About Us




The famous and influential Roman lawyer, philosopher and politician, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC) wrote, “to be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, uncles it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history.” In order to properly grow or move forward one has to look into the past; where it all began. The act of looking into the past in order to comprehend the present and move into the future is evident in Christianity, the Bible, Judaism, African cultures, the legal fraternity, et cetera.


In Christianity we tap into the history of salvation. Biblically, phrases like “I am the God of your ancestors” (Exodus 3:6) links us in history; there is a continuum. In African cultures, certain customs stress one’s history. History plays a critical role in one’s identity. The same applies to Judaism, during the “Passover Meal” (Passover Seder) there is a special plate called “the Passover Seder Plate” (ke’ara) which contains 6 symbolic foods of which each is significant to the retelling of Jewish history. During this meal the youngest child asks the question (Mah Nishtanah) “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The father responds by narrating the history of the Jews. In the legal fraternity, precedents express the weight of past cases on present and future ones; legal maxims such as Stare decisis et non quieta movere (“to stand by decisions and not disturb the undisturbed”) best demonstrates this argument.


The past cannot simply be ignored in dealing with the present and future. It is militarily and historically laughable as to why Adolf Hitler repeated Napoleon Bonaparte’s mistake in invading Russia. Maybe Albert Einstein was right when he defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” As Syd Moore observed, “Disregard for the past will never do us any good. Without it we cannot know truly who we are.” Knowing the past aids us in progressively dealing with present and future issues.


Moving backwards in order to move forward is paradoxical. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI observed that “Life does not exist in contradictions but in paradoxes”. In 2015 I was invited by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in South Africa to attend their meetings. During these meetings people gave testimonies of their past apartheid experiences. It was clear that in order for these people to move on they had to look into the past and re-face the past harsh apartheid. Justly re-facing their horrific past opened the doors for genuine reconciliation, peace and progress. It is in this spirit that we look into our past, to give our readers a picture of where we come from so that they may understand where we are and desire to be. History is both “news” for some people and not news for those who already know it, but even for those who already know it this adds a piece in comprehending the news of the day.




Christianity emerged in the 1st century AD as one Church. Shortly after her genesis heresies such as Arianism, Docetism, Donatism, Pelagianism, Nestorianism, Gnosticism, Valentianism, et cetera emerged and split her. Later in the 11th century AD The Great Schism occurred with unexpected magnitude split the Church into West and East, Roman and Greek, Rome and Constantinople. Four (4) centuries down the line another major split occurred, the reformation.


All these groups were splitting away from the Church but within the Church other groups were being formed. Like protein synthesis within the human body, while some cells were dying out others were being produced to sustain the body. These groups are called Orders and/or Congregations. In the Holy Roman Catholic Church there are various Orders and Congregations, for example, Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Augustinians, the Jesuits, the Redemptorists, the Stigmatines, the Passionists, the Carmelites, the Benedictines et cetera.


Order of St. Benedict


The Benedictine Order or Order of Saint Benedict (Ordo Sancti Benedicti [OSB]) was founded in the 6th century AD in Italy by St. Benedict of Nursia (480 – c.543). Within the Order of St. Benedict, there are various Monastic Congregations: Beuronese, Swiss-American, Annunciation, Olivetan, Ottilen, Vallombrosian, Camaldolese, Sylvestrine, Subiaco Cassinese, et cetera. The Order of St. Benedict has the head called “Abbot Primate” who resides in Sant’Anselmo, Rome (Italy). The current Abbot Primate is The Rt. Rev. Abbot Gregory Polan-OSB, from USA.


The Subiaco Cassinese Congregation


In 1408 a Benedictine Congregation called The Congregation of St. Justina of Padua was formed. This congregation was later called Cassinese Congregation. From this congregation sprang a Benedictine Congregation called Cassinese Congregation of the Primitive Observance. This congregation was founded in 1867 by Dom Pietro Casaretto-OSB, a monk of the Cassinese Congregation. The congregation later came to be called The Subiaco Congrgation. In 1872 Pope Pius IX gave the final approval. In the 21st century dialogues to combine The Cassinese and The Subiaco congregations were and in 2013, with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, The Cassinese Congregation was incorporated into its offshoot, The Subiaco Congregation. The expanded congregation was given a new name, Subiaco Cassinese Congregation.


