Golden Jubilee – Holy Trinity 1938-1988

To celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Parish, an account of the parish for the years 1938-1988 has been prepared and is reproduced below:

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I am very happy to commend the account of the ninety years of development of Holy Trinity Parish, Braamfontein, which has been compiled for the 1988 celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the church. In view of its history, it seems very fitting that of the five priests whom we know to have been baptized in Holy Trinity Church, one is a Jesuit, Fr John Berrell SJ; one is a diocesan priest, Fr Andrew Borello; and three are Oblates, Fr Hugh Dalton OMI, Fr Gerard Coleman OMI and Fr Edward Risi OMI.

I ask the good Lord to reward those who have helped in any way to build up the parish of Holy Trinity, and to bless a~l those who are still devoting themselves to this task for the glory of God and the spread of his Kingdom. May Holy Trinity Church go from strength to strength in its next half-century and draw many to the love of God.

With my blessing to you all
+ Reginald J. Orsmond



In this age of the laity, our abbreviated account of the Parish of Braamfontein’s nine decades may seem to overstress the role of the clergy. This is in no way intended to detract from the huge contribution which the layfolk have made to the development of the parish but is, quite simply, dictated to us by the limitations of our records. Not the least of our sources, however, is Fr John Brady O.M.I., our evergreen historian. One advantage of our dividing the years between the various Orders and Congregations is that it imparts a distinct structure to our narrative.

Braamfontein Mission, as it was called until comparatively recently, seems to have come into being spontaneously or, better, providentially. Originally, it appears, a parish was planned for Booysens, but the Lord had other ideas. Fr de Lacy O.M.I. and Fr Hammer, from Kerk Street, looked after the flock in this part of the world, and the people went to Mass either at Kerk St or Fordsburg, until in 1897 it was seen that there were so many Catholic Poles and Hollanders working on the Railways at Braamfontein that some proper provision had to be made for them.

Accordingly, in 1897, two Trappist Fathers (originally from Mariannhill), Frs Hyacinth Salomon and Notker Vorspel, were invited to start a parish here and took on the pastoral care of the area. The first baptism to be recorded in the Parish Register was celebrated on Christmas Day, 1897. Then followed two years of development and growth – a choir was formed, mainly of Hollanders, and in fact during those years sermons were preached in Hollands and English on alternate Sundays.

In 1899 the first church and presbytery were built, but in that same year, on the outbreak of the Boer War, the Trappist Fathers had to leave. The name of Fr Hammer starts to appear in the Baptismal Register in December, 1899 – for the first time a baptism was recorded as taking place “in the Catholic Church, Braamfontein” Fr Hammer reappears in the Register in 1902, but from 1900 to 1903 the parish was served mainly by Oblate Fathers.


After Christmas, 1899, the names that occur in the ·Register are those of Oblates, chiefly Fr Dupays but including Fr de Lacy who, as Administrator of the Transvaal Vicariate, had officially opened the new church and presbytery. Other O.M.I. priests who make their appearance during these years are Fathers Serriere and Rousseau, so that there seems to have been quite a bit of coming and going.

Before we move on, let us try to visualise the environs of that first church in the early years – a steep and rough kopje where the Wits campus now extends to the north and north-west of Stiemens St, and where children roamed collecting ‘crystals’ according to Mrs Julia Richardson who is probably our oldest parishioner and is surely the one who has lived here longest. Westward, the veld stretched away to Auckland Park, and to the south were first dwellings and then the railway yards, while the bulk of the population lay to the east, with Stiemens St itself well populated.


This transitory period came to an end with the arrival, in 1903, of Fr John Stuart D.D., an energetic priest and a great organiser. The first choir had been disbanded and Fr Stuart filled the void by establishing a Male Voice Choir – not necessarily a chauvinistic choice if, as is likely, sopranos and contraltos were in short supply at that time. He also inaugurated the first St Vincent de Paul Society Conference in Johannesburg and, in the year of his arrival, held a Corpus Christi procession through Milner Park and Braamfontein.

Church and Convent 1905

Social life too was well organised, with regular functions held in the Parish Hall which had been built by the parish’s men working in their spare time. This is the only building of those days that still survives, on the site immediately west of the open space where Trinity House stood until it was demolished. The Hall was, in fact, used as the parish church while the present edifice was rising in 1937-1938.


Mention of Trinity House leads us to digress with the story of the Sisters of various Congregations who shared in those early pioneer labours. The Holy Family Sisters, first to open a hospital in Johannesburg, were also first on the scene at the very start of Braamfontein parish, opening a school at the corner of Station and Stiemens Streets with a small convent a few doors away. Parktown Convent was opened by the Holy Family Sisters in 1905 and the Ursulines came to Braamfontein for a couple of years.

