Abbot Francis Pfanner
Outline of Abbot Francis Pfanner’s Life and Work Enriched with Quotations from him
1825 Born a twin on 21 September in Langen-Hub, near Bregenz (Austria).
Parents: Francis Anton Pfanner and Anna Maria Fink.
1837 First Latin lesson from the pastor of the neighbouring village.
1838 Grammar (high) school in Feldkirch and humanistic studies in Innsbruck.
1845 Philosophy studies in Padua, Italy.
1846 Enters the diocesan major seminary in Brixen (Austria). 1848 Long illness (tuberculosis). His studies are interrupted.
1850 Ordination to the priesthood in Brixen on 27 July.
Appointed parish priest in Haselstauden, near Dornbirn. But his lungs still trouble him.
1859 Appointed Confessor to the Sisters of Mercy in Agram (Croatia). At the same time he exercises his ministry in the prison of Lepoglava.
► “Within his wonderful heart (Christ’s) there are remedies to heal all our weaknesses and ailments, just as in a pharmacy medicines, marvellous ointments and plasters are available.”
1862 Journey to Rome for the canonization of the Japanese martyrs.
1863 Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Egypt.
On 09 October he enters the Trappist Priory of Mariawald (Germany).
► “I am doing this after long and careful consideration; my thinking is completely rational…I do not seek to become rich, I do not want any high office. I do not want to become famous in this world. I would rather be poor and live totally unknown in a remote monastery somewhere, hopefully for the rest of my life, if they have need of me…”
1864 First vows a year later, on 21 November.
1867 Asked to leave Mariawald and set up a new Trappist monastery in Austria (Donaumonarchy).
Asked to renovate the monastery of Tre Fontane (near Rome) while waiting for the outcome of a canonical process against his Vicar General, which he wins. Then he is mandated by Propaganda Fide (Vatican) to found a new Trappist monastery in the East.
1869 Begins the establishment of Mariastern monastery, near Banjaluka (Bosnia – in the Osman empire).
1870 All novices leave, except three. He appeals for new vocations and donations.
► “Silence and effort were not sufficient to raise the obelisk. Water on the ropes was also needed. We alone, with all our efforts, cannot raise the stone, if the waters of divine grace do not moisten the dry soil, move and strengthen it. Therefore, once again: ‘Lont nit lug!’ (Don’t give up!) and ‘Aqua alle corde! (Water on the ropes!)’”
1871 Provisional monastery building and first church are completed.
1872 Solemn profession and appointment as titular Prior of Mariastern.
1879 At the General Chapter of Sept-Fons (France), Bishop Ricards of Grahamstown (South Africa), makes an appeal for a Trappist foundation in the area of the Sunday River.
Prior Francis Pfanner declares:
► “If no one will go, I will go.”
1880 Arrival of Prior Francis at Dunbrody (South Africa) with a team of about 30 monks from Mariastern.
Prior Francis resorts to a publicity leaflet already. But Dunbrody is a “failure.” It actually becomes a stepping-stone.
1882 On 27 December the Monastery of Mariannhill is founded, near Durban (in Natal).
Recruitment journey to Europe. Publicity leaflet is again made use of. This will be continued steadily from now onward.
1883 Returns from Europe with 34 recruits. Prior Francis relinquishes Mariastern.
1884 Opening of a school for boys. First solemn baptisms of four adults and eleven school boys.
1885 On Good Friday Mariannhill becomes an Abbey. The Sunday after Easter Prior Francis is elected Abbot of the monastery.
In September, arrival of the first five female mission helpers. This is the foundation of the new missionary congregation of the Sisters of the Precious Blood.
Opening of a school for girls.
► “Our mission field is part of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and it has no boundaries.”
1886 Building of Reichenau, the first of many outstations to come (Mariathal, Einsideln, Ötting, Lourdes, Kevalar, Centocow and so one).
In June, first temporal vows of the first new religious community of sisters.
