St Martin de Porres Parish, Soweto

Orlando West has its origins in the “Orlando Shanty Town” that grew up during the Second World War when the black population of Johannesburg grew in leaps and bounds. Father Albert Vandenbussche OMI established the “Blessed Martin” parish in 1946. His successor, Father Verstraete oversaw the building of a parish hall and a church.  Much of the work was done by the priest and people themselves using bricks from buildings demolished in town.  This was amongst the earliest church buildings to consciously use African art and crafts in the interior design. 10 Oblate priests served the community of Saint Martin’s before the Jesuits came to the parish in 1985. They soon set about building a presbytery which has also served as a Jesuit residence for others working elsewhere.  The school and parish were not immune from the violent upheavals between 1976 and 1993.  The late Father Xolile Keteyi SJ had a special affinity with the youth and accompanied many through the harrowing times that followed the declaration of a state of emergency in 1986.

 Liturgical Life

The liturgical life in the parish is centred on the celebration of the Eucharist. Masses are said in Zulu and Sotho and there are two choirs that contribute to music ministry in the parish. It is our hope to become a centre for music in Soweto, with different groups coming in and performing.

Ministry to the Deaf

The parish has become a centre for deaf ministry in the area of Soweto. Every alternate third Sunday of the month there is mass for the deaf at 11am, and on the other alternate third Sunday the deaf community participate in the 8.30 am mass with the hearing community. Fr Mark James OP is the Archdiocesan chaplain to the deaf and presides at that 11am mass. The deaf community is also planning to start catechism classes for those who need to receive the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confirmation. There are also occasional visitors such as Fr. Cyril Axelrod C.Ss.R. who is a Redemptorist. Fr Cyril was born deaf and later in life became blind.

Sections

The Parish is divided into 7 geographical areas called sections, and each section meets weekly for scripture study and communal prayer. It is through the sections that much pastoral work is done, in particular the accompanying of bereaved families. When news of a death in a section is received, the members of the section visit the family. They will also attend the vigil when the body is received, the prayer service in the home before the body is bought to church and the burial itself.

Saint Martin de Porres High School

The school was established at the same time as the parish, as a primary school. By the mid 1950s, the school went up to standard six.  One thousand children were taught in two shifts – the first ending at 1pm, and the second around 5.30pm.  These children were fed too.  In the 1960s the Sisters cooked each day in an enormous cauldron over an open fire. Today the school has become a high school with just under 600 students.  The staff is entirely of lay people.  St. Martin’s boasts among its alumni Bishop Mvemve and Tokyo Sexwale.