ARRIVAL FROM FRANCE
The first six missionary sisters of the Holy Family left the Mother House in Bordeaux on 26 January 1864. They sailed from France on 17 February 1864 and entered the African Continent through Simon’s Bay on 8 May 1864. On 10 May 1864, they were driven to Cape Town where they stayed until 16 May 1864. Then they sailed further to Durban in Natal. From there they went to Pietermaritsburg on 2 June 1864 and stayed there for some months while preparing to go to Lesotho which was their final destination. Their long awaited day of departure for Lesotho was 18 February 1865 and they arrived in Roma, Ha ‘M’a-Jesu (the village of the Mother of Jesus) on 26 April 1865. The great Moshoeshoe I admired the little community of sisters from the first contact with them and he called them by the lovely name of Bo-‘mè (mothers). The sisters did merit this title of honour because of the important role which they played in the development of the nation.
The names of the pionier Holy Family Missionaries were Mother Maria Josefa Angot who was their Community leader, Sr St Paul Geny, Sr St Pierre Renaudot, Sr Marie de Jesus Vaillant, Sr Augustin Cachin and Sr Gonzaque Rabat. They opened the first Catholic School for girls in Lesotho in October, 1865. This school grew quickly and became what is known today as St Mary’s High School. The first Holy Family Novitiate started as early as 1871, for the formation of young girls who had heard the call to follow Christ in Religious Life. One of the First Basotho girls to enter this Novitiate was Sr M. Xavier ‘Nyane Makhaba, who was born in 1854 and died in 1943. She came from Korokoro. Over the years, more than 350 others became Holy Family sisters. Their simple and fruitful presence was felt throughout the country as they “went about doing good among the people.” after the example of Jesus of Nazareth. During the expansion period of the Holy Family Association in Lesotho more missionary sisters came from France, South Africa, Ireland, Holland, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Poland, England, Scotland and more foundations were made and services were diversified.
More communities of Holy Family sisters were founded in different places all over the country and ministries multiplied and intensified until there were four big schools and many small ones; dispensaries everywhere, bigger Health centres and a big hospital of Roma started by the sisters. Pastoral work started as simple visiting of homes and villages, teaching of catechism, accompaniment of women and children in Church Sodalities, fuller responsibility of parishes where there was scarcity of priests.
Today the Apostolic Religious of the Holy Family in Lesotho are found in 12 communities, mainly in the Archdiocese of Maseru. Their number is now reduced to 64 including two missionaries, one in Uganda and the other in South Africa. They are still involved in the ministries of teaching, nursing, pastoral work and the guidance of youth sodalities. The sisters run five high schools and two primary schools, seven health centres. Inspired by their preferential option for the poor and the call to be closer to the people, the sisters started Kananelo Centre for Children with hearing and speech impairment at St Cecilia, and Leshoboro Primary School at Maqhaka. Holy Family Training Centre for sewing and Holy Family Project to care for sick people infected with HIV.
ASSOCIATES OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF BORDEAUX IN LESOTHO
The Association of the Holy Family of Bordeaux was founded by Fr Pierre Bienvenu Noailles in 1819. He had conceived the idea of this foundation in 1818 while he was still a Seminarian at St Sulpice in Paris. He began by surrounding himself with a group of young people who came to receive religious instruction from him. Other parishioners also helped him in his ministry to the poor, the sick and the needy people of Bordeaux and its suburbs where he worked as a young priest and assistant of the parish priest of St Eulalie. From this group were born other branches or groups of the Association which grew and spread to all the continents of the world.
The diversity of the Holy Family Association allowed it to respond, as far as possible, to the pressing needs of the day by establishing a variety of relevant ministries for different places where people are found. The first community of the Holy Family Sisters in Bordeaux was an orphanage for girls. After this there followed other Ministries such as teaching, nursing and various forms of pastoral involvement with the poor and needy, including those who are materially rich but spiritually in need of help. The last group which was founded by Fr Pierre Bienvenu Noailles was that of the ‘Solitary Sisters’ who were devoted to a life of prayer and sacrifice to ask for God’s blessing to be showered upon the entire Association and to thank God for the extraordinary Eucharistic blessing received by our foundresses on 3rd February 1822. All the groups of the Association have the same Apostolic aim to spread and strengthen the faith among the people. They draw their strength from a common source of the Spirit of God, following the example of Jesus, Mary and Joseph who, “In their earthly life, loved, sought and desired nothing but God Alone.” The Holy Family Associates also draw their strength from the source of the Spirit that inspired zeal and detachment to the Apostles and the Christians of the early Church.
As the Holy Family Sisters arrived in Lesotho in 1865 at Roma, the village of the Mother of Jesus, they were immediately heading a house where they had to take care of children and vulnerable older people who were sick or needy. Once they had established relations of trust with the Basotho, people welcomed their faith values and parents confided them with the care of their children to be taught by them. The witness of their genuine love expressed through their good works stimulated the faith of the early Basotho believers, many of whom were attracted to follow their example as members of the Holy Family Association.