Then, in 1907, a long-standing partnership began with the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy. Braamfontein was the place of residence not only for the Sisters teaching here, but also for those teaching at the school they opened in Fordsburg. The priest’s house had been loaned to the Ursuline Sisters, while the priest or priests found lodgings nearby. Now even this was inadequate and some of the Mercy Sisters had to sleep in the basement under the church – ‘the Catacombs’ as they cheerfully dubbed it.

To stay with the Sisters, though it means going ahead of the story of the parish, a proper Convent was built by the Mercy Sisters in 1912 and this was what became eventually the Catholic Students’ Chaplaincy with the proud title of Trinity House, after the Mercy Sisters had built, and moved to, McAuley House in 1965. The Convent High School, as one can still see writ large, is now occupied by the Wits Drama faculty and the Sisters are immortalised, more or less, by the name of the small theatre, The Nunnery.

In the illustration at the top of page 5, we have, from right to left, the Convent High School, the Parish Hall, the Convent, the old church (by then enlarged) and the original priest’s house.

Church and Convent 1928

THE OBLATE ERA 1905 – 1966

Fr G O’Callaghan, O.M.I.

Returning now to the highroad of our story, 1905 saw the departure of Fr Stuart and for nearly a year, until July 1906, Fr Jack O’Brien held the fort. So began sixty years of Oblate care for the faithful of Braamfontein. In the first ten years of the parish, they had had a bewildering succession of parish pastors. Now, for close on thirty years they were to be blessed with the fatherly care of one man, Fr Pat Ryan O.M.I. Born in 1878, he had come to South Africa in 1904, the year after his ordination to the priesthood, and from 1906 until he died in 1935 he gave himself to Braamfontein parish, combining the arduous duties of parish priest with those of chaplain to the General Hospital and of Prison Chaplain. He it was who realised, way back in 1917, that the old church was becoming inadequate for the growing parish (which by then included Melville, Parkview, Parktown and Rosebank), and who started a fund for the building of a new church. In 1927 he enlarged the old church by building on at the southern end so that the sanctuary could be moved back. Pedalling everywhere on his trusty bicycle, presiding at all the funerals, Father Pat was widely known and universally loved. But he was not to see the fulfilment of his dream of a great new church in Stiemens St.

Fr Pat Ryan, O.M.I.

For the last few months before he died in April, 1935, Fr Pat Ryan was assisted by Fr G. O’Callaghan O.M.I. who assumed Fr Pat’s mantle on his death and proceeded to reap where his predecessor had sown. At once he stepped up the collecting for the new church and started planning – to such good effect that in April, 1937, he was ready to have the old church pulled down. The parishioners insisted that a new presbytery should be built at the same time and, with an extra burst of fund-raising, this proved to be possible. The foundation stone of the new church was laid by Bishop O’Leary in July 1937 and the same prelate officially opened the church on 11 September, 1938.

The architect was Brendan Clinch who also designed the Rosebank and Yeoville churches, but a lot of Fr O’Callaghan went into Holy Trinity – not only his ideas but also the work of his hands such as the beautifully carved wooden doors to the confessionals at the north end of the church. The stained glass windows from Munich portray the theme of the Trinity, the Apostles and Mary, Queen of the Angels, with enduring splendour, but we hope there will be more about them elsewhere. As for the glories of the Romanesque style embellished with some Renaissance touches, the columns and superb ceiling, the warm colour and noble proportions of the exterior, remembering with gratitude those who conceived and built our church, we can echo the words of the Roman poet, “If you are looking for a monument, just look around you”.


We have little information about the effect of the 1939-1945 World War on the parish, though clearly a number of the people of the parish served on various fronts, since a fund was set up to erect a memorial for those who died, and after the end of the war this took the shape of new marble altar-rails and the marble flooring beside them.

Quite early in the war, one of our people, Colonel Ward-Clare of the South African Irish Brigade, grandfather of our present parishioner, Andrew Gallow, was killed on active service. Fr Patsy Nolan, his chaplain, standing at his side, was spared and flourishes still as chaplain to Parktown Convent.

While Fr O’Callaghan was occupied with the building of Holy Trinity, Fr Kevin Flood had been similarly engaged with the building of Rosebank’s Church of the Immaculate Conception – living at Braamfontein until his own Rosebank presbytery was completed. Each of them must have felt a glow of achievement when their respective churches were accomplished, but they were not to rest on their laurels for too long. In 1943 Bishop 01Leary gave new assignments to twenty three priests and Fr O’Callaghan found himself transferred to Rosebank, while Fr Flood made his way to Braamfontein where he was to remain until 1963.


