St Mary Magdalene Catholic Church, in the heart of the Lentegeur shopping district, celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.
Built by the Salesian community in August 1981, the growing parish of some 1 400 families has long since outgrown the church building, which has only had minor renovations during its lifetime.
“Maybe in the 80s the size would have been adequate,” said Father Brandon West, who has been the parish priest for the last four years.
“We are hampered for space here,” Deacon Basil Sampson said. The parish has tried for several years without success to get the vacant plot of land next to it.
St Mary Magdalene is one of the largest of the five Mitchell’s Plain parishes, second only to St Timothy’s in Tafelsig. It serves parishioners between Mandalay, from Swartklip Road in the west, to Jakes Gerwel in the east, and this includes the chaplaincy at Mitchell’s Plain and Lentegeur hospitals.
The southern boundary stretches from Morgenster Road to beyond the R300 in the north, where there is no definite edge.
“At one stage, it went right up to Lansdowne Road,” Mr Sampson said. “We used to look after the frail-care centre too, but Tafelsig took that over,” Father West said.
Mr Sampson has been at the parish since its inception. He is among several “pioneers” – as they are called by the parish – who helped to found the church’s many projects and outreaches.
Another “pioneer” Michael Cornish, of Portland, has been part of the church’s St Vincent de Paul Society since 1984.
“We’re only a small group who do what we can,” he said. The society helps the underprivileged in the community and is raising money for its annual seniors’ Christmas lunch.
“During winter, we appeal to the church community for cooked soup and bread, and we distribute it to the informal camps,” he said.
Throughout the year, needy families also get food hampers.
The society also helped people get their social grants or identity documents and had helped some families contact the City when they had had problems with their municipal accounts, Mr Cornish said.
Another “pioneer”, Isobel Oliver, of Lentegeur, is a part of the St Kizito’s group for vulnerable children at the parish. The group of 15, which started seven years ago, is helping 50 neglected, abused or orphaned children in Beacon Valley, Woodlands, Lentegeur and Heinz Park.
Ms Oliver said the group visits the children’s homes to see what needs they have. “We don’t encourage the parents with money,” she said. “But we provide food, electricity, school clothes, whatever the child may need.”
On public holidays, the St Kizito’s runs activities for the children. “On Heritage Day we had a games day,” Ms Oliver said. “Many of the children had never been exposed to these kinds of things before.”
Children in the community can attend the Holy Cross Convent creche next door.
St Mary Magdalene is the only Catholic church in Mitchell’s Plain that still has a convent attached to it. All the other convents in the area have closed.
The Holy Cross Convent in Lentegeur was opened several years after the church was founded and runs an educare on its adjacent premises. “Holy Cross’s focus has always been schools and hospitals,” Father West said.