The Associates of the Holy Family were cherished by the Missionary community of the early Catholic Church of Lesotho as an effective means of Evangelization of the people by the people themselves. In those days Holy Family Associates were found in outstations where there were no resident priests or religious sisters and they effectively represented the Church in their villages. They were the prolonged arms of the missionaries. Their formation was one of the most important concerns of the sisters and the priests who organised annual retreats and formation sessions for them. Associates used to come for these events from places like St Michael, St Joseph, Massabielle, Nazareth and Bethany to Roma, Ha ‘M’a-Jesu (Village of the Mother of Jesus). Mother Marie Joseph Angot described their participation in the Holy Family Feast that was held in Roma on 8 January 1874 and says: “twenty Lay Associates of the Holy Family were there for Holy Mass, … At 11:00 the Holy Family Lay Associates assembled in the hall and Fr Deltour read their rules for them and gave them the usual short instruction on their duties. I distributed some beautiful crosses to them and the feast day was closed with the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament before they joyfully returned to their homes.” (Journal of Mother Marie Joseph Angot p. 67) Both Fr Deltour and Fr Porte preached a retreat for our associates. They spoke to them about the miraculous Benediction of our Lord Jesus and how lucky they were to belong to this Association of the Holy Family. (8 September 1884) p 143.
There were adult Lay Associates and Holy Family Youth among the members of the Family as early as 1844. The Journal of Mother Marie Joseph gives us evidence of this fact where she wrote: “On the Quasimodo Sunday on 12 April 1874 “Some of our old students as well as a good number of Catholics including Lay Associates of the Holy Family came to join us. … In the evening Fr Deltour received several children as aspirants to be Holy Family Children.” (page 72) The Lay Associates of the Holy Family in Lesotho were faithful to the common aim of the Association. In 1884 Mother Marie Joseph Angot wrote in her Journal and said: “Having established the Holy Family Association among the Christian models, Fr Deltour O.M.I. and Fr Monginoux O.M.I. proposed to them the aim of zeal for the conversion of pagans.” page 92 She also went on to say: “The Associates of the Holy Family appear to be zealous. They do a lot of good around them. Recently, one of them had an occasion to baptise a child who was in danger of death. … A sick protestant woman who had doubts about her faith also asked them to call a catholic priest for her to find out the truth for herself.” (p144).
Another group found in the Holy Family Association is that of the Priest Associates.
Today we do not deal with pagans because a very high percentage of our people have adopted Christian faith as their own; but we still have to pray and work with zeal for the conversion of our hearts so that the Kingdom of God may be established in our country. In our context of today the power of God’s Spirit might be revealed in the form of the desired outcome outlined by our King Letsie III in his powerful speech addressed to the 8th Parliament on ….:
As Holy Family we say:
“The spirit of God Alone is our energy and impetus for mission. God speaks to us through local and global realities; it is listening to this realities that inspires and energises us for mission.”
“Open to the newness that the world offers us, we recognise that our co-responsibility as members of the Holy Family requires us to make changes, …”
“Within this global world we encounter people who are obliged to be ‘on the move’ in inhuman conditions: migrants, refugees, marginalised, trafficked, deprived of their dignity, in search of meaning in their lives … This reality commits us, too, to live in a ‘state of exodus’, moving out of our comfort zones and feelings of powerlessness, to ‘be with’ offering our gift of communion.” (General Chapters 2014).
HOLY FAMILY WORKS IN LESOTHO
The Aim of the Holy Family Association is to promote the Mission entrusted to the Church by Christ. As Associates of the Holy Family we participate in this Mission by promoting the family aspect of the Church through the witness of our life together, and through the good works we do for the Glory of God. We are sent together as a “Family on Mission”, to spread the Good News of Our Lord who came on earth to gather humanity into one. As we struggle to create good relationships among ourselves we are carrying out the mission of our Lord. In his priestly prayer Jesus expressed this mission of communion as his deepest desire in John 17:21 “Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.” Our missionary aim is to spread and strengthen the faith in God as the Father of us all as one big Family of God. This is the aim that motivates us in all our missionary activities and in our personal and community lives. It is the reason underlying our works and our way of being and doing them. We believe in God – Communion who is in all our relationships!
The usual apostolic works that have been done by the Holy Family since the arrival in Lesotho in 1865 have been in the teaching, nursing, pastoral and social areas. These Apostolates have been effective means of putting us in contact with the people and helping us to create relationships with the people at different levels, needs and services. Through our daily activities we have been able to share values and convictions of our faith. “In all our activities our desire is to make Jesus Christ known and loved.” (Constitutions Article 119) This has been translated into action by our characteristic emphasis on prayer and the teaching or sharing of God’s Word in one way or another in our institutions. We are convinced that whenever humanity tries to construct its cities without giving a place of priority to God “in vain do the builders toil ”. (Ps 127:1) Christ, as message and living reality transmitted to the people is the binding source of energy to both the messangers and the receivers of the Good News proclaimed in communion with the Church, sent on mission. The members of the Holy Family Association aim at allowing themselves to be influenced by the compassion of Christ and to pay special attention to the needs of poor and under-privileged people encountered in their places of work. This is the legacy that has been left in our schools and in our health centres, even when the sisters are no more running the institutions. Our founder taught us to consider the goods of the Holy Family as the heritage of the poor”. The fate of the poor is one of the most important elements we need to consider even in the choice of our places of involvement. People might not understand why we may not opt for Private Schools or Health centres for rich people only. We are trying to follow the example of the compassion of Jesus who came to give life in abundance for the benefit of all, especially the poor.
Our newly discovered area that merits special attention is the place of the natural environment as part of the Family of God in our lives! We need to include our God-given Earth in our relationships by appreciating it, caring for it, communicating with it in order to love it better and know it better and learn from its wisdom …! Yes, we have a lot to learn from its principles of conservation, simplicity, beauty, harmony, interdependence, interconnectedness, and many others. We need to approach it with due respect, gratitude, sense of responsibility as care-takers and not owners. We need to learn to share the fruits of the earth justly to live in peace with each other, with God and the whole Creation! May God bless us with the gift of harmoneous co-existance with our cosmic family so that his kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen!