The Mariannhillers,[2][3][4] also known as the Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill (Latin: Congregatio Missionariorum de Mariannhill, abbreviated as CMM),[5] are a religious institute of the Catholic Church founded by Dom Franz Pfanner. They were originally a monastery of Trappist monks founded in 1882 by Pfanner, but were later branched off as a separate congregation by decree of the Holy See. The name of the congregation comes from Mariannhill, a suburb near Pinetown in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, where the congregation originated.

Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill
Latin: Congregatio Missionariorum de Mariannhill
Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill logo.png
MottoOra et labora (Pray and work)
Formation1909; 112 years ago (1909)
FounderFranz Pfanner
Founded atMariannhill, South Africa
TypeReligious institute
337 (2017)[1]


In 1882, Pfanner, then prior of Mariastern Abbey, founded a Trappist monastery in Mariannhill at the invitation of Bishop Jolivet, OMI. It grew rapidly, and by 1885 it was raised to the status of an abbey, with Pfanner elected as its first abbot.[5] It engaged significantly in missionary work, establishing a number of mission stations where priests and brothers taught the native Zulu people to read and trained them in trades and skills such as farming.[6] The missionaries also emphasised learning Zulu and Xhosa, and even developed standard Zulu grammars.[3] In 1892, Pfanner retired, and was succeeded by two abbots: Dom Amandus Schoelzig who died in 1900; then Abbot Gerard Wolpert who died in 1904.[5]

In 1904, the abbot of Gethsemani Abbey, Edmond Obrecht, was appointed by the Holy See as administrator of Mariannhill. He studied the compatibility between monastic life and missionary work, submitting his report after three years of study.[5] Following his report, the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda directed Bishop William Miller, OMI, the vicar-apostolic of Transvaal, to facilitate the independence of the Mariannhill monks. A general chapter of Mariannhill monks in 1908 under Bishop Miller recommended that the monks be formed into a missionary society loosely-associated with the Trappists.[6] By 1 January 1910, nearly 20,000 persons, mostly adults, were baptized in the 55 churches and chapels scattered throughout the 26 missions and stations.[5]

However, in 1909, the Holy See decreed that the monks of Mariannhill would be completely separate from the Trappists.[5][7] Their new constitutions were approved by Pope Pius X in March 1914, however further development stalled due to the outbreak of World War I.[2] After the conclusion of the war, they held their first general chapter in 1920, when they named themselves the Religious Missionaries of Mariannhill, and elected Adalbero Fleischer as their first superior general. As their religious habit, they adopted a black cassock, paired with a red cincture for priests, black cincture for other clerics, and black belt for brothers.[2][6]

After separation, the Mariannhillers continued to work in South Africa, but also established presences in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the United States, England, Canada and Spain. Their generalate is based in Rome.[6]

During the Holocaust, Blessed Engelmar Unzeitig, a priest of the congregation, was arrested for preaching against the Third Reich and persecution of Jews. He later died on 2 March 1945 in the Dachau concentration camp, where he was known as the "Angel of Dachau". He was later declared venerable by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, recognised by Pope Francis as a martyr in January 2020, and beatified on 24 September 2016. His feast day is 2 March.[8]

On 10 March 2019, George Kageche Mukua, a priest of the congregation, died as one of the passengers on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.[9]


  1. ^ Annuario Pontificio. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Balling, Adalbert Ludwig (30 October 2015). The Apostle of South Africa. Engelsdorfer Verlag. p. 52. ISBN 9781481785488.
  3. ^ a b Egan, Anthony (26 September 2017). "Op-Ed: Church, colonialism and mission – two hundred years of Catholicism in South Africa". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 16 June 2020.
  4. ^ Garrett, John (1997). Where Nets Were Cast: Christianity in Oceania Since World War II. Suva: Institute of Pacific Studies. ISBN 9789820201217.
  5. ^ a b c d e f   Obrecht, Edmond (1913). "Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 2 June 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d "Mariannhill Missionaries, Congregation Of". New Catholic Encyclopedia. The Gale Group Inc. 2003. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  7. ^ Denny-Dimitriou, Julia (23 November 2010). "How one monk changed the South African landscape". OSV Newsweekly. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  8. ^ "This priest, martyred in a concentration camp, is now a blessed". Catholic News Agency. 26 September 2016. Retrieved 23 April 2020.
  9. ^ "Catholic missionaries, aid workers among victims of Ethiopian plane crash". Catholic News Agency. 11 March 2019. Retrieved 23 April 2020.

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