Each congregation within the Order of St. Benedict has its own headquarters, Constitution and head. The head of the Subiaco Cassinese Congregation is called “Abbot President.” Our current Abbot President is The Rt. Rev. Abbot Guillermo Arboleda Tamayo-OSB, from Colombia.


There 80 monasteries (Priories and Abbeys) and 45 women houses within the Subiaco Cassinese Congregation across the globe. These are grouped in “Provinces”. There are eight (8) Provinces: The Philippine Pro-Province, Italian Province, English Province, French Province, Spanish Province, African and Madagascar Province, Vietnamese Province and the Flemish Province. There are also Seven (7) extra-Provincial monasteries subject directly to the Abbot President.


The Flemish Province


The Flemish Province has various Abbeys: Affligem, Dendermonde, Steenbrugge, Leuven ossia Keizersberg ossia Mont César, Teteringen, Slangenburg (Tilburg) and St. Benedict’s Abbey (Polokwane-RSA). In the early 1900s, the Flemish Province wanted to expand beyond Belgian borders. They desired to spread Christianity, Monasticism and Civilization to other parts of the world. They had three (3) possible destinies: Simla in India, Katanga in Congo and Transvaal in South Africa.


Simla was given to the Capuchins. Katanga had very good vegetation, climate, linguistic link (French) and political landscape as Congo was colonized by Belgium. The then-Belgian government could have financially and materially supported the monks. Critical thinking questioned the possibility the Belgian government being replaced with an anti-clerical regime, which happened in most Western European Countries. Further, the monks identifying with the colonizers would present some unexpected problems with the people they were to evangelize to. In East Africa a group of monks and nuns from Germany were killed by the natives in Tanzania. In North Africa, Trappists from France were kidnapped and killed. The silent movie, Of God and Of Men, depicts this. However the crucial question is “where they killed for religious or political reasons”? Can we conclude that they died because of their faith or because they were identified with colonizers? Some answers to these questions are a path to canonization.  The Flemish Province decided to come down to Transvaal (South Africa).


The Pioneers of the Transvaal Mission (RSA)


On the 9th of May 1906, the first three young (3) monks from Flemish Province arrived in the then-Pietersburg. These were Dom Thomas Van Laethem-OSB (from the Abbey of Steenbrugge [Belgium]), Dom Victor van Schepdael-OSB (from the Abbey of Affligem [Belgium]) and Br. Eligius Wagemans-OSB (from the Abbey of Dendermonde [Belgium]). All they found was a little poor Church of Wood and Iron. Their accommodation was a small zinc room, built as an annexe to the church. The three (3) pioneers found a great deal of anti-Catholic prejudice amongst the Boer settlers, conditions were primitive, agricultural conditions were unlike anything the Benedictines had encountered and they were short of money. In other words, they started from the scratch.


Apostolic Prefecture


On the 22nd of December 1910, the Sacred Congregation for Propagation of Faith issued a decree making Waterberg and Zoutpansberg an Apostolic Prefecture with Dom Ildefons Lanslots-OSB as the first Prefect Apostolic of the Northern Transvaal.


The Dominican Sisters


In later years more monks were sent to Northern Transvaal. They founded various institutes and missions. In 1913, Dominican Sisters from Natal (South Africa) joined the monks in Northern Transvaal and assisted them in the schools and hospitals.


The Great Wars


From 1914 to 1918 was the time of the first Great War or “First World War” as it is famously known. During this period missionary work by Belgian monks in Northern Transvaal was faced with hostility from both the Boers and the English settlers. Contact with the Flemish monasteries was cut off when Germany invaded Belgium. At the end of this war 2 missionaries died; there were only 3 missionaries and the Prefect Apostolic left.


