ST. JOSEPH’s CATHOLIC CHURCH
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” [Matt 28:19]
“Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.” [Mk16:15]
It was in response to this messianic instruction from our Saviour that the missionaries of the Roman Catholic Church – Oblates of Mary Immaculate came to Benoni, South Africa. In 1910 they established their base at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, in central Benoni, from whence they spread their religious activities to the Black residential areas of Benoni Location, Boksburg, Germiston and other areas of the erstwhile East Rand. Wattville was established in 1941 and some of our Black parishioners from Benoni Location moved thereto and continued with their Catholicism.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF ST. JOSEPH’s PARISH
This our parish, started with very humble beginnings. Missionaries would visit the locals and as and when possible also celebrate Holy Mass with them[circa 1920’s]. This all occured in the residential areas of both Blacks and Coloureds[minority]. The converts also received the Sacrament of Baptism from priests, in their homes. Some of the neophytes worked very closely with the priests and amongst them the priest trained catechists. These catechists would help with the ongoing “Evangelization.”
Oral history informs us that the initial church structure was built with corrugated iron. With the help of the Dominican Sisters a Catholic Primary School was built and established in 1935. It is said that the school building also functioned as a church structure, it is therefore understood why we say St. Joseph’s was established in 1935. Remember building schools and providing education was an integral part of the missionaries’ vision. Religious studies was an essential part of the school syllabi. The school was religious in essence and not secular! Both the number of school pupils and the church congregation grew in leaps and bounds.
The church elders thus decided to build a dedicated church building, on this land that belonged to them by then. This brick and mortar structure was consecrated on the 12th of May in the year 1951, by His Grace Bishop Whelan. A beautiful, big statue of St. Joseph embracing the Child Jesus in his arms is mounted high above the main entrance of the church, almost at roof level – very conspicuously placed. This was a gift to the church by a prominent world boxing champion of that time, from Benoni;viz; Vicky Toweel[of Lebanese descent]. Some of his family members are still parishioners at St. Patrick’s and also come to our parish occassionally.
OBLATA MARIA IMMACULATA
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate[Religious Priests], were the face of the Catholic Church in Benoni and the surrounding Townships and/or Locations in the 1900’s. The names of OMI priests as per our records at St. Joseph’s, Actonville, are: Fr. Leo Muldoon, 1929 –1934, in 1935 – 1943 Fr. Clement Bouffard, OMI, was in charge at St. Joseph’s; in 1943-1948 Fr. J. D. Marco, OMI, was looking after the St. Joseph’s flock; Fr. George M. Clarke, OMI took over in 1948-1954; it was in 1954-1956 when St. Joseph’s was under the pastoral oversight of Fr. J. C. Hennessy,OMI; Fr. G. Paulsen, OMI, came to St. Joseph’s in 1956 he was priest in charge up to about 1966 with Fr. Joseph Leathem, OMI, assisting; Fr. Joseph Leathem, OMI, was at St. Joseph’s from 1961 to 1967; Fr. H. Kay came to assist Fr. Leathem 1962-1962; in 1967-1972 we had Fr. J. J.Boyce, OMI. The missionary priests of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate had a great impact on the St. Joseph congregation.
DIOCESAN PRIESTS AND COMBONI MISSIONARIES
In 1972-1982 we had our first diocesan priest; Fr. John S. Finlayson; 1982-1986 we had Fr. P.B. Doherty but he also intermmitently came to help at St. Joseph’s upto 1992; Fr. Letsie Moshoeshoe was at St. Joseph’s 1986-1990 assisted by Fr. V.J. Pienaar 1986-1987; Fr. Christopher Schoenenberger 1990-1998; in 1998-1999 Fr. Josef Konig[Comboni] and Fr. Piero Milan[Comboni] 1998-2000; Fr. Sergio Lorenzini was parish priest from 2000-2006; in 2006-2007, assisted by Fr. Taso;
Fr. Gerhard S. Hattingh was in charge 2006-2007; Fr. David Evans 2007-2008 jointly with Fr. Graham Rose[now Bishop G. Rose] 2007-2007.
From 2008 to date the parish is under the guidance of the Carmelite Priests. Fr. Joachim Rodrigues, OCD, was the pioneer from the Carmelites, i.e., 2008-2010; Fr. Peter Rebello,OCD, became parish priest in 2010-2012 and our current parish priest is Fr. Boniface D’Souza, OCD, since 2012.
