On Malawi Road, after the Luthembwe Bridge, near Chipata Town, Chief Mpezeni area, Eastern Province of Zambia.
By Jean-Luc Gouiller, M.Afr
The Lavigerie Formation Centre of the Missionaries of Africa is a “Pre-First Phase” for our candidates to missionary life. They are from our Sectors, namely Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia. The Formation Centre has a capacity of welcoming twenty aspirants. The first group came on 15th January 2016 and left it on 17th June 2016. A second group arrived on 12th October 2016 and will leave on 15th May 2017.
However the official opening of the Centre took place only on Friday 18th November 2016 when people around have become more familiar with us. That day was a real feast, gathering around us some Christians of Mchini Parish and Chipata in particular. The Right Reverend Bishop George Z. Lungu thought it meaningful that the celebration be also one of the ceremonies closing the year of Mercy. The celebration took place outside, a very well-animated liturgy by various groups, and choirs.
The morning was announced as to be sunny, and it was indeed, but an abundant rain (a blessing in this time of the year) came as we were finishing our celebration.
The Catholic Church has already taken deep roots in the Eastern Province of Zambia. Like many Catholics in Zambia, the Church in Chipata and in the neighbouring Malawi have celebrated the centenary of evangelisation already at the beginning of the 1990ies. Our Protestant Brothers are also many.
In 1937, Monsignor Ferdinand Martin was appointed to the newly founded “Apostolic Prefecture” of Fort Jameson (now Chipata). He came to settle on a farm on the side of the main road coming from Malawi, some ten kilometres before Fort Jameson. That place came to be known as “SANCTA MARIA MISSION”. The sandy road leading to it is still there, as it can be seen. Santa Maria became a very vibrant Parish.
After ten years, in 1947, Mgr. Martin left the place, but he left behind him a well-established Mission, with priests and probably brothers, catechists, and many “outstations” for Christians in various places. Moreover, at that time, the Prefecture already had several Zambian Priests.
Bishop Courtemanche was appointed to take the place of Mgr. Martin and moved to Fort-Jameson. Mgr. Courtemanche would remain in Fort Jameson until the appointment of the then Fr. M. Mazombwe in 1970 (ordained Bishop in February 1971) as Bishop of Fort Jameson. The Zambian Church was “coming of age”.
In 1965/66, Santa Maria was not central anymore for the many Catholics in Chief Mpezeni area, as well as other Chiefdoms. So another place was chosen as “Mission”: Msipazi. But because money was scarce at that time, it was decided that the bricks, and some other building material needed for the construction of Msipazi, would be taken from the existed buildings of Santa Maria. At the same time the bricks of Naviruli were transported to the other newly planned parish of Chadiza.
In 2013, came the decision to build the M.Afr “Lavigerie Formation House”. Chipata being indeed a real centre of the new Southern Africa Province, thoughts revived the souvenir of the old “Santa Maria”. What a dream!
And what a reality too! Indeed after some search for a place, we found it at some 1,500 metres from Santa Maria, going towards Chipata. Providence has indeed helped us to find what has become the “Lavigerie Formation Centre” … somehow a resurrection of Santa Maria! We are grateful to all who have helped us to reach our goal. Thanks be to God.
P.S.: Jean-Luc Gouiller arrived in Zambia in April 1966. One of the first places he visited, with Fr. Hannecart, is Santa Maria. He cannot forget it. It was the time of the demolition. Fr. Mazombwe was there as a teacher in the pre-seminary.