1888 Blessing of the Red Sisters by Leo XIII and first Rule, written by Abbot Francis.
1889 Silver jubilee of profession of Abbot Francis.
► “If cats and dogs can live together, why not white and black children? We have tried it and it works.”
1890 Foundation of the Franciscan Familiars, dissolved soon after for lack of leadership.
Appointment as Vicar General of the Order for South Africa.
1891 Trip to attend the general chapter of the Order in Europe and mission appeals.
Upon request for a visitation in Mariannhill on account of tensions and hostility, Abbot Franciskus Strunk of Ölenberg (Alsace) is appointed Visitator.
1892 In January opening of this first visitation. Tensions and heated disagreements between Abbot Francis and the Visitator about the compatibility of the Order’s regulations and mission work.
Outcome: on 13 October Abbot Francis is suspended from office for one year. Appointment of Fr. Amandus Schöltzig as Administrator.
1893 Resignation of Abbot Francis on 05 April. It is accepted. Farewell speech by Pfanner to his community and his sisters.
► “Today is the feast of the ‘Finding of the Cross.’ I also have found a particle of the cross. I will embrace and kiss it and allow myself to be drawn up by it to the Father in heaven.”
1894 Foundation of Emaus, outstation of Lourdes Mission. Together with Bro. Xavier, Abbot Francis takes up residence at this mission, his place of seclusion and solitude.
► “Silence is conducive to turning inward…and more surely and easily teaches one to see into the inner-self and to raise one’s heart and mind to God.”
On 25 April, consecration of Amandus Schöltzig as second Abbot of Mariannhill.
1896 Opening of new missionary stations. First missionary attempts in Triashill (Rhodesia – Zimbabwe).
1897 Expansion of missionary work in the German East Africa.
1898 First Zulu priest returns home from his theological studies in Rome.
1900 Abbot Schöltzig dies of cancer in Pietermaritzburg.
In April second visitation by Abbot Strunk. How to reconcile the monastic way of life with mission work is again the question to be addressed.
On 2 October consecration of Abbot Gerard Wolpert as second successor of the founder of Mariannhill Monastery.
Pfanner also celebrates his golden priestly jubilee.
1902 Beginning of the Monte Casino Mission in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
► “God wills that a fire be enkindled here and everywhere. But numbers alone will not set it ablaze. Each one of us…must be a good torch or good fuel, so that the flame may soar and the fire may spread rapidly and forcefully.”
1903 Conference in Lourdes to finalize the new constitutions of the Red Sisters, elect a general government and proceed to the economic separation of the community from Mariannhill. Natalia Weindl is elected superior.
Abbot Francis protests against the non-canonical procedures of Strunk.
1904 Resignation of Abbot Wolpert. It is accepted by the Abbot General.
1905 Arrival of Edmund Obrecht, Abbot of Gethsemane (USA), duly appointed Administrator.
1906 Approval of the Constitutions of the Red Sisters, now called Missionary Sisters of the Precious Sisters (CPS) on 2 October. The Congregation is independent from the Mariannhill Trappists.
1907 Voluntary resignation of Abbot Obrecht.
Fr. Isembard Leyendecker becomes superior during the vacancy.
Election of Sister Paula as the first General Superior of the CPS.
1908 New beginnings of the Triashill Mission in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
► “It is a pity that I am no longer thirty years of age. If I were, I would go before you everywhere seeking new places and starting new mission stations.”
1909 On 2 February separation of the Mariannhill Monastery from the Order of the Trappist by Pius X. Its members now form a new and independent congregation, the Religious Missionaries of Mariannhill (RMM) with Gerard Wolpert as the superior to guide its development.
24 May: death of Abbot Francis at Emaus Mission.
Funeral and burial at Mariannhill. Later erection of a bronze statue on the grave.
► “The shout of joy: ‘Christ is risen!’ informs me and assures me that the promises of the eight Beatitudes will be fulfilled.
At that point in time Mariannhill counts forty-nine missions in South Africa. Twenty-seven of the twenty-nine stations in Natal are under Mariannhill.