By Rev Fr. Petros Mwale dp
When the Shire Prefecture was erected in December 3, 1903, the Holy See entrusted South Nyasa to the Montfort Missionaries. Their jurisdiction covered the present day diocese of Blantyre, Chikwawa, Zomba including Ntcheu District. By 1904, there were twenty-four Catholic Missinaries in Nyasaland includind the four Daughters of Wisdom nuns at Nzama. Thirteen White Fathers worked in Likuni, Mua and Kachebere Missions, while Seven Montfortans were at Nzama and Nguludi – their administrative Centre. Except for the new mission stations, there were no new ecclesisastical divisions in the country until Second World War.
THE HISTORY OF MZUZU DIOCESE PROPER.
We cannot talk about the History of Mzuzu Diocese without meeting late Ignasio Henderson Chirwa who was born in 1909 at Pitara village in Chief Kaluluma’s area in Kasungu District. Soon after getting married he went to Zimbabwe, then Southern Rhodesia. In Zimbabwe he met Fr. Peter Hooey a catholic priest in Harare, then Salisbury, who converted him to Catholicism. After rigorous catechism classes he baptized him and gave him the name Ignasio, after St. Ignatius Loyola, the great Jesuit saint.
Fr. Peter Hooey had noticed in Ignasio the rare gift of a teacher and a leader. He thus told Mr. Ignasio that he would have loved if he became a priest. However after learning that Mr. Ignasio had a wife at home he asked him to go back to Malawi, then Nyasaland, to a new mission which had been set up at Kachebere in Mchinji. At Kachebere he met Fr. Oscar Julien WF, who in turn asked him to go to the newly established Chiphaso Mission east of Kasungu District.
During this time no Catholic mission had been established north of Dwangwa River, the boundary of the Tumbuka speaking people. Thus Fr. Zoetemelk (called Fr. Zutu by the local people) accompanied by Mr. ignasio Chirwa ventured to explore this area. Eventually they had to have a base which naturally became Pitara village, Mr. Chirwa’s home.
Soon afterwards he accompanied Fr. Zutu to explore an area where a mission could be established. Thus they explored the Kaluluma area around Chamakara and then Chimbilanjara. They then went to explore area around Champhira, village headmen Mbachazwa and Yotamu Gumbo. They were satisfied with this area since the weather was good and there was a good water source. Eventually a mission station was established at Katete in 1938. This mission was named St. Theresa.
Ignasio Henderson Chirwa was born in 1909 in a family of five children, i.e. three boys and two girls. His Father was Shemu Paul Chirwa and his mother was Porina Zimba. They lived at Pitara village in T.A Kaluluma’s area, Kasungu District. They were peasant farmers. They were strong members of the Free Church of Scotland (Free Church), now known as Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (C.C.A.P.). They brought up their children as members of the Free Church of Scotland which was the only Christian church in the area to the north of Dwangwa River. They were later converted to Catholicism, after their son, Ignasio, had introduced it to them.
3. SCHOOLING AND MARRIAGE.
He attended an elementary school at Gija village in Lojwa area. The school was administered by the Free Church of Scotland. He got married to Cecilia Ellen Phiri of Kalwanje village in Village Headman Kayigunde. This was probably in 1933. When mama Phiri passed on in 1969 he married Getrude Luŵanga (Nyamphayi) of Zoto village.
4. WORK EXPERIENCE
Like any other young man of the day, he went to look for work in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia). This was early 1933. He first worked on the farms but in July of that year he went to Harare (then Salisbury) and then to Queque to look for a job. There he was employed to clear the graveyard for the whites. This was a very difficult job, considering the cultural implications. It was in fact a very difficult year for him.
In 1934 he was out of employment and was thinking of coming back home (Nyasaland). He however continued looking for a job on the farms. By chance he arrived at Mzongondi village which was near a Catholic mission called Kotama. There he met two girls, Cecilia and Felesita, who informed him and his friend Wilson that there were job opportunities at the mission. To his joy he was employed as a grass mower and was paid every month.
5. HIS CONVERSION
There was no Free Church of Scotland (i.e. C.C.A.P.) in the area. So he decided to pray at the Catholic Church at Kotama Mission. He was to join the Catholic Church. At first the parish priest of Kotama mission, Fr. Fanta Hooey, refused to take him. When he was finally accepted, Mr. Chirwa began instructions and was baptized on 9th April, 1935. He had to receive further instructions until 30th June, 1935 when he started receiving Holy Communion.