The Flemish Province


In 1921, the Flemish Province signed a letter declaring they were willing to do everything in their power to revive the mission.  In the same year Fr Frederic, acting as Administrator ,]Apostolic, purchased the farm Doornspruit for the mission. In 1924 the Dominican Sisters of King William’s Town agreed to provide a group of sisters for the Benedictine missions in Northern Transvaal, either as teachers or to run clinics and dispensaries.  New mission stations were established at M’Phatele (1924), where Fr Victorin Laenens-OSB built a hospital with the assistance of the Dominican Sisters; Setali and Potgietersrust (1926). A school, staffed by sisters, was established at Potgietersrust.


In the early 1920s Dom Salvator Van Nuffel-OSB purchased portion 1 of Laastehoop farm, some 40 km south-east of Pietersburg, from an Irish Catholic. In 1927 the very Dom Salvator Van Nuffel-OSB opened a mission in this farm.  The farm was renamed as “Subiaco” in remembrance of the first monastery started by St Benedict of Nursia in Italy. With the foundation of Subiaco Mission came the foundation of a Church, Primary School (Subiaco Primary School), Secondary School (St. Bede’s High School), and clinic.


In 1927 Dom Salvator Van Nuffel-OSB travelled to Europe looking for religious to assist with teaching.  He was successful and returned to Northern Transvaal with 5 Sisters of Charity from Heule (Belgium). In 1928 10 Brothers of Charity from Ghent (Belgium) joined Northern Transvaal.  They built Pax College for black South Africans in Doornspruit and College of the Little Flower for white South Africans in Pietersburg. The building of these 2 schools was due to “apartheid.” Apartheid is a socio-politico system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa from 1948 to 1991. Apartheid officially began in 1948, yet prior 1948 some aspects of apartheid were applicable, thus this situation. In the post-apartheid era both Schools are open to both black and white students. College of the Little Flower was later transferred to Klerksdorp under Saint Conrad’s College.


From 1906 to 1935 the Transvaal mission grew from 1 small church to 8 main mission stations with resident a priest, from 2 priests to 13 priests, from 1 brother to 23 brothers, from no sister to 77 sisters, from 106 Catholics to 4 864 Catholics.  They also built 25 primary schools and 4 high schools with a total of 2 350 students. On the 5th of October 1936, the mission church dedicated to St Maurs, in Subiaco, was blessed.  At the time no one would have guessed that this small mission was destined to be the site of the new monastery forty years later. The Transvaal Mission had the possibilities of a monastery in Doornspruit, Noodshulp and Setali. On the 13th of June 1939 Pope Pius XII issued a decree raising Pietersburg from a “mission” to an Abbey Nullius. An Abbey Nullius is an Abbey with abbot-Nullius. Abbot Nullius is the head of an abbey nullius simultaneously as abbot and bishop. This was followed by a second decree that announced the appointment by the Holy Father of Dom Frederik Osterrath-OSB as first abbot and Titular Bishop of Tangiers in Mauritania.


In 1954 when Abbot Nullius Van Hoeck-OSB replaced Abbot Nullius Osterrah-OSB, Rome requested that the residence of the bishop should be in Pietersburg, so, since there was a union of the abbey and diocese, the monastery was moved from Noodshulp to the farm Koffiefontein which Abbot Nullius Van Hoeck-OSB purchased on the outskirts of Pietersburg.  This community consisted of the Abbot Nullius, 2 priests and 1 brother; all other monks worked and lived at different mission stations. In 1960 the territory of the abbey-nullius measured 74 950 square kilometres.  There were 14 mission stations, of which 9 were administered by the monks and about 17 000 Catholics.


After the 2nd Vatican Council, most monks were heavily involved in missionary work, there were those who felt very strongly that more could and should be done to implant the Benedictine way of life in the mission territory entrusted to them by Rome.  They wanted to see their little monastery grow and develop into a real monastic centre that would in due course attract local vocations and not be entirely dependent on monks from overseas. Generally, the spirit of the 2nd Vatican Council gave them new inspiration and equipped them with guidelines for the implementation of such a plan. In the 1960s The Rt. Rev. Abbot Philip de Cloete-OSB of Dendermonde conducted an official visitation to Pietersburg. He was very sympathetic to the idea of starting a proper monastery in Northern Transvaal and encouraged the monks to take the relevant steps.


