On March 6, 1865, Franz Mayr was born to Georg and Maria Mayr, farmers in the tiny village of Obernussdorf in the mountainous Austrian Tyrol. Mayr suffered from kyphoscoliosis, a disorder of the spine characterized by progressive deformities consisting of lateral and posterior curvatures and resulting in a shortening of height, stiff chest wall, and restricted lung capacity. He was therefore not able to help his parents and siblings, Anna, Maria, and Simon, with the demanding labor on the farm. This condition may explain why he was sent to the neighboring town of Lienz and reared by foster parents, the shoemaker Franz Harb and his wife, Anna, who was Mayr’s aunt. We know little else about Mayr’s childhood. He may have gone to the primary school in Lienz. 
From 1876 to 1884 he attended the Vinzentinum, a private grammar school for boys in the town of Brixen (from 1919, Bressanone, Italy) in South Tyrol, which was the seat of the bishop of the Diocese of Brixen. This school was founded by the conservative prince-bishop Vinzenz Gasser in 1872 to prepare boys to study Catholic theology; Gasser also wanted to increase the number of priests in the Diocese of Brixen. In addition to religious education, the Vinzentinum offered courses in geography, mathematics, shorthand, German, Latin, ancient Greek, Italian, French, Syrian, Hebrew, natural history, art history, literature, calligraphy, and other subjects. Even theater performances took place, and both vocal and instrumental music played an important role in the Vinzentinum boys’ education. Mayr’s school efforts, however, were only average. 
He nevertheless started to study Catholic theology in the autumn of 1884 at the seminary in Brixen after successfully passing his school exit exams. Soon after his ordination into the secular priesthood on May 6, 1888, he felt a call to become a missionary and work among the Zulu people in the former British colony of Natal (in present-day South Africa). At that time he worked as an assistant priest (Kooperator) in two small villages in Tyrol (Hopfgarten and Kals am Grossglockner). Mayr does not elaborate extensively on his desire to go to Africa, but in one of his letters he mentions wanting to become a missionary because of the surplus of priests in his home diocese, a result of Gasser’s ambitions and a situation that is quite the reverse of today’s. Mayr also might have read and been influenced by a mission newsletter published by the Austrian monk Franz Pfanner, who belonged to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappists. Pfanner was the founder and first abbot of the Trappist monastery Mariannhill near Pinetown in the Natal Vicariate.
In the spring of 1852, almost forty years before Mayr’s arrival, Bishop Jean-François Allard founded the Natal Vicariate. Allard belonged to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a French-speaking congregation, which sent the first Catholic missionaries to Natal. The German-speaking Trappists, along with Pfanner, followed thirty years later and established Mariannhill and many more mission stations all over the colony. 
Missionary Work in Natal
Upon his arrival in Natal in May 1890, Mayr lived eight months with the Trappists at St. Michael’s Mission, an outstation of Mariannhill Monastery, before he left for the capital of the colony, Pietermaritzburg, where in January 1891 he offered his services to Bishop Charles Constant Jolivet. 
In the 1850s Jolivet’s predecessor, Bishop Allard, had established his headquarters in Pietermaritzburg and had founded the first Catholic church, named St. Mary’s Church, which was meant to be used only by white settlers; it is still located between Loop Street and Longmarket Street. A shortage of priests and finances left Allard and his successors at a great disadvantage and hindered the Catholic conversion of the Zulu people in and around Pietermaritzburg. The few Oblate priests there were put in charge of large territories and served only the white population and some of the immigrants from India who were living in town. Complying with the dictates of the time, the Oblates built St. Andrew’s Church to serve the Indians. 
In 1886 the Zulu population of Natal numbered 361,766. The majority lived in the rural areas, mainly in so-called native locations, which were set aside for them by the white colonial government. At that time, Pietermaritzburg had only 4,086 Zulu residents, who lived either in or around the capital.  In 1892-93 various cities of Natal introduced compulsory registration for blacks in order to better control them. Since Zulus were often temporarily employed by whites as domestic servants, a missionary had little or no access to the Zulu family unit, only to individuals seeking employment in town. Zulus usually worked long hours and were subject to a nine o’clock curfew. A missionary who hoped to reach the Zulus therefore had to provide a meeting place, such as a hall or a chapel, that would attract Zulus on Sundays, their day off; furthermore, the missionary would also have to speak the language well. The success of a missionary hinged as much on the Zulu children as on the adults, because if a missionary could reach the children by teaching them religion and other subjects, he would also gain access to the children’s parents. Finally, a missionary needed deep faith and devotion, because he sometimes acted contrary to public opinion and would get into trouble with colonial authorities. All of these qualities were evident in Father Franz Mayr, who was put in charge of the first Catholic Zulu Mission in Pietermaritzburg.
