Without FrancisWendelin Pfanner (1825-1909) there would be no Mariannhill Mission Society. If this "Adventurer Monk" or this "Drummer for God," as he was called, had never existed, the German- speaking world of the printed word, at least, would be much poorer. For 13 years he was a parish priest, first in his home province of Vorariberg, western Austria, and then in what is now Croatia. Then he became a Trappist in the monastery of Mariawald in the Eifel of western Germany because he wanted to prepare for death. Ironically, this silent monk turned out to be a real genius of public relations.
The once sickly pastor and convent chaplain soon became a press magnate like few in modern history.
The strict monastery diet in Mariawald did him good. He soon got better and was not thinking any longer of death. Already in 1869, after only a few years in religious life, he founded a Trappist monastery in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which at that time was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
Ten years later at the bidding of a South African bishop, he volunteered to start another monastery on the Cape of Good Hope. This happened three years later when he laid the cornerstone for the Monastery of Mariannhill near Durban, Kwa Zulu-Natal, which has since become a mission center known far beyond South Africa. In 1885 it was raised to an abbey. Neither of these two monasteries could have been built without Father pfanner's conscious and skillful use of the printing press to further these projects right from their beginnings.
In Mariastern, his monastery near Banja Luka, Bosnia, he already used the press to win friends. His "Letters from the Vrbas Valley" were reprinted in many newspapers. Some of the letters even found their way into German and Austrian school readers. Then came pamphlets from his hand, with such catchy titles as, "Are You a Chimney Sweep?" or "Something for Unbelievers." By the time his SouthAfrican project got underway, he, the self-made man, was already an accomplished publisher.
Among the 30 monks who accompanied him to South Africa in 1880, there was also a layman, a printer. Father Pfanner also brought along his own manual printing press. He understood the importance of modern media. During the first year after their arrival in Africa, the first issue of his Flying Leaves appeared to report on the progress of the new venture. When Mariannhill was founded at Christmas 1882, the fourth issue was ready to go to press under the date of Dec. 27, 1882.
The magazine continued under the title Flying Leaves from Mariannhill. Later its title was changed to Forget-Me-Not. It still exists in the German-speaking world as Missionsmagazin Mariannhill. Soon other publications followed. A short historical survey of the mission publications of Mariannhill in southern Africa will show us how much Father Pfanner and his immediate successors were committed to remaining in the forefront of printed publications and how they set out on new ventures to improve their position. In 1888 two experiments with Zulu newspapers were made: Izwi laBantu (The People's Voice), and Ingelosi yeNkosi (The Angel of the Lord). Unfortunately both experiments soon failed, but the monks were not discouraged. In 1902 another attempt was made with Umhlobo wesi-minya (Friend of Truth). This attempt also failed. In 1910 they finally succeeded in starting a newspaper that lasted. It was called Izindaba zaBantu (Bantu Affairs). At first it came out twice a month, but by 1932 it was already coming weekly. Mariannhill was the owner and publisher. The paper had two editions, one in Zulu and the other in Sesutho. When the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.L) in Roma, Lesotho, started their own newspaper, Mariannhill continued publishing only the Zulu edition of the paper. To make sure it would not be thought of as connected with the Communist party in southern Africa, they decided to change the name of the newspaper to UmAfrika (The African), the name it still has in this 21st-century. Mariannhill also published The Natal Record, an English-language news magazine for five years from 1885 to 1890 that had to be discontinued because of lack of subscribers. From 1901 to 1904 Pastor Bonus, a magazine for missionary pastoral matters, was published four times a year. Not content with all these diverse publications, Abbot Pfanner even considered building his own paper mill on the property of the Mariannhill mission center. Nothing came of it, but the idea lingered for a long time and shows once more how grandly the once silent monks of Mariannhill thought.
Still more popular than any of the foregoing publications was, and is, the Mariannhill Mission Calendar, a kind of almanac begun by Prior Pfanner in 1889. Its popularity is due to its larger circulation and uninterrupted appearance since 1889. In the beginning it too was printed in Mariannhill's own print shop in South Africa. Later when it became impractical to print and mail the calendar from there, ways were found to have it printed and mailed in Germany. To this day the mission calendar remains one of the mostĚ popular publications of the Mariannhill Missionaries in Germany and Austria. For years now both publications, the mission magazine and the calendar, have been printed by our congregation's own modem printing press in Reimlingen, Germany, near Augsburg. The spirit of Abbot Francis Pfanner still lives among the members of the religious congregations he started - Mariannhill Missionaries and the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood. Wherever these missionaries work, whether it is in Europe, North America, Africa or the South Seas, they always take seriously the apostolate of the press. They publish newspapers, calendars (almanacs), magazines and internal bulletins in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Austria, Spain, and Switzerland, as well as in South Africa and Papua New Guinea. By the way, until some decades ago our Leaves magazine had a companion publication called Apostle. For many years the Apostle also had a Polish edition for the benefit of the Polish immigrants to the U.S.
We Mariannhill Missionaries are very grateful to all our friends and benefactors, for without their generous help we could not have supported in the past the many projects of our missionaries in the Third World. Besides that, our Leaves magazine has not only been a means of contact between our missionaries and the home Church, but it has also inspired us individually to commit ourselves to the service of the whole Church. We are happiest when the magazine, like Abbot Francis, inspires even young people to dedicate themselves to evangelization. By means of his original publications and public relations work, he won some four hundred men for his monastery and about the same number of women for the sister congregation he founded. This is more than anyone else has done in the Church since the days of St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the Middle Ages. Abbot Francis Pfanner's motto was: "If no one will go, I will." His second motto was: "We are part of the Kingdom of God, and it has no boundaries."
[Fr. Adalbert Balling, C.M.M., was the editor of our MMM mission magazine in Germany for many years and is the author of the book Abbot Francis Planner: A Missionary Who Made History and other books.]
Fr. Adalbert Balling, C.M.M.