In 1972, Abbot Primate, The Rt. Rev. Abbot Rembert Weakland, visited Pietersburg. He asked the monks to rely on local vocations in order for the monastic idea to take firm roots in the local Church.  Abbot Nullius Van Hoeck-OSB, whose first priority was missionary work, agreed to co-operate.  He released Fr Fulgence Le Roy-OSB and Fr Willibrord Van Rompaey-OSB from their pastoral duties in order to make preparations for a real monastery.

It was obvious that the bulk of future vocations would come from among Black Africans because they made up the vast majority of Catholics in South Africa; there were very few white Catholics. It was clear that Pietersburg/Koffiefontein which had served as an abbey since 1955 was not a suitable place for a monastery. The laws of the country, insisting on the segregation of races, made it difficult and impossible to train and educate black South Africans in the so called “white area”. Koffiefontein was a so called “white area” where Black South Africans were not allowed to live.  On account of this situation, the Benedictines agreed to start an entirely new monastery somewhere in the so-called “homeland”, an area reserved for black South Africans.

The Benedictine monks officially opened their monastery at Subiaco on Palm Sunday of 1973.  At the beginning, the community consisted of 2 priests (Fr Fulgence Le Roy-OSB and Fr Willibrord Van Rampaey-OSB).  They said the office together in the old mission church and began to build a simple house with 6 rooms and a small refectory, which was to serve as a monastery. In 1974 the 2 priests were joined by 2 more priests, Fr Rik De Wit-OSB, from the abbey of Affligem, and Fr Ben Deneut from Steenbrugge.

Previous and Current Abbots

The history of our abbey is intertwined with the History of the then Diocese of Pietersburg (currently Catholic Diocese of Polokwane). The leadership of the monks, mission and abbey, and diocese were one and the same. In this sense the following were the superiors of the Benedictine Mission to Northern Transvaal from 1907 to 2017:




Dom Ildefons Lanslot-OSB was born in 1941 in Belgium, ordained priest in 1881 and in 1905 was given responsibility for assessing the merits of the Transvaal Mission. In May of 1907 he was appointed first Superior of the Mission and in December 1910 was appointed first Prefect Apostolic of the Northern Transvaal. 

Bishop Thomas Spreiter, writing to Abbot primate Fidelis von Stotzingen on 20th October 1920 said of Msgr Lanslot’s somewhat impractical offer, “It seems to me that he has rather a soft heart and that he is a great idealist who felt obliged to do something for the sisters who were expelled … and that his idealism makes him blind to the realities of life but in February 1921 Dom Ildefons received a letter from Abbot General Garriador saying that, after long deliberation with his Council, the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda and with the Flemish abbots, he invited Dom Ildefons to tender his resignation as Prefect Apostolic.  It is difficult to guess all the reasons that led to this decision.  The fiasco of the handling of the German Tutzing sisters doubtless played a part, but the Superiors in Europe were probably equally dismayed by the lack of progress with the monastery and Dom Ildefons’s pessimism over the future prospects of the mission, which had been evident right from the time of his appointment in 1906. 

In March of 1921 he resigned as Prefect Apostolic and returned to Belgium. 


Dom Frederic Osterrah-OSB [1921 – 1922]  


Dom Frederic Osterrah-OSB was born in 1883 in Belgium, ordained priest in 1907 and appointed Administrator Apostolic in 1921.



Dom Salvator Van Nuffel-OSB was born in 1884, ordained priest in 1909 and appointed second Prefect Apostolic in 1922.


There was a visitation by the Apostolic Legate in 1931, as a result of which Propaganda requested that the office of Prefect Apostolic, held by Van Nuffel, should be separated from that of a Regular Superior.  Van Nuffel duly submitted his resignation of the second position but it was not accepted by the Abbot General, who disagreed with the idea of division of responsibility.  The matter was left unresolved for another five years.


With the growth of the mission there was need for a larger Cathedral.  A new church 154 feet in length was built alongside the old one.  It was designed to comfortably accommodate 1,000 people, with a maximum capacity of 2,000 when required.  The foundation stone of the new church, dedicated to the Sacred Heart, was laid by Msgr. Van Nuffel on 7th May 1933 and the finished building was blessed on 11th March 1934


In 1936 there was finally a division of responsibilities.  The three Flemish abbots appointed Dom Frederic Osterrath as Religious Superior while Msgr. Van Nuffel retained control of the mission.  But the decision had to go to the Abbot General for confimation, and this he categorically refused to give unless a monastery with regular observance was first opened.


