South African archbishop makes a quick detour to Milwaukee

“The motto on my coat of arms says, ‘As I have loved you, love one another. Being a Prophet of Love and Servant of Reconciliation has always been my strong point; it is a God-given strength and I make use of it whenever and wherever I can.”

-Archbishop Zolile Mpambani, SCJ

Frater Henry assists the archbishop

On the way back to South Africa from a conference, Archbishop Zolile Mpambani, SCJ, made a short detour to the Milwaukee area on February 3.

“I wanted to make sure that I visited the SCJ community in Hales Corners, even if just for a few days,” he said.  “I love the SCJs and I know that they love me too, as ‘love’ is our motto.”

The four-day visit allowed him the opportunity to celebrate Mass with the Sacred Heart Monastery Community, and connect with seminarians and other community members over number of topics, including a shared love of soccer, speaking about championship matches, teams and favorite players.

Before being named archbishop of Bloemfontein (South Africa) in 2020, he served as bishop of the diocese of Kokstad. He was appointed as bishop after only two months as provincial superior of the Dehonians’ South African Province.

Born in 1957 (he turns 65 on February 20), Archbishop Zolile professed first vows with the Priests of the Sacred Heart in 1982 and was ordained in 1987. After serving in parish ministry he was appointed to the General Council in 1998 to fulfill the term vacated by Bishop Tomé Makhwéliha, SCJ, when he was named as a bishop in Mozambique. Archbishop Zolile served on the General Council until 2003.

The archbishop blesses Fr. John before the reading of the Gospel. Fr. John was the First Friday presenter for the formation community.

Although Bloemfontein itself is a large city, Archbishop Zolile describes his archdiocese as “basically a rural archdiocese surrounded by farms and some small farm towns where our parishes are. The number of Catholics is very low as the whole area is dominated by the Dutch Reformed Church, Episcopalians, Methodists and many Evangelical churches.”

One of the blessings of the archdiocese is that there are “quite a considerable number of professional people whose knowledge we can tap,” he said. “The people are willing to participate, and they love their church.”

As in many other areas, COVID-19 has had a significant impact. Archbishop Zolile was named to his position in Bloemfontein just as the pandemic was taking the world hostage. Due to travel limitations, he hasn’t been able to visit all of the 36 parishes of his archdiocese. Church closures and attendance limits have been a challenge. “We are still struggling to get people back to church, but we will do the best we can,” he said, noting that lower attendance has also meant lower financial resources.

Even his installation ceremony was limited by the pandemic; only 50 people were allowed to be present. “But it was very solemn and intimate,” said Archbishop Zolile. “It was too good for words.”


When he was bishop of Kostad, Archbishop Zolile was able to regularly visit the SCJs’ formation community in Pietermaritzburg where he had served for several years. “I visited and celebrated Mass with them at least once a quarter,” he said. Now, he is closer to Aliwal North, the seat of the province (and closer to his family) so he attends provincial assemblies and other gatherings. “I like to keep in touch with my confreres as much as I can.”

If meetings take him close to Johannesburg, he often stays with the community there.

Being a Dehonian is at the root of Archbishop Zolile’s identity. “The motto on my coat of arms says, ‘As I have loved you, love one another,’” he said. “Being a Prophet of Love and Servant of Reconciliation has always been my strong point; it is a God-given strength and I make use of it whenever and wherever I can.”

He finds joy in his ministry as bishop. “What gives me joy as a bishop is the knowledge that the grace of the Holy Spirit is truly at work,” he said.  “I often say that as a priest, I knew that the Holy Spirit worked, but now as a bishop she is excelling.

“One other thing that gives me joy is the ability to share my leadership with my priests and the faithful; basically to share the gifts of being a bishop, leading, sanctifying and teaching.”

He finds joy as a bishop, but said that he does miss “that free-relating spirit I used to enjoy as a priest.” Due to his position in leadership, people tend to keep their distance. He misses the relaxed interaction of parish life.

Archbishop Zolile came to the United States to take part in the Alpha Conference in Phoenix. He and other conference participants were to visit St. Clement parish in Chicago to see the Alpha program in action, though a Midwestern snowstorm got in the way of some of their plans.

And just as when meetings in South Africa bring him close to an SCJ community, Archbishop Zolile wanted to take advantage of Chicago’s proximity to the Dehonian communities in Hales Corners to stop by for a short visit.

“To the Dehonians in the US Province, I thank you for welcoming me,” said Archbishop Zolile. “Thank you for your generosity, care and support, especially when I was struggling in Kokstad for the first three years of my episcopacy, and even thereafter.  Thank you also for supporting me with Mass Stipends.”

He noted the financial challenges of the areas in which he has served. “Nevertheless, we believe that with the grace of God and with his Providence we will stand and be strong in faith, spiritual and material needs,” he said.

“May the good Lord bless all of the confreres in the US Province and grant you as many vocations as you need for the continuation of the service of evangelization and the spread of the SCJ charism in the country,” he concluded.