PASTORAL LIFE AT ST. JOSEPH’s PARISH
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate were thus far the longest serving priests at St. Joseph’s. It would be remiss of us not to mention and acknowledge the impact and contribution of the Dominican Sisters, at this our parish, St. Joseph. Names that come to mind are: Sister Pius and sister Vincent. We also had Sister Martina from the Holy Rosary Religious Group. All these Religious Sisters helped to nurture the spiritual lives of the parishioners and school children. They taught catechism and also helped with the administrative work at the parish. The sisters also taught at the parish primary school. They also visited the indisposed of the parish.
St. Joseph’s parish was always attached to St. Patrick’s in Benoni. It was during the tenure of Fr. Christopher Schoenenberger that St. Joseph’s became an independent parish so technically Fr. Chris was the first ‘Parish Priest.” It was during Fr. Christopher Schoenenberger’s time that major renovations were made to the church building. Byzantine, stained glass windows were installed – with liturgical significance. The altar was also moved from a southerly position to a westerly position causing the closure of a door at that point[The Altar facing Eastwards]. A little extension was also effected to make the church a little bigger. A big baptismal font was also created next to the northerly main entrance. With all these changes and renovations the sitting arrangement changed to east facing west for the congregation. Fr. Chris also rescucitated the youth formation’s vibrant involement in church activities here at St. Joseph’s. He actually embraced the whole church community with servant leadership, love and respect.
The Carmelite Priests officially took charge of our parish in 2009. The first Carmelite priest here was Fr. Joachim Rodrigues, OCD. He arrived here in 2008 and was officially priest in charge 2009- 2010. It was during his time that more renovations were made to enhance the church building’s aesthetics as seen today – new flooring, new lighting system, new pews. The altar was moved back to its original position, i.e. at a southerly position facing to a northerly direction. More pews could thus be fitted in the renovated church. Of course all this was done with the help of donors – see the donor’s plaque fixed to the church building, next to the main entrance. Fr. Joachim’s leadership was paramount in this pastoral achievement. On 1st May 2010, feast of St. Joseph The Worker, Arch Bishop Buti Thlagale, OMI, consecrated the new Altar and the church building & the Tarbenacle, Baptismal Font, Confessional, Grotto and Garden of Remembrance Fr. Peter Rebello, OCD, became priest in charge 2010-2012. He introduced a Parishioner’s Directory – contact details of all parishioners, sodalities and all other formations of the parish – yes a communication database. Fr. Peter also introduced some identity card for his parishioners. Fr. Boniface D’Souza, OCD has been priest in charge since 2012 to date. The Carmelites seem to have a work ethic second to none because Fr. Boniface has compiled three books thus far as liturgical and catechetical christian tools. The first book is “Speak To The Lord,” this is a basic catechism and basic prayer book for catholics. The second book is; “Be Sealed,” this is a great book for all who are preparing to be confirmed. The third book; “A Walk To Calvary.” A catholic handbook for helping in the prayers and passion of Jesus upto and including His crucifixion. Fr. Boniface is currently working on a fourth book;viz; “Learning My Faith.” The title of the book says it all and there is also special reference made to the “Sacrament of The Holy Eucharist,” detailing the importance the Holy Eucharist in the life of a catholic christian This forthcoming book is at the printers at this very moment in time. All these books are for every christian’s well being[spiritual and otherwise]. These books are written in a style, that is, accessible to all and sundry. Fr. Boniface has also revived “Spiritual Activity” in its variety of forms[e.g. Contemplative Prayer] for the parishioners and the church at large. He revived and brought back meaningful catechism experience.
Today St. Joseph’s parish consists of a diverse, multicultural and multiracial congregation[Blacks, Indians, Coloureds, a few Whites, etc]. Initially, in the 1920’s upto and including the year1964 the parish had a great number of parishioners from the Black residents of Benoni Old Location and Wattville. A small number of Coloureds also attended. The 07h30 Mass was a regular celebration. Later a second Mass was duely introduced for the migrant workers from the mines – they were mostly from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Lesotho. Post 1964 we saw a great number of the Indian community, who were relocated to Actonville by the powers that be, joining the parish. We are definitely a “rainbow congregation” We are striving for nothing less than a big happy family and congregation, united in diversity . A Body of Christ that resonates with “Evangelization” and the ultimate “Salvation,” of all.
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” [Ephesians 4:1-6].
The Parish Priest[Fr. Boniface D’Souza, OCD] and all St. Joseph’s Parishioners will continue to strive for a Christ-like life style. God bless!
Compiled by; Theo Kgapola.