A Popular History of Maryknoll’s Specialized Work in Africa

Serving the National Church

by Joseph Healey

The fifty years from 1946 to 1996 actually contain many Maryknoll histories. While Musoma and Shinyanga are the best known places with the largest number of Maryknollers, another important story is Maryknoll and the National Church in Tanzania. Also some other Maryknollers have worked at the AMECEA or the Eastern Africa level of which Tanzania is a significant part. During these past 50 years the number of Maryknollers who have served at the national or regional level are impressive: two bishops, 28 priests, one Brother, 11 Sisters, two lay associates and one lay affiliate. The breakdown according to their main work is:

  • 12 people: Tanzania National Episcopal Conference/Catholic Secretariat.

  • 5 people: Tanzania National Seminaries.

  • 19 people: Tanzania National Institutes (including hospitals).

  • 9 people: AMECEA Level.

To get a glimpse of the contribution of these forty five people, I will give here the stories of four representative Maryknollers and their service to the Local Church in Eastern Africa.


Some years ago I met Del Robinson at the Happy Hour at Maryknoll, N.Y. He was his usual dour, taciturn self and said very little. When I mentioned “Tanzania” he suddenly lit up, became very animated and asked: “What’s happening out there?”

In 1953 the Catholic Hierarchy was established in the “then” Tanganyika and the Catholic vicariates became dioceses. The Tanganyika Catholic Welfare Organization or TCWO (in the original draft “conference” was used rather than “organization”) was formed in 1956 with six departments. In 1964 Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to form Tanzania. In 1965 the national bishops organization became the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC). The first Plenary Assembly of the Inter-territorial Episcopal Board of Eastern Africa (ITEBEA) was held in Dar es Salaam in July, 1961 and in November, 1964 this organization became the Association of the Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA). The forward vision of Tanzania is reflected in the booklet celebrating 25 years of AMECEA which stated in its Milestones of AMECEA: “June, 1960: The Tanganyika Catholic Welfare Conference [Organization] launched the idea of a regional cooperation of the episcopal conferences of Eastern Africa.”

Del Robinson was an important part of this history. Jerry Grondin was the first Secretary General of the Tanganyika Catholic Welfare Organization and Del succeeded him in February, 1963. They helped to set up the organizational structure of the now Tanzania Catholic Secretariat in Dar es Salaam with its various departments and commissions. The Tanzanian structure was based on the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC) of the Catholic Bishops in the U.S.A. This in turn was the model used in setting up the chancery offices and other departments in various dioceses in Tanzania.

Despite the efficient and systematic work of Grondin and Robinson, observers have asked if this American infrastructure (with its heavy requirements of office staff and money) was an appropriate model for a newly independent country in the Third World. Even today the Catholic Church in Africa is struggling to find its own organic “mix” of the personal/pastoral priorities and the necessary structure/organization.

During the period 1963-65 Robinson accompanied the Tanzanian bishops to Rome for the Second Vatican Council. During these years the Fall Plenary Meetings of the TEC were held in Rome in October. Del contributed his many organizational and coordinating skills as well as a broad vision of church. He was definitely the right man at the right time for laying a firm foundation. In 1966 Del was elected a delegate of the then Africa Region to the Fifth General Chapter of the Maryknoll Society. Then he was elected to the General Council. Serving as Assistant Secretary General of TEC, Father James Sangu succeeded Del Robinson briefly before he was ordained the Bishop of Mbeya Diocese on 11 September, 1966. Then Father Robert Rweyemamu became the new Secretary General building on the solid foundation of Grondin and Robinson. While no Maryknoller has served in that position since then, a number have served on commissions, in various offices and institutes of TEC.


Although Dick Hochwalt has served in various teaching and administrative positions for many years, his heart has always been in bush pastoral work as described by Mike Snyder in 1995: “Dick Hochwalt, who recently passed the 70 mark, is found regularly putting a safari bed with net and various sundry necessities on the back of his bicycle as he travels out to the villages to spend a few days among the rural folks of Shinyanga Diocese.”

Dick Hochwalt taught Moral Theology at Kipalapala Major Seminary in Tabora for six months in 1966 and again from 1967 to 1969. His former students are working in many dioceses throughout Tanzania including Archbishops Anthony Mayala and Polycarp Pengo and Bishops Aloysius Balina, Telesphore Mkude and Fortunatus Lukanima. Dick is one of a large number of Maryknoll priests who have taught in the major or minor seminaries in Tanzania.

From the very beginning Maryknoll’s top priority was to establish the Local Church in Tanzania. One very important way was the development of the local Tanzanian clergy. Following the lead of the Missionaries of Africa (formerly called the White Fathers) Maryknoll helped to staff Kipalapala, Segerea Major Seminary in Dar es Salaam and various seminaries in Kenya for both diocesan priests and religious. Just as Maryknoll itself started as a national mission seminary, Maryknoll has assisted in the teaching and formation work of the national seminaries in East Africa.

Over the years Dick has also been the secretary of the Canon Law Commission of the TEC. His records of marriage cases are legendary. He always has had a deeply pastoral concern for the situation of local couples. One wonders what would have happened if he had started using a computer database to record marriage cases 40 years ago.