He resigned from this office in 1939.

Msgr. Van Nuffel resigned as Prefect Apostolic in 1939.  He had already written to the Abbot General in August 1936 saying that if Propaganda decided to raise the Prefecture into a Vicariate Apostolic he wished to return to the life of a simple missionary.  He did not feel he had the qualities required by Canon Law for a Vicar Apostolic, and would rather resign than accept a burden beyond his powers.

In 1947 he was nominated Titular Abbot of St. Bavo in Ghent. He died in 1967 and is buried in Doornspruit (Polokwane Diocese- RSA).




Dom Frederic Osterrah-OSB was appointed Religious Superior of the Benedictine Monks on the Mission in 1936.

Under Osterrath’s leadership the small group of Benedictines stationed at Noodshulp began to say the office together in Latin. However, the house never prospered as a monastery since the majority of the monks continued to be based in the outlying mission stations.


Dom Frederic Osterrah-OSB was nominated first Abbot of Pietersburg in 1939 and ordained Titular Bishop of Tangiers in Mauritania in 1940. Abbot Osterrath was ordained bishop by Msgr. Gijlswijk, the Apostolic Legate, on 3rd March 1940.  He resigned in 1952 and retired to the mission station  at Doornspruit. 




Dom Clemens Van Hoeck-OSB was born in 1903 in Belgium, ordained priest in 1927, elected Abbot and ordained Bishop in 1954. In 1954 he moved the monastery to Koffiefontein and 1973 opened the monastery Subiaco. The abbot himself was often away on his duty as the bishop of a large territory, visiting the different mission stations and coordinating the various pastoral and social activities in the mission field.  Abbot-Bishop C. Van Hoeck had been above all a pastor, tireless in his efforts to strengthen and expand the Church.  He organized the training of catechists, saw to it that the catechumens were carefully instructed, built churches, schools, hospitals and clinics and made sure that the whole mission enterprise had a sound financial footing.  All this left him little time to devote to the development of his monastery.

He resigned in 1974 and died 1976.




Dom Fulgence Le Roy-OSB was born in 1924 in Belgium, ordained priest in 1952, elected Abbot of Pietersburg in 1974, nominated Titular Bishop of Ausafa in 1975 and ordained Bishop in 1975. He resigned as Abbot in 1988 and in the very year became the first Bishop of Pietersburg. In 2000 he resigned as Bishop of Pietersburg and retired to Haenertzburg.


Dom Willibrord Van Rompaey-OSB [1989-1999]


Dom Willibroad van Rompaey-OSB was born in 1936 in Belgium, ordained priest in 1961, served as Claustral Prior from 1974 to 1988 and in 1989 elected 4th Abbot. He resigned in 1999 due to ill-health and retired to Inkamana Abbey. In 2002 he transferred his stability to Inkamana. He died in 2004 and is buried in Inkamana Abbey (KwaZulu-Natal Province of the Republic of South Africa).



He was briefly succeeded by his former Prior Fr Rik de Wit who had to return to Belgium shortly afterwards because of ill-health




Dom Ben Deneut-OSB was born in 1941 in Belgium, served as Cathedral Administrator in Polokwane Diocese (RSA), and in 1999 elected Prior Administrator of our Abbey. He resigned in 2005 and returned to Steenbrugge.


Dom Sipho Mathabela-OSB [2005]


Dom Sipho Mathabela-OSB was born in 1963 in Swaziland. In January 1991 he professed as a Benedictine Monk and was ordained priest in September 1991. In 2005 he was elected Prior Administrator of St. Benedict’s Abbey. The same there was Extra-Ordinary Canonical Visitation which relieved from his duties as Prior Administrator. He was later exclaustrated. He went to the United States to serve as a Priest.