Bishop Jolivet recognized Mayr’s proficiency in both English and Zulu (called isiZulu in Zulu), the local language of the Natal Africans, and immediately entrusted him with founding and running the Zulu Mission in town. Mayr was allowed to work as an independent secular priest and never joined the Oblates. The bishop indeed allowed Mayr a considerable amount of freedom in his work.
By order of Bishop Jolivet, who called him “a good little man” or “my little hunchback,” Mayr gathered together a group of Zulus and built a church. This “native church” was situated on Erf 10, Burger Street, near St. Mary’s Church. Mayr also ran an elementary school for children during the week and gave catechetical instructions to adults and children after mass on Sundays.
On January 15, 1893, Jolivet blessed the simple building, and at the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus he named it the Holy Name Church. The influence of the church’s mission is revealed by the baptismal record, which shows how quickly and at what rate conversions began among the Zulu people. The first baptism to take place in that church was that of 30-year-old Peter Makaye, on February 19, 1893. Two years earlier, however, on January 2, 1891, the Zulu Maria Mendaba, who was around 58 years old, had been baptized in St. Mary’s Church. Her husband, Lorenz Makwikwi (ca. 70), and their children, Dominicus Uhlati Makwikwi (ca. 24) and Monica Nomandali Makwikwi (ca. 19), were baptized later on August 14, 1892-almost a year before the separate church for the Zulus was blessed. 
“A good number of Zulus frequent our school and chapel,” Bishop Jolivet reported in 1894. Therefore, inspired by the success of the Catholic St. Francis Xavier Mission near the harbor of Durban, Jolivet and Mayr began to plan a village for African Catholics on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg. Soon a site for Maryvale (“Valley of Mary,” sometimes written as Marievale or Marienthal in German) was bought in the vicinity of the present Ohrtmann Road, where Mayr built Holy Family Church. Today the Catholic church known as St. Joan of Arc stands there. Mayr soon settled African families in the village, and an extra hundred acres (forty hectares) of arable land was leased for their use. As in the case of the St. Francis Xavier Mission, each African family was forced to build a dwelling in European style and had to cultivate crops on its individual plot of land. 
The official opening of Maryvale Mission by Bishop Jolivet occurred on January 27, 1895, and is reported in the March 1895 edition of the South African Catholic Magazine. This occasion marked a milestone in the development and expansion of the Zulu Mission in and around Pietermaritzburg. The allowance to expand the Zulu Mission to Maryvale certainly stemmed from Bishop Jolivet’s confidence in Mayr’s ability to successfully evangelize the Zulus. 
Another article, published four years later, gives the reader a glimpse of how Maryvale had grown since its inception. The article, which was originally published in French, describes a visit by Bishop Jolivet to Maryvale on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of his priestly ordination:
Maryvale, a pleasant village situated along the Dorp Spruit River, is two or three miles from Pietermaritzburg. The land belongs to the mission, and on it the missionary has built small attractive houses where Zulus have begun to taste the goodness of the civilization of the cross and the charity of Christ. Arranged in three or four rows, these houses have verandas covered by the shade of green and flower-bearing plants. There is a main street leading to the church, where the missionary preaches and says Holy Mass twice and where Sr. Marie-Lucie teaches arithmetic, English, and sewing to these blacks. The tower of the chapel has a nice bell, which rings in the valley like the sound of the Divine Voice to remind the Zulus of their true and unique Master, to whom their hearts should respond. On May 16 the bell rang with vigor in the valley of Mary, and three bishops, one in miter, and twelve other priests came to the village, to this church and this mission. They rang three bells of a complete carillon to announce properly the arrival of these visitors and were singing joyfully and gladly in honor of the event. All were waiting in the church, which was prepared nicely for this feast; the children were in the middle, with the men and the women on either side. As soon as the monsignor reached his chair, Fr. Mayr played the reed organ, and the choir began to sing joyfully in Latin, Zulu, and English. 
The first baptism to be recorded in Holy Family Church, which took place on November 2, 1895, was that of Laurentia Makoba, born on October 21, 1895, the daughter of Philemon Makoba and Maria Engel.  Developing Maryvale required substantial funds from European patrons. In order to raise money, Franz Mayr visited Europe and solicited funds from the Austrian countess Maria Theresia Ledóchowska and the Sodality of St. Peter Claver, a religious organization known for supporting Catholic missions in Africa. Most of the funds went toward buying land and constructing a school chapel, as well as other buildings. In the spring of 1904 Mayr even traveled to Canada in search of funding and to recruit missionary sisters for Natal. 
Oblate priests eventually took over Maryvale, while Mayr continued his work at the Holy Name Chapel in the city of Pietermaritzburg and ministered in the town prison, where as early as the 1890s he had been invited to become a chaplain to those on death row. Mayr walked alongside prisoners as they went to the gallows, converting them to Christianity before they died and baptizing them, sometimes the day before their hanging. Mayr was in Natal until 1909, during which time he founded several mission stations throughout the colony and assisted other priests in their work in places such as Oakford and Umsinsini.
