Mariannhill in the USA
First monk in the USA
The experience at Dunbrody taught Abbott Francis Pfanner that to establish a monastery in South Africa he would have to rely on the material and financial support of overseas benefactors and that to increase his number of monks he would also have to recruit new members overseas. And so already on January 4, 1883, only nine days after the foundation of Mariannhill Monastery, he dispatched a monk to the United States to raise money and draw new members.
For three years this brother traveled about without a place here to call his home. For only a short while two others succeeded him, but when in 1899 another one arrived, it was the beginning of Mariannhill’s continuous presence in this country. Operating from a rented apartment in Detroit, Michigan, this brother traveled widely too, personally visiting Catholics in their homes, a technique of soliciting their prayers and alms in support of the African missions after the personal example of Abbot Pfanner traveling in Europe that became traditional with us here until well into the second half of this century. He also began to sell Americans our German and Polish mission magazines printed in Europe. The brothers who succeeded him continued this work.
When in 1920 Mariannhill severed its last monastic ties and began in earnest to assume the shape of a modern missionary institute, it expanded its American base. The first priest arrived the next year to join three brothers already here. They purchased their first residence (Detroit, Michigan) and immediately made plans to produce their own mission magazine. From its very beginning Mariannhill learned from Abbot Pfanner the advantage, even necessity, of the printed word to publicize its mission work and garner wide support of it. It also saw, when World War I interrupted the flow of magazines from Europe, the necessity to print its own American magazine. Mariannhill Missionary began in 1922 with four editions each a different language: English, German, Polish and French. Within two years the French and German editions were discontinued because of insufficient subscriptions. The magazine was renamed The Apostle after three years and gradually changed its viewpoint to that of a Catholic family periodical. The Polish edition ceased in 1968, and the English the following year. In 1938 Mariannhill began a second publication, Leaves magazine, a bi-monthly devotional periodical. Popular with many American Catholics from the start, today it counts almost 250,000 subscriptions.
In 1923 already, when it purchased a farm near Brighton, Michigan, Mariannhill entertained the hope of opening its own training center for Americans who wished to become members. Not until 1936, when the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S. Dakota, made it an attractive offer for starting a minor seminary there, was its hope realized. But before it could begin, Mariannhill assembled a teaching staff mostly of its own priests from Europe. The number of members here more than doubled in two years: from thirteen to thirty. They were enough to become in 1938 the American province. School began at St. Bernard Seminary in 1937. When the diocese sold the school building to the American government at the end of 1943, Mariannhill moved its staff and students to temporary quarters in Brighton. Six years later the seminary was in a new building in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. In 1943 Mariannhill also began its own instruction of its major seminaries in Brighton (St. Benedict Seminary), but twelve years later it ended this. In 1969 it also discontinued St. Bernard Seminary. The first American novice, a brother candidate, opened the novitiate in 1937; the first American-born priest was ordained in 1948.
American region today
The house in Dearborn Heights, first opened in 1934, includes the magazine and publicity office, the office of the vocation director, a formation center for future priests and brothers, and a youth retreat center.
The challenge today and tomorrow
Since 1899 and 1938, significant beginnings in our province, our ways of supporting Mariannhill’s overseas missions have in many ways changed, but basically our work is still the same: training new members and presenting them for service in mission lands, publicizing their work and supporting it with our prayers and alms. The needs of today call for new methods more so than ever before. Confident of God’s guidance, we adapt to the times so that we may be effective tools in His hand for extending His Church to the ends of the earth.