique way. On fewer occasions he visited and preached at St Gerard’s parish in Borrowdale. A memorable incident is when he was seen by the crowns at St Gerards on St Gerard’s feast day and they yelled ‘St Gerard’ as they thought he resembled the saint.
Fr Morris found it very interesting to live in a community of young confreres. One of his enduring moments is the overwhelming experience of mass and liturgies. He says sunday mass in parishes would have hairs at the back of his neck standing on end.
Fr Morris has the following words to say, ‘The period in Zimbabwe was one of the best years in my life. I keep saying I would go tomorrow when asked. However, I also wonder whether I am needed more in the United Kingdom given the shortage of young priests in this country.’
Fr George Bernard Webster was born in a place called Clapton Park in north east London on the 26th of January 1934. He was five years old when the Second World War occurred and their home was destroyed by German bombing. So he was evacuated with his mother and sister to different parts of England. His father was posted to Burma and was a member of the 14th army fighting the Japanese. Soon after the war in 1945, Fr Webster went to a London grammar school (comprehensive School) called Upton House and achieved university entrance at the age of 16.
He had a distant family in Italy on his mother’s side. So as a teenager he stayed in Italy for about one year. He came back to England at the age of 19 and found a job with the Italian shipping company called Llyod Trestino. He enjoyed working in the City of London but felt no attraction to become successful. It was then he had the first feeling for a religious vocation and he visited different religious orders such as the Jesuits, the Franciscans and the Passionists. However