In 1993 I was talking to Archbishop Anthony Mayala of Mwanza Archdiocese about the Tanzanian preparations for the 1994 African Synod. I complained that nothing seemed to be happening on the local, grassroots level. He startled me by saying, “I agree, but what we need is another Frank Murray to animate us on the local level.”

Frank (Ace) Murray was one of the most creative and innovative Maryknollers in East Africa. He was assigned to the then Africa Region in 1948 and worked in Tanzania until he left the region in 1972 and later Maryknoll in 1974. First Frank worked among the Luo in North Mara. He assisted a French sociologist, Marie-France Perrin Jassy, in a study of the Luo African Independent Churches in North Mara and their style of basic community life. Although 1973 and 1976 are considered the official starting points for Small Christian Communities (SCCs) in the AMECEA countries, the very beginning of SCCs can be traced back to Nyarombo Parish in Musoma Diocese, Tanzania in 1966 with this research on the social structures and community values of the Luo Ethnic Group.

After studying in Europe, Frank became the secretary of the Pastoral Department of the TEC and then the Director of the Bukumbi Pastoral Institute in November, 1967. This institute was founded by the visionary Bishop Joseph Blomjous, M.Afr. in 1962 and was originally located outside of Mwanza. Later it became the Tanzania Pastoral and Research Institute (TAPRI) located first in Kipalapala, Tabora and now in Dar es Salaam. In June, 1970 Father Theobald Msambure was appointed the first Tanzanian Director.

Murray was instrumental in promoting the special “Seminar Study Year” (SSY) which took place throughout Tanzania in 1969 to implement the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). He spearheaded a plan of organizing in every diocese, parish and sub-parish a period of six months of discussion and reflection on the major problems facing the Catholic Church in Tanzania during the post-Vatican II Period. The specific methodology was an on-going process of critical reflection on vital issues facing the church and society. This culminated in a National Seminar at the University of Dar es Salaam from 10-18 December, 1969. After this seminar week, study and action continued again on the local level.

During this time the SSY gave great impetus to the growth of the Church in Tanzania. Key topics included the Church’s cooperation with the Tanzanian government in the socio-economic field, community development, Africanization, the priest’s ministry in modern Tanzania, the role of the laity, local patterns of ministry, specialized apostolates, self reliance and the evolving “assisting” role of the expatriate missionary. During the SSY the concept and praxis of SCCs which were then called “local Church communities” were first articulated as a priority in both rural and later urban parishes. It can truly be said that the dynamism of the SSY (largely due to Frank’s personality and drive) was a big factor in making Tanzania the most forward looking country in the Catholic Church in Eastern Africa at that time. In his African history entitled 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa, John Baur states of this period: “The Catholic Church in Tanzania was undoubtedly leading its sister churches in Eastern African – the so-called AMECEA countries – in self-reliance, but also in pastoral and liturgical renewal.”


After my arrival in East Africa in August, 1968, my first stop was Kampala, Uganda. Mike Pierce picked me up at Entebbe Airport in his Volkswagen Beetle and a couple of days later a group of us from the Gaba Pastoral Institute went out to a Chinese Restaurant in downtown Kampala. Gertrude Maley whispered to me: “If we let Mike do all the ordering, you will have a real experience.” Well, Mike was really in his element: “commandeering” the table as it were, joking with the waiters, explaining all the varieties of Chinese dishes, spinning around the revolving serving table and making sure everyone had a good time. Now I can’t go to a Chinese restaurant without thinking of Mike.

Similar to Frank Murray, Alden (Mike) Pierce’s missionary journey led through Luoland, advanced catechetical studies in Europe and the Bukumbi Pastoral Institute. In 1968 Mike joined the staff of the AMECEA Pastoral Institute to teach catechetics and religious education in a nine-month residential course for priests, Brothers, Sisters and lay people. At that time AMECEA covered the countries of Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia and later expanded to include Ethiopia, Sudan, Seychelles and Somalia.

Mike was a fun-loving and exuberant teacher. What he lost in disorganization and an “all over the place” teaching style, was more than made up by his enthusiasm, excitement and energy. Mike plunged in where angels feared to tread. When the men and women’s residence blocks at Gaba were completed, Mike sent his now famous postcard back to a Brother at Maryknoll, N.Y that read: “Well, Gertrude and I are finally living together at Gaba.”

With other lecturers that included such well known theologians as Brian Hearne and Aylward Shorter, Mike pioneered an inter-disciplinary approach and a team teaching methodology with each teacher sitting in on the other lectures. Pastoral, theological, biblical and anthropological themes were taught in a life-experience process that emphasized building Christian community. Mike was also part of a team that produced two textbooks Developing in Christ and Christian Living Today in the secondary school religious education project. The methodology of a life-centered catechesis was far ahead of its time in Africa. Besides all of this, Mike was authentically concerned for all his students and went out of his way to find out where they were coming from and to help them reflect on their local reality.

Four Maryknollers – Del, Dick, Frank and Mike – but behind them many other Maryknollers and a far-reaching vision of Church and a tireless missionary zeal. In a very real way, Maryknoll in the past has had a hand in shaping the Church in Tanzania at a National level.