6. HIS TEACHING EXPERIENCE
In July 1935 he decided to come back home and asked if a Catholic Church could be planted at his home. He was advised to contact the fathers at Kachebere Mission and also at the newly established Chiphaso Mission in Kasungu District. Mr. Chirwa left Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) for Nyasaland (Malawi) and went to Kachebere where he met Fr. Julien, and then to Chiphaso where he met Fr. Nazarius, Fr. Tinier and Fr. Zutu (who was then exploring the areas in Mzimba District. Fr. Zutu then informed Ignasio Chirwa that he was going to visit his home, Pitara Village, on 12th September, 1935. He indeed visited Pitara village on the stated date. The people of the area received them happily and welcomed the new faith. In fact the first Mass was said at Pitara village in Mr. Chirwa’s house.
In January and February 1936 Ignasio Chirwa attended a course conducted for prospective teachers at Chiphaso Mission. On 3rd March, 1936 several schools were opened and Ignasio was sent to teach at Chisikwa and Chigowani in Lojwa area. Early in 1937, he was sent to teach at Kahomango village, in Chief Mwase’s area in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). Schools were also opened at Kanyunya, Mwase, Ching’oma and at Khalira. In September, 1937, Ignasio Chirwa came back to Nyasaland (Malawi).
ESTABLISHMENT OF KATETE MISSION – 1938
In 1938, Mr. Ignasio Chirwa accompanied Fr. Zutu when he went to explore the present site of Katete Mission and its surrounding area. They met the village headmen in the area, including those of Gumbo and Mbachazwa. After formal application at the District Commissioner’s office in Mzimba, Katete Mission was established in 1938. Mr. Ignasio Chirwa was appointed as the first Gulupa (Catechist) of Katete Mission. He selflessly served as gulupa for a good 25 years.
Bro. Nazarius, from Chiphaso joined Fr. Zutu and Mr. Chirwa the same year, to build up temporally buildings, and he stayed there. From time to time a priest from Chiphaso would stay with him for some time. In November 1938, Fr. March Henri Dupuis (the local people called him Fr. Dupusi) arrived from Canada. He was newly ordained and Katete Mission was his first appointment. Fr. Zoetemelk was the first superior at Katete Mission. On Christmas 1939, was a great day for the mission as it marked the official opening of the permanent church. On the New Year’s day, Katete School for the Catechists was opened, which was later moved to Mzambazi Mission in 1940.
On 21st May, 1940, Fr. Riopel arrived ta Katete. On 8th July, 1940, Fr. Zoetemelk left Katete to open a new Mission at Mzambazi, in Mzimba District.
MZAMBAZI MISSION – 1940
On 11th July, 1940, Fr. Zoetemelk arrives at Mzambazi, in Mzimba District to survey the land and check the possibilities of opening a new mission in the area. Inkosi ya Makosi M’mberwa and Chief Chindi gave permission under the intervention of the Governor of Nyasaland. In the same year, a number of young priests arrived at the mission: Frs. Dupuis, Legare, Riopel de Repentigny and Poulin. When the mission was finally established, Fr. Zoetemelk moved to Karonga to establish another mission there.
KARONGA / VUA MISSION – 1943.
In 1943, Karonga Mission was established. Bishop Julien, of Likuni Vicariate had bought an estate at Vua from Mr. Dharap, an Indian Trader, where Vua Mission was founded. In 1955, the mission was moved to Vinthukutu, the present day – Chilumba. The reason for this shift was due to the danger of flooding as the house was too near the lake that was rising.
ERECTION OF NORTH APOSTOLIC JURISDICTION – 1947.
In April, 1947, the Vicariate of Likuni (Now the Diocese of Lilongwe) was divided and a new Prefecture (The Prefecture of North Nyasa) was founded. Rev. J.M. Saint Denis was appointed Prefect Apostolic. On 14th November, 1947, he arrived at Katete Mission. The New Prefecture had only three missions: Katete, Mzambazi and Karonga. Katete became the headquarters of the Apostolic Prefecture of North Nyasa until 1954 when the headquarters were moved to Mzuzu. The Nine priests constituted the entire missionary personnel which the Prefect had at his disposal. Yet, it was his intention to occupy the whole Northern Region as soon as possible; his first concern was to increase the number of missionaries.
RUMPHI MISSION – 1948
A new mission was opened at Rumphi District in 1948, and Fr. Poulin was the incharge, assisted by Bro. Nazarius. Later St. Patricks Pre-paratory Seminary was opened in the same area in 1955. The seminary sent seminarians to Kasina Seminary in Dedza to finish their studies.
