In 1934, the Vicar Apostolic of Cape Town, Bishop Francis Hennemann SAC, decided to establish a full-time chaplaincy for the Catholic students at the University of Cape Town. He approached the Jesuit Superior in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Fr Philip Beisly, with a request to provide a full-time chaplain. The priest chosen for this role was Fr Bryan Gavan Duffy SJ, who had been Prefect of Studies at St George’s College Salisbury (now Harare).
Fr Gavan Duffy took up his post early in 1935. On his arrival at the Cape, the Bishop settled him in a house in Lover’s Walk, Rondebosch, called “Bishops Gate,” which had been rented for the purpose. It was one of the chaplain’s first tasks to find a suitable permanent home for the chaplaincy.
After a short while, “Woodville”, the nineteenth-century residence of the late Dr. Petersen, came onto the market. This property was conveniently situated close to the University, and in every way it was a desirable centre for the chaplaincy. In September 1935, Fr Gavan Duffy arranged for the purchase of Lot 13, which contained the original farmhouse, using borrowed money and donations raised by him for the purpose.
Five adjoining erven were acquired soon afterwards, making up a total area of 5,500 m2. The property was to serve a number of purposes: the chaplain’s office, a place where the student community could meet, worship and socialise together, and a residence for Catholic students, all set among a spacious and peaceful garden.
The house having been acquired, it had to be named, and Fr Gavan Duffy proposed that it should be known as “Kolbe House” after Monsignor FC Kolbe. Mgr Kolbe was a prominent member of the Cape Town clergy, a theologian, writer, educationalist and scientist with close links to the University, who for many years had campaigned for the establishment of a university chaplaincy. The name was welcomed by the university authorities who had in 1929 conferred on Mgr Kolbe an honorary D.Lit degree for his role in the establishment of the Michaelis School of Fine Art. Mgr Kolbe himself never lived nor worked here, but with the establishment of Kolbe House, his great vision had begun to materialise.
Over the years, the House has retained its character and still serves the purposes for which it was originally acquired. The warden of the residence lives in a cottage built on the grounds, and there is now room for 21 student residents. The chapel has been expanded to accommodate up to 250 people, while the well-tended garden is still a peaceful sanctuary for residents and visitors.
In 2005, the Archdiocese transferred the property to the Kolbe Trust, which is charged with ensuring the financial well-being of the chaplaincy and safeguarding the property in perpetuity. The Trust operates under the aegis of, and in close co-operation with, the Archbishop of Cape Town.
Pictured below is an 1863 watercolour by Thomas Bowler of the original “Woodville” farmhouse.
Pictured below is watercolour by Thomas Bowler in 1863 of the original farmhouse.