The charm of an old English settlement in South Africa

Bishop Adam Musialek at his desk in De Aar. He has been hosting Fr. Tom Cassidy during the former provincial superior's visit to the Diocese of De Aar.

Bishop Adam Musialek at his desk in De Aar. He has been hosting Fr. Tom Cassidy during the former provincial superior’s visit to the Diocese of De Aar.

As a part of his sabbatical Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, is visiting the countries for which he had responsibility when he was on General Council. For most of November the former US provincial superior will be in South Africa. 

During his travels Fr. Tom is keeping a journal. Periodically entries from it will be posted on the province blog. Today’s is written after a visit to Graaff-Reinet:

Our trip from De Aar to Graaff-Reinet offered some of the best for scenery in this part of South Africa. The road takes you through two mountain passes, one of about 5,000 feet and the other slightly less. The vistas are broad, and with few trees you can see for miles. We managed also to catch a glimpse of springboks and monkeys on the way and a large turtle crossing the road upon our return home today.

Graff-Reinet viewed from the black township.

Graff-Reinet viewed from the black township just outside of the center of town.

Graaff-Reinet is an old English settlement and still carries much of the charm of days long past. It is also larger (at least the town proper) than De Aar. The pastor at present is Fr. Kazimierz Gabriel, SCJ, who is originally from Poland. He has a green thumb and enjoys, among other things, to grow roses.

The purpose of our visit was a meeting of the parish council with the bishop. Bishop Adam and Fr. Gabriel thought it was a very profitable experience for all concerned.

After the meeting broke up the three of us went out to eat dinner. The place Fr. Gabriel chose was about a 10-minute walk from the rectory. It was a small restaurant with an interesting menu. I had the chance to order ostrich steak, but opted for Karoo Style Lamb Chops. Since Bishop Adam took the ostrich I had the chance to taste it. It really does have a flavor close to steaks — for once you didn’t hear: “Tastes just like chicken.”

This morning I had the chance to take a walk around town and capture a few pictures. Even though this was an English Settlement the biggest church in town belongs to the Dutch Reformed Church. Our own Catholic church pales in comparison. This being the first of the month another thing I noticed was the large number of people lined up at the banks and ATM machines — pay day!

After my walk the bishop and I had breakfast. At the table he told me the story of the recent storm that took off the roof of St. Teresa’s Church located in the “colored” section of town. One of the glaring leftovers of the apartheid era is the division of towns into three parts: white, colored and black. The lines have been blurred and you can find colored and blacks in the formally all white sections, but I think it would be hard pressed to find whites in the other two.

Fr. Angel took the two of us up to see St. Teresa’s; it is just about ready to reopen as a new roof has been put on and the painting inside is all but complete. By the time Bishop Adam returns at the end of November the outside will be painted and ready for the parish to celebrate a grand reopening.

Since tomorrow is All Souls Day we also took the opportunity to visit the grave of Fr. James Howley, SCJ, a member of the British-Irish Province who died suddenly of a heart attack in April of 1987. I never met him, but certainly knew his story and what good friends he was with Fr. Joe Nugent, another member of the British-Irish Province, who worked in South Africa for many years, and who I got to know well during my time on the General Council.

Then it was time for us to move on. Before getting back to De Aar for evening Mass, Bishop Adam wanted to show me Middleburg and visit Fr. Gabriel Jayaraj, one of two young Indian SCJs working in the De Aar Diocese. I met Fr. Gabriel two years ago when I was passing through South Africa on may way to the ordination of Archbishop Claudio Dalla Zuanna, SCJ, in Mozambique. I will get a chance to meet all the priests in the diocese on Monday when Bishop Adam holds a diocesan senate meeting.


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