KASEGHE MISSION – 1948
Towards the end of 1948, Kaseghe Mission in Chitipa District started and Fr. Fontaine was made Superior there, with him was Bro. Ulric Beauliue. Two other priests joined them later: Fr. Leger and Fr. Doyon. Nkhamenya (Holy Cross Parish) was established in 1950.
BANGA MISSION – 1952
In 1952, the Colonial Development Corporation (CDC) sold a plot of land at Banga in Nkhata-Bay District to the Prefect. The Prefect bought this land because:
1. It was cheap and saw in it a very valuable property.
2. It was a beautiful chance for the Prefect to obtain a foothold in the Nkhata-Bay area.
The Tonga people – in league with the Free Church – had so far refused to let the Catholic Church enter the District. In 1959, Nkhata-Bay Boys Secondary School was opened under Marianist Brothers.
The HEADQUARTERS MOVES FROM KATETE TO MZUZU – 1954.
The Prefect, Rev. J.M Saint Denis, made a great effort to establish a good school at Katete with the best teachers available. In 1950, Katete Teachers’ Training College started. Fr. Henk Lanters from Likuni Vicariate was made the in charge of the school. In the same year, the Sister’s Convent of the Missinaries of the Immaculate Conception (M.I.C) was established at Katete.
In 1950, the Prefect thinks of moving away from Katete and installs himself in Mzuzu, a small provincial town and Headquarters of Colonial Development Corporation (CDC). Mzuzu had advantages over Katete because it was at the centre of the Prefecture.
The Prefect had been Chaplain in the war and many of the staff of the Colonial Development Corporation (CDC) had been in the army and had known the Prefect – it was not difficult to acquire a plot. The Prefecture acquired 123 acres at Katoto in Mzuzu. Later, an additional 64.4 acres were added to make the plot on which the Bishop’s house was to be built. In 1951, the building of Prefect’s house started at Katoto under strict supervision of the Prefect himself. In 1954 the house was ready for occupation and the headquarters was transferred. St. Peter’s Parish established in 1955, in Mzuzu.
RESIGNATION OF MONSIGNOR SAINT DENIS – 1958
The Monsignor Saint Denis resigned as Prefect Apostolic in 1958 on health grounds. Later on February 15th, 1987 was killed by thieves in Kingston, Jamaica, and was buried in Canada. Technically, the Prefecture was without a head.
THE NEW PREFECT – FR. JEAN LOUIS JOBIDON – 1958
Fr. Jean Louis Jobidon was appointed Prefect Apostolic of North Nyasa in 1958, succeeding Monsignor Saint Denis. He had been working in Sumbawanga Diocese. As a Prefect he was advised by his superiors in Rome not to open new missions but to consolidate the existing ones. He continued with the policy of his predecessor – he favoured education.
NORTH PREFECTURE RAISED TO A VICARIATE – 1961
On 3rd March, 1961, the Prefecture of North Nyasa was raised to status of a vicariate of Mzuzu. The Prefect was nominated Bishop and was consecrated on May 22nd 1961 in Canada. During his time as Bishop, Mary Mount Secondary School was opened in 1963. Other achievements are as follows:
1. He established a local Clergy and promoted African Religoius Sisters. First Malawian priests were: Fr. Albert Kamera – ordained in 1957, Fr. Bernard Lungu – ordained in 1962, Fr. Edmund Kamanga – ordained in 1964, Fr. Alexander Chima and Alfred Mvula – both ordained in 1967.
2. He transformed St. Patrick’s Preparatory Seminary into a proper Minor Seminary.
3. Formation of Catechists and Wasopeski and Small Christian Communities in the villages.
4. Unity among missionaries, Diocesan Priests, Religious brothers and sisters.
5. Mzimba (St. Paul’s Parish) in 1961, Chitipa (Mughese—St. Matthias Parish) in 1970, Mzuzu (St. Augustine) in 1977.
On 16th January, 1987 he suffered a severe heart attack and finally he resigned as Bishop of Mzuzu Diocese on 10th November, 1987, and went back to Canada. He left the diocese in the hands of Fr. John Roche of St. Patrick’s Missionary Society. On the same date, 10th November, 1987, Fr. Roche was appointed Apostolic Administrator Ad Nutum Sanctae Sedis.
