ABBOT FRANCIS PFANNER
Founder of the Mariannhill Monastery
Abbot Francis was born in the Austrian village of Langen, Vorarlberg, in 1825. At his baptism he was given the name Wendelin. After completing High School he studied philosophy and theology in Innsbruck, Brixen (now Bressanone, Italy) and Padua. On 28 July 1850 he was ordained priest in the Cathedral of Brixen. After working several years as a pastor in Haselstauden/Dornbirn he became chaplain to sisters in Agram, (now Zagreb) Croatia. During this time the desire to enter a contemplative monastery grew in him. In 1862 he made a pilgrimage to Rome and a year later to the Holy Land.
On 9 October 1863 he entered novitiate in the Trappist Monastery of Maria Wald in the Eifel (Germany) and was given the name Francis. He made his first profession on 24 November 1864.
During the year 1867 he joined the work of renovating the ruined church and monastery of Tre Fontane in Rome, which had been donated to the Trappists. Two years later he founded the monastery of Maria Stern in Banjaluka, Bosnia. In 1879 Fr. Francis, now aged 54 and Prior of the Monastery, attended the general chapter of the Trappists in Sept Fons, France. The Rt Rev. Bishop Ricards from South Africa visited the chapter and requested the Trappists to establish a monastery in southern Africa. Without hesitation Fr. Francis said: “If nobody goes, then I will go.” The general chapter approved his decision.
In 1880, together with 30 companions Fr. Francis reached Dunbrody in the Cape Colony. The area was very infertile and after two years they left Dunbrody. Fr. Francis bought a farm near the South African harbour of Durban. A day after Christmas in 1882 the travellers and their heavily loaded ox wagons got stuck in the mud of the place. Francis Pfanner exclaimed: “Unload! We stay here. Here we will build our Monastery.”
This was the foundation of the monastery of Mariannhill (Maria-Anna-Hill). Very soon the monastery began founding new mission stations. The monks built schools and churches and young African boys were trained in their work rooms. In 1885 Francis Pfanner founded the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood. On 27 December of the same year he became the first Abbot of the Monastery.
Not very long after this Abbot Francis experienced trouble with his superiors on account of his trying to combine the missionary activity and the strict Trappist rule, which was a very difficult thing to do. As a consequence of the conflict this created he was suspended on 13 October 1892 and resigned on 05 April of the following year. He moved to Lourdes mission station and from there he founded in 1894 Emaus mission, his place of seclusion and solitude. He remained loyal to his ideals. Until an advanced age he was filled with missionary zeal, wrote encouraging letters and mission reports and counselled all who were working for the spreading of the Good News.
This conflict became so acute under his successors that the Trappists saw the separation of its greatest abbey from the order as the only solution. Pope Pius X made the separation in February of 1909, shortly before its founder Abbot Francis died, 0n 24 May of the same year at the age of 84 years. Then Mariannhill developed step by step into a new missionary congregation, the Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill (CMM). It then branched out, erecting new places in Europe, America, Africa and Oceania.