The story of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill began in France, in 1879. The Trappist Abbots and Priors from all over the world had assembled for their general chapter. Among them was Prior Francis Pfanner, founder of the Monastery of Mariastern in Bosnia, present day Yugoslavia. His priory was scheduled to be elevated to an abbey. With that he almost certainly would have become its first abbot, for in ten years he had guided it from its beginning to a thriving community of nearly 80 monks and that in a land with an unfriendly Mohammedan government.
Then something unexpected happened. A bishop from South Africa, Richards by name, came to the chapter. He asked for Trappists to come to the Cape Province. All of the Abbots remained silent after he had made his proposal.
They were not missionaries. How could he expect them, who were used to a settled life, to begin in an entirely new land so far away and so undeveloped? Perhaps he should forget the whole thing...suddenly Prior Francis stood up to reply, "If no one will take the job, I will!"
Arrangements made with the bishop, he quickly returned to Mariastern to ask for volunteers and settle affairs there. Soon Francis and 31 companions from Mariastern were on their way to Africa by boat.
Their attempt to live on the land which the bishop gave them failed after two years through lack of water and harshness of climate. They abandoned the Cape Province to buy a farm near Durban in the Province of Natal. On December 26, 1882, the oxcarts carrying their supplies bogged down in a valley on their new farm. Fr.Francis decided on the spot that "Here we will build our monastery," which he named Mariannhill in honor of Mary and her mother St. Ann.
The new foundation grew rapidly. Within several years it had mission stations all over the Province of Natal and as far away as Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe) and Tanganyika.
In 1885 Francis was elected its first Abbot, but trouble was brewing. Mission life did not harmonize well with the Trappist Rule.
Although Abbot Francis loved his order and tried to keep the Rule, he had to give dispensations and make some exceptions. He was deposed as Abbot. Others took over, but could not solve the difficulty either.
Toward the end of his life he realized that the Trappist way of life was not suited for missionaries, but he never saw the day when his foundation separated from the Trappist Order. He died May 24, 1909. The decree from Rome, dated February 2, 1909, which separated the monastery from the Trappists and made it an independent community, arrived shortly after his death.
From that monastery the Congregation of the Mariannhill Missionaries has grown. It is still engaged predominantly in mission work.
Its mission is presently in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, Botswana, Europe and North America, and Columbia. Home bases are in North America, Africa and Europe.
For more historical information see: Catholic Encyclopedia/Mariannhill