MONSIGNOR JOHN ROCHE – 10th NOVEMBER 1987
On 10th November, 1987, Monsignor John Roche stepped into the vacant see and into the responsibility of the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese. He did not come as a complete stranger as Bishop Jobidon. He had the advantage of having served in the Diocese from 1973 to 1980, and therefore he knew the personnel in the Diocese. Moreover, having served as the Regional Superior of the Kiltegan fathers from 1980 to 1987 brought him into contact with the clergy of the diocese.
Soon after his arrival in the diocese, he made an extensive tour of the diocese to meet all priests, brothers and sisters. Realizing that the Malawian clergy had now grown to form a respectable number – about 22, the Administrator brought Diocesan Priests into administration:
1. Fr. Nazarius Mgungwe – became the Vicar General on 26th December, 1987.
2. Fr. Paul Chirwa – became the Bishop’s Secretary in January 1988.
3. Mr. Gabriel Mhone – became Diocesan Treasure in September 1988.
While Bishop Jobidon had worked towards consolidation of the existing parishes, the Administrator erected new parishes:
1. St. Steven’s – Kasantha Parish in 1988.
2. Holy Family – Bowe Parish in 1994.
He facilitated the building of formation centre in Rumphi. He converted the Catechetical Training Centre into a Diocesan Pastoral Training Centre and moved it from Mzambazi to Nkhata-Bay, a more central and easily accessible location where priests, sisters and lay people could be engaged in ongoing formation. He brought into the Diocese three Religious Institutes: St Paul Missionaries from Nigeria, Holy Spirit Sisters from Tanzania and St. John of God Brothers from Ireland.
BISHOP JOSEPH MUKASA ZUZA – 6th May 1995.
Later in 1994, consultatios on filling the vacant See of Mzuzu Diocese were initiated by the Holy See and early 1995 it was announce that His Holiness Pope John Paul II had appointed Monsignor Joseph Mukasa Zuza as Bishop of Mzuzu Diocese. He was consecrated on 6th May, 1995. Bishop Zuza appointed Fr. Michael Muwowo as his Vicar General and Mr. Robert Gondwe as his Secretary and continued to appoint many diocesan priests as Parish Priests and in leadership positions of the Church Institutions.
During Bishop Zuza’s Episcopate, mission stations in the Diocese of Mzuzu were as follows:
1. Katete (St. Theresa’s Parish) 1938.
2. Mzambazi (St. John’s Parish) 1940.
3. Karonga (St. Mary’s Parish) 1945.
4. Rumphi (St. Denis Parish) 1948.
5. Chitipa (Kaseye Parish) 1949.
6. Chitipa (Mughese—St. Matthias Parish) 1970.
7. Nkhamenya (Holy Cross) 1950.
8. Nkhata Bay (St. Joseph’s Parish) 1952.
9. Mzuzu (St. Peter’s Parish) 1955.
10. Mzimba (St. Paul’s Parish) 1961.
11. Chilumba (St. Anne’s) 1955.
12. Mzuzu (St. Augustine) 1977.
13. Kasungu Bowe (Holy Family) 1995.
14. Kasantha (St. Steven’s Parish) 1988.
15. Lusangazi (St. Padre Pio Parish) 2004
Pope Benedict XII erected the Diocese of Karonga with the territory taken from the diocese of Mzuzu on 21st July, 2010. The new diocese of Karonga covers part of Rumphi District (the whole lakeshore part of Rumphi District plus Jalawe area which is at the top of Chiweta escapement) and the two districts of Chitipa and Karonga. This area had Five Parishes when it was created:
1. Karonga (St. Mary’s Parish).
2. Chitipa (Kaseye Parish).
3. Chitipa (Mughese – St. Matthias Parish).
4. Chilumba (St. Anne’s).
5. Kasantha (St. Steven’s Parish).
Bishop Zuza was born on 22nd October, 1955 at Malembo Village in Mzimba. He was ordained Priest on 25th July, 1985. He was consecrated Bishop 0n 6th May, 1995. Bishop Zuza died on 15th January, 2015 on a car accident. He was laid to rest on 19th January, 2015. Meanwhile, the diocese is in the hands of Fr. Michael Muwowo, the Diocesan Administrator, who was the Vicar General of late Bishop Zuza.
Fr. Robert T. Mwaungulu, Selected Themes in Church Law – History of Mzuzu Diocese (Balaka: Montfort Media) 2009.
Fr. J. Cooln, The History of Mzuzu Diocese (Balaka: Montfort Media) 1989.
Fr. Albert Fiskani Chirwa, History of Katete Parish (Mzuzu: Katoto Press) 2013.
Fr. Innocent Chiwanda, Malawian Church History (Class Notes: St. Peter’s Major Seminary) 2015.