Abbot Kris Op de Beek-OSB was one of the delegated Visitors for the 2005 Extra-Canonical Visitation that relieved Dom Sipho from Office of Prior Administrator. He was appointed as Major Superior of the Abbey.   




Dom Joseph Gabreil-OSB was born in 1949 in Buffalo, New York State (USA). He professed as a Passionist in 1971 and was ordained Priest in 1976. In July 2001 he joined Christ in the Desert Abbey and in 2005 professed his perpetual vows as a Benedictine Monk. In July 2006 he was appointed Prior Administrator of St. Benedict’s Abbey. He served as Prior Administrator of St. Benedict’s Abbey till 2011. In 2012 he was appointed Prior Administrator of Mount Saviour Abbey (USA). He served the abbey in this capacity till 2015.




Dom Jeffery Steele-OSB was born in 1943 in South Africa. In 1997 he professed as a Benedictine Monk ordained Priest in 2007. In 2011 he was appointed Prior Administrator. The 2016 Canonical Visitation re-appointed him as Prior Administrator. In 2017 there was an Extra-Canonical Visitation comprising of Abbot Philip Lawrence-OSB (Christ in the Desert [USA]), Abbot Gerald-OSB (Dendermonde Abbey [Belgium]) and Abbot President, Rt. Rev. Abbot Guillermo Arboleda-OSB). The abbot President accepted Fr. Jeffery Steel’s resignation as Prior Administrator.




Prior Ghislain Maluvu-OSB was born on the 9th of July, 1968, in Lubumbashi-DRC. He is the 5th born child of Mr. François Pikini and Mrs Josephine Kahite. He entered the Monastery of Notre Dame Des Sources (Kaswishi, Lubumbashi-DRC) as a Postulant in 1990. From 1991 to 1992 he did his novitiate and in 1993 professed temporal vows. He studied Philosophy at the Seminary of Lubumbashi in DRC. In 2000 he graduated from the University of Lubumbashi with a Degree in History. In 2005 he graduated from the University of Kinshasa with a Diploma in Criminology.


Prior Ghislain joined St. Benedict’s Abbey in 2010 and in 2012 professed solemn vows, after which he was appointed Assistant Novice Master. From 2014 he was Master for the Temporary Professed and on the 24th of February, 2017, was appointed Claustral Prior of the abbey while completing his theological studies at the Seminary of Lubumbashi-DRC. On the 25th of February, 2017, he was raised to the Order of Deacons and on the 18th of August, 2017, was appointed by Prior Administrator.

Our Way of Life


4.30 a.m.- Vigils (Abbey Chapel) lasts for about one hour and fifteen minutes.


6.00 a.m.- Lauds (Abbey Chapel) lasts for about forty-five minutes and it is followed by breakfast. At 8.15 a.m. the Office of Terce (Parish Church) starts and it lasts for about ten minutes.


8.30 a.m.- Eucharistic Celebration (Parish Church) with the surrounding village people of Subiaco.


12.00 p.m.- Office of Sext (Abbey Chapel) lasts for about ten minutes, followed by optional lunch. Guests are welcome to eat with the monks.


4.30 p.m.- Solem Vespers and Benediction in the Abbey Chapel which is preceded by Statio.


5.45 p.m.- Compline (Abbey Chapel) lasts for about fifteen minutes, followed by Supper in the Monastic refectory and recreation at 6.00 p.m.


7.30 p.m.- Great Silence Begins


4.30 a.m.- Vigils (Abbey Chapel) lasts for about forty-five minutes, followed by Lectio.


5.45 a.m.- Lauds (Abbey Chapel) lasts for about thirty minutes, followed by Holy Mass at 6.15 a.m. and Terce 6.45 a.m.


12.00 p.m.- Office of Sext (Abbey Chapel) lasts for about ten minutes, followed by Lunch in the Monastic refectory


2.15 p.m.- Office of None (Abbey Chapel) lasts for about ten minutes, followed by Lectio.


5.00 p.m.- Office of Vespers (Abbey Chapel) lasts for about twenty-five minutes, followed by Lectio.


6.00 p.m.- Supper in the Monastic refectory.


7.15 p.m.- Compline (Abbey Chapel) lasts for about ten minutes, followed by Great Silence.