At the invitation of Archbishop Wilfred Napier, O.F.M., and following the prayers of the Augustinian Sisters at Botha's Hill, the Order of Saint Augustine established a mission in the Republic of South Africa within the Diocese of Durban.
During a liturgy on 21st May, at which Archbishop Napier presided, the Augustinians formally established the new mission.
It was dedicated to the protection of Saint Rita of Cascia, the Augustinian nun known as "the maker of peace" and "the saint of the impossible."
The formal establishment of the mission in South Africa is significant because it marks the first time in history that a male Augustinian community has been formed in that country.
The mission is in the Diocese of Durban, which has 163,000 Catholics but too few priests to minister to them all.
The initial Augustinians at the new mission were Edward Hattrick, O.S.A. of the Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova eastern USA), John Bresnan, O.S.A. of the Province of Ireland, and Aidan Power, O.S.A. of the Province of England and Scotland.
Ed Hattrick reported: "Presently, the friars are helping provide Mass and leadership to local parishes and mission centres.
"We are also providing spiritual direction and retreats to religious, as well as lay men and women.
"Our hope is that more friars will join the community and that the seed will be sown for native vocations to the Order," he Hattrick added.
On hand for the opening celebrations were the Augustinian provincial superiors of the three provinces sponsoring the mission: Villanova (United States of America), Ireland and the Provnce of England and Scotland.
The Augustinian Sisters from Botha's Hill, Pomeroy and Mayville, as well as local lay men and women, also attended the ceremony.
By February 2003 the Augustinians had a parish assigned to them, and began serving there.
It is the Parish of Our Lady of Mercy, which is near the Augustinian house at Botha's Hill. The parish has a number of Zulu mission stations attached to it.
Al Ellis O.S.A. is the parish priest, and is assisted by Ed Hattrick O.S.A. and Benjamin Unabia O.S.A., who was ordained to the priesthood in the Philippines during August 2002. In 2008 Fr Al Ellis still serves there, Fr Ed Hattrick O.S.A. has died, and the Pastor is now Frank Doyle O.S.A.
Botha's Hill is thirty kilometres outside of Durban, and fifty kilometres from Pietermartizburg.
It is also close to the Valley of a Thousand Hills, which is one of the most scenic areas of KwaZulu-Natal (see photo above).
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For the special focus on Africa by the Order of Saint Augustine, click here.