The Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena of Oakford, Natal celebrated the 125th anniversary of the foundation of the Congregation with a Mass of thanksgiving in the chapel at Oakford near Verulam, KwaZulu Natal, on 30 March 2014. Three bishops, several priests, parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish, former students and teachers from the different Oakford schools, and many friends from various parts of the country joined the sisters in marking the exact date 125 years before when the first eight sisters had arrived at Oakford, and in giving thanks for the presence and fidelity of God over so many years.
Sr Paula-Mary van der Walt, Congregational Prioress, welcomed all present, outlining something of the faith journey undertaken by the pioneer sisters who had left what was known in Augsburg/Germany and in King Williamstown/Eastern Cape for a mission among people of a different culture at the invitation of Bishop Charles Jolivet of the Vicariate of Natal.
Oakford was the second mission established by Bishop Jolivet in the Vicariate. The first Oblate mission had been established at the Bluff in Durban among freed Zanzibari slaves, some of whom were subsequently settled at Oakford to form the nucleus of the new mission.
In less than a year a branch house of the King Williamstown Dominicans became a new diocesan Congregation. It was affiliated to the Dominican Order in 1915, and became a Congregation of pontifical right in 1926. The Congregation spread across four continents, with sisters engaged in education, health care, and various forms of social outreach to those on the margins of society. It experienced great growth from 1889 to the 1970s and there were many young sisters. Today there are few young sisters, and the Congregation has had to let go of houses and ministries.
In his homily Cardinal Napier reiterated the importance of looking back in thanksgiving and looking forward in faith, trusting in the plans of God. Bishop Barry Wood noted with appreciation his long association with Oakford, going back to his Young Christian Student days and remembering the beauty of Compline sung in the chapel when it was full of sisters.
The Oakford property no longer belongs to the Congregation. Part of I, including the cemetery, has been expropriated because of the proposed raising of the Hazelmere Dam wall. Provision has been made by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry to secure the stability of graves against possible future flooding, and a new monument constructed on higher ground, noting the names of all the deceased sisters of the Congregation.
Visit of the Dominican sisters of Oakford to the Dominican sisters of Montebello
As part of the celebration of the 125th anniversary since the foundation of Oakford in 1889, the Dominican Sisters of Oakford embarked on a pilgrimage at the end of March 2014 to some of the places associated with the history and expansion of the Congregation.
The third station of the pilgrimage was to Montebello in the Dalton area of KwaZulu Natal to visit the Dominican Sisters of Montebello, a diocesan- and a daughter- Congregation of Oakford. Dominican Sisters have lived at Montebello since 1904, with the formal establishment of the new Montebello Congregation taking place in 1938.
During a meaningful prayer service celebrating the Dominican heritage and charism, Sr Celestine Ndlovu (Montebello) gave a powerful reflection on Dominican values in South Africa today, challenging all present to hold fast to the four pillars of prayer, study, community life and preaching.
There has been collaboration between the two Congregations around the training of novices and in various Dominican projects. The visit opened new doors for collaboration around research into the shared history of the two Congregations.
The visit concluded with a visit to the cemetery, and a prayer for all deceased members of both Congregations.
(03 April 2014)