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Western Vicariate of the Cape of Good Hope
The Western vicariate and the Central prefecture, although different in name, are virtually one. From 1874 to 1882 the Central prefecture was under the charge of the Missionary Fathers of Lyons; on their withdrawal part of it was committed to the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, and became the Orange River prefecture; the rest was incorporated in the Western vicariate. This now has an area of 82,757 square miles. It is bounded on the north by the Olifants River, on the east by the Roggeveldt Mountains and the Gouritz River, on the south and west by the sea. The islands of St. Helena and Ascension are included in this vicariate. Bartolomeu Dias first planted the cross on South African soil at Croix Island, Algoa Bay, in 1486; and the Cape soon became a place of frequent call for Portuguese ships. From the well-known habits of this people we may conjecture that Mass was thenceforth celebrated frequently on these shores. The great missionary work of the Portuguese on the Zambesi did not extend to the Cape. The first Dutch governor, van Riebeek, arrived at the Cape in 1652; but under his regime and that of his successors, the public profession of the Catholic faith was forbidden. A new spirit animated the Dutch high commissioner, de Mist, who, in terms of the Treaty of Amiens, took possession of the Cape, after a brief British occupation. Under very slight restrictions he issued an edict of religious toleration.
The first English governor reversed these measures, and later Lord Charles Somerset showed bitter hostility to Catholics. But through the good offices of Bishop Poynter of the English Midland District, the government agreed to salary a Catholic pastor for the Cape. On New Year's Day, 1820, Bishop Slater, Vicar Apostolic of Mauritius (which vicariate included the Cape), installed Father Scully in Cape Town. For the next eighteen years the ecclesiastical history of the colony is one of pitiful squabbles between pastors and people, with a short truce in the time of a Dutch priest named Wagenaar. On 6 June, 1837, Gregory XVI formed the Cape of Good Hope into a vicariate separate from Mauritius. In August following, Patrick Raymond Griffith, O.P., was consecrated Bishop of Paleopolis, in the church of St. Andrew, Dublin; and on 20 April, 1838, he set foot in Cape Town with Fathers Burke and Corcoran. After his first visitation, which was made chiefly in the labouring ox-waggon, and extended as far as Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown, he estimated the Catholic population of the Country at 500. Worse than the paucity of numbers, were the lax morality and poor Catholic spirit of so many. A first painful duty of the bishop was to depose a body of churchwardens, who claimed to act as a board of directors of the vicariate. Some seceded, but this prompt action restored peace and Catholic order. In 1851 he completed the fine church which is still the cathedral of Cape Town. At his death in 1862 his flock was united and no longer ashamed of their faith, several schools and churches having been established throughout the vicariate.
Dr. Grimley was appointed coadjutor to the first vicar Apostolic in 1861, and succeeded him in 1862. He brought out the Dominican Sisters and Marist Brothers; and died in 1871, just after his return from the Vatican Council. The name which is connected with the greatest progress of the Western vicariate is that of the Right Rev. John Leonard, D.D., who was curate at Blanchardstown, Dublin, when appointed to succeed Dr. Grimley. Nearly all the works recorded in the next paragraph were accomplished during his episcopate of thirty-five years. He was succeeded in 1907, the year of his death, by the Right Rev. John Rooney, who had been his coadjutor for twenty-one years.
There are 33 priests in the Western vicariate, of whom three are regulars (Salesians). Out of 153 religious, 28 are Marist Brothers and Salesians; the rest are nuns - Dominicans, Sisters of Nazareth, and Sisters of the Holy Cross. There are 19 churches, 10 convents, an orphanage, an industrial school and 29 elementary schools. The only organ of Catholic opinion in South Africa is the Catholic Magazine for South Africa, founded in 1891 by Rev. Dr. Kolbe, now edited by the present writer. The Catholic population of the vicariate is over 8000 - mostly of European descent.
Sidney R. Welch.