It was during Fr Flood’s early years here, in the mid-forties, that Fr William Patrick Whelan, who at the time was Oblate Provincial and living at Braamfontein,made a start on the work of the University chaplaincy and developed this until, in 1948, he was appointed Coadjutor Bishop, succeeding Bishop 01Leary as Vicar Apostolic in 1950, and becoming the first Bishop of Johannesburg in the following year.

The main bulk of a parish priest’s labours are inevitably unheralded and unsung, and so it is not surprising that we can garner little information about the twenty years which Fr Kevin Flood gave to Braamfontein parish. The Baptismal Register yields an interesting statistic – between 3 October 1943 and 27 January 1963 fifteen hundred baptisms are recorded, for the most part “by me, Kevin J. Flood O.M.I.”. Then there was Micky, Fr Flood’s terrier, a faithful companion close beside him even in the sanctuary during services. And there were Sunday night social evenings, and the Wednesday evenings when “the girls” descended on the sacristy to sew buttons on cassocks and perform similar humble but necessary tasks with great good will for the glory of God.


In March, 1963, Fr Flood departed for Krugersdorp and the last of the Oblate pastors, Fr T. Kelly, took his place but stayed at Braamfontein only until April, 1966, when the Paulist Fathers came from Malvern so that one of their number could undertake the work of the university chaplaincy. The pastor was Fr Francis McGough C.S.P. and he was accompanied by Frs Donald Howard and John P. Donahue, with Fr L. da Silva C.S.P replacing Fr Howard as chaplain in the middle of 1967.

It was Fr McGough who had the church painted – grey, gold and white. This choice of colours would not have been surprising to his colleagues since it appears that wherever he had a church to administer, he had it painted grey, gold and white. Once the church was painted in the regulation colours, a Parish Council was formed. Perhaps it is an indication of the Paulist charism that in the Annual Statistics for June 1966, under the heading of Societies, Confraternities etc., new names appear alongside old friends like the C.W.L. and the St Vincent de Paul Society. In 1966 we find the Catholic Information Society and Catholic Inquiry Auxiliaries.


Early in 1969 the Paulist Fathers returned to their country of origin, the U.S.A., and for four years the parish was administered by the diocesan clergy in the shape of Fr (later Mgr) Plesters, with Fr Miller carrying on the work of the chaplaincy. At this time the Catholic population of the parish was given as a little over fifteen hundred, and the Societies and Confraternities etc. were listed as: Catholic Women’s League, Altar Society, St Vincent de Paul, Christian Doctrine Teachers, Altar Servers and Choir. The number of ‘Registered University Students’ is given as six hundred of whom a hundred and fifty belonged to the Catholic University Students Society.


So we come to the present phase, the ministry of the Jesuits. January, 1973, witnessed the handing over by Fr Plesters to Fr Cedric Myerscough S.J. with Fr Michael Austin S.J. as Chaplain to the University.· The Mercy Sisters had moved from Stiemens St to McAuley House in Parktown West in 1965. Soon after this Bishop Boyle purchased the convent from them and, in exchange for a R4 000 fund-raising venture undertaken by the parish, handed over the use of Trinity House, as the convent was now called, to the parish. The house was used as a nucleus for university students and offered cheap accommodation to needy students, functioning at the same time as chaplaincy. It endured in this capacity for nearly twenty years, at the end of which it was levelled to the ground, and that same ground still awaits a replacement while the ‘temporary’ chaplaincy inhabits the rooms which form the basement of the church and officially constitute the parish hall. The chaplains have been, after Fr Austin’s first spell, Fr John ‘Berrell (1978-81), Fr Austin again (1981-84), Fr Michael Lewis (1985-87) and Fr David Rowan who took over in the middle of 1987. Meanwhile the Sisters of Notre Dame had come to the parish (first to Forest Town) in 1975 and took up residence at Melville in 1979. One of these Sisters, Marie Andre, joined the chaplaincy ministry at the beginning of 1987.

Fr Myerscough was Pastor for eight years and was joined in September, 1979, by Fr Claudio Rossi. They formed the parish team until January, 1981. At the start of 1978 Fr Berrell took over the chaplaincy from Fr Austin, also until January, 1981. In all this time, while the work of the parish went on steadily, Fr Myerscough was quietly winning a reputation as a religious broadcaster – a side-line which led later to his being nominated for an award. More significantly, however, his confessional became one of the busiest in town.

The Catholic population of the parish had been about fifteen hundred throughout the 60’s and then, in the Annual Statistics for June, 1974, reckoned at until 1973, there is a sharp drop to just on a thousand. Either there was a great exodus – and considering the changing nature of Braamfontein from beinga residential area to one of office blocks, that is quite likely – or possibly a gradual decline ·was suddenly evident. Be that as it may, the number of parishioners has declined steadily and in 1983 was given as five hundred. In 1988 it is in the region of four hundred and fifty. Were it not for our worshippers, and contributors, from outside the boundaries of the parish, it is doubtful if we could make ends meet.

Nevertheless the life of the parish has not flagged, and with the support of those very welcome expatriots who look on Holy Trinity as their church, it continues to flourish and to develop in new ways.

At the beginning of 1981, Fr Austin returned to assume the awesome dual role of Pastor and University Chaplain – alone. A year later Fr James Fitzsimons was switched from retreat work to come to his assistance and was able to bring some relief, at least on the humdrum level. It was during the second term of Fr Austin that Trinity House bit the dust and the students went underground, where they still are, but in much improved circumstances.

It was ‘all change’ again in January, 1984, when Fr Mike Lewis, now the Superior of the South African Jesuits, who himself had been ordained priest in Holy Trinity Church by Archbishop Fitzgerald in 1978, was prevailed on to take on the University chaplaincy, and at the same time Fr Bill MacCurtain became Pastor of the parish. Fr Bill, fresh from parish work in Britain, introduced several initiatives into the life of the parish but his great work, which involved months of prereparatory meetings and planning, was to set up, in accordance with the new Canon Law, both a Finance Committee and a Parish Pastoral Council with a number of subsections (Hospitality etc.) for enabling the community to arrange its pastoral programme and to fulfilit effectively.

Father Fitz, who returned in mid-1986 and was appointed Pastor soon afterward, thus inherited a lively nucleus of active parishioners – the St Vincent de Paul Society had been revived, a Justice and Peace Group resurfaced full of purpose, and the Parish Pastoral Council, chaired into being by Peter Monahan, for long years a leading stalwart of the parish, and thenceforth skilfully handled by Peter Hunter and Chris Pfeffer, proceeded to meet regularly to monitor and stimulate the various activities of the parish.

At the beginning of 1987, the Finance Committee of the parish, and subsequently Bishop Orsmond, gave the go-ahead. for the renovation of the church, a work which was finally completed in November of that year, revealing the exterior of the church with its pristine ‘pink sandstone’ appearance, while the interior was lightened by judicious choice of new paint.

Meanwhile, what of Stiemens St? After years of negotiation, in March 1980, a letter arrived from the diocesan attorneys: “We have now been advised by the University that at long last the Administrator has approved of the donation by the City Council of the closed portions of Stiemens and Station Streets to the University on condition that those portions abutting on your property be consolidated with your three stands…”

This meant that the portion of Stiemens St from Bertha St to the end of the Trinity House site would become the property of the diocese once the three stands were consolidated. Finally, in April 1986, the consolidation of the three stands with the relevant part of Stiemens St was recorded by the Registrar of Deeds, and the way was open for the levelling of what had become the church courtyard. As we go to press, work is proceeding on the levelling and paving of the whole of the courtyard, and this too will have been completed when you read these words.


During the course of the nine decades of its existence, the Mission, or Parish, of Braamfontein has seen many changes, not only in appearance but also in function. Originally founded in the main for the railway workers, it passed into a residential parish with smaller houses in the vicinity of the church, medium sized to the west and larger properties to the north – a normal family-oriented parish. Then, with the proliferation of high office blocks, and the take-over of commerce, it became the Braamfontein we know now – nearby, students and a few flat-dwellers, with most of the family and single dwellings at some distance from the church; three or four homes for the aged, Kenridge Hospital, Milpark Hospital and the Chamber of Mines Cottesloe Hospital, plus two Convent High Schools, complete the picture.

At weekends the church caters for the people of the parish itself and for a considerable number of welcome ‘immigrants’, while during the week the midday Mass turns it into a city church serving workers in the office-blocks and shops around. The hospital apostolate is shared by eucharistic ministers, while our band of self-sacrificing catechists devote their energies to cultivating the faith of our youngsters in the halls beneath the church.

One other function must not be forgotten. During each weekday, from dawn to dusk, there is a constant stream of people, mostly young, many non-Catholic, who come to enjoy a few moments of quiet in an atmosphere that they recognise to be special to this church – welcoming, prayerful, steeped in peace, not only because it is a haven of tranquillity in the midst of the city’s hubbub, but because, the Lord is here. The great men who designed and constructed this church a half-century ago, and made it so full of symbolism and rich in scriptural imagery, have bequeathed to us a treasure for which we must be forever grateful, thanking the Lord for their prescience and genius.

Second Church Interior


We are truly privileged at Holy Trinity to have such superb works of beauty for our contemplation that are at the same time marvellous aids to our prayer. To read more about our Stained Glass Windows, please go to this page.