Work in Southern Rhodesia and eswatini
In 1909 Mayr was asked by the Missionaries of Mariannhill, as the Trappists were known from that time, to reopen a mission field in Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe). St. Triashill, which was Mayr’s most successful mission station in the area, was situated in Manyikaland, near the border of the former colony of Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique). He studied the language of the Manyika people and was soon able to preach the Gospel in their vernacular, called chiManyika.
In 1912 Mayr left Africa for Europe to offer his services as an English and Zulu teacher to young Mariannhill missionaries planning to travel to Africa. Just a few months later he decided to return to Africa to help the Tyrolean Servites of Mary in eswatini.
Mayr and the Tyrolean Servites in 1913 started the first Catholic mission in the tiny African monarchy of eswatini. Mayr’s help was much appreciated by the Servite superior, Father Arimath Maria Gratl. Surely motivated by these successes, Mayr immediately set out to establish St. Joseph’s Mission near Bremersdorp, which was the capital of eswatini. St. Joseph’s, the last mission he founded, is the place of his burial. On October 15, 1914, a Thursday morning, Mayr set out alone in his mule cart. About twelve kilometers beyond Bremersdorp, he stopped at a store to purchase a coat. As he left, a young Swazi named Mfanyana Mdluli followed him, robbed him of his money, and then stabbed him to death. The native queen regent, Labotsibeni, at once dispatched an underling to investigate, who, after searching, found Mayr’s body. There were seventeen wounds on his left arm and left leg and another wound, probably the fatal one, in his neck. Mayr was forty-nine years old. 
Mayr’s Various Collections
When I started my research a few years ago into the life of this Tyrolean missionary, he was all but forgotten. What I found were mostly unpublished sources scattered across Europe and South Africa. My search for information led me from Austria to Italy, Great Britain, and South Africa. Several hundred of the documents I found were recently made available in my book Adieu* ihr lieben Schwarzen* (Farewell, Dear Blacks), together with Mayr’s published articles, historical photographs, and maps, as well as my own commentary. The book offers many interesting insights into Mayr’s life, including information about his interest in languages, especially African ones, and in music and photography, and about his passion for collecting ethnological artifacts, minerals, plants, animals, and even locust eggs.
Mayr sent several of his collections to scientific institutions such as the Natural History Collection (Naturhistorisches Kabinett) of the Vinzentinum, his former school, and to his sponsors, friends, and relatives in Europe. Only in the last few years have scholars started to pay attention to these rather significant collections. The Herbarium of the University of Natal holds Mayr’s hundred-year-old ethnobotanical collection of medicinal plants, which he meticulously cataloged in both Latin and Zulu. Scientists of the Department of Botany now work with this collection, which is one of the oldest in southern Africa.
While in Southern Rhodesia (1909-12), Mayr collected tools, traditional clothes, and weapons from the Manyika people. He sent many of the ethnological items to Countess Ledóchowska for use in her traveling exhibitions, but he sent the better part of his collections to the Natal Museum in Pietermaritzburg. William Dewey of the University of Iowa called Mayr’s Manyika collection “the best [I have] ever seen worldwide. Mayr clearly went to great efforts to select a detailed range of items.” 
Publications by Franz Mayr
Apart from his missionary work, Mayr also found time to write several books, such as Zulu Simplified, first published in 1899. This was a grammar subtitled A New, Practical, and Easy Method of Learning the Zulu Language, in its sixth edition renamed An English-Zulu Exercise Book, with Key for Colonists and Natives. In 1899 at the behest of the school inspector of Natal he also published Beginnings of English Grammar and Geography,  plus a songbook written in English.  Just two years later Mayr finished Incwadi Yokufundisa ukufunda isi Zulu (Manual for teaching and learning Zulu), a Zulu textbook which was published in Salzburg, Austria. 
While in Southern Rhodesia, Mayr published A Chimanyika Spelling Book  and several religious books, such as a Catholic catechism titled Katekisma kana Tsamba ye rudzidziso rwe Sangano katolike (Catechism or book of the teachings of the Catholic Church)  and a Catholic prayer and hymnbook entitled Munda we mweya kana Tsambe ye minamato ne ndwiyo (Field of the Holy Spirit or book of prayers and hymns).  The collection Gore Rinoyera re Sangano kana Mavangeri e Masondo: Ne e Misi mikuru minamato ne ndwiyo dze gore rinoyera re Sangano zwimwe zwimwe zwiro: Kwakabarwa nge wadzidzisi we St. Triashill, published posthumously, contains prayers and hymns collected by him and other Mariannhill missionaries.  Buku re masoko anoyera e chirangano che kare ne chipswa rakawambzirwa nge masoko e Sangano (a Bible history translated into chiManyika) and Easy English for Natives in Rhodesia were published after his death. 
Mayr also left a few scholarly articles about the Zulus, such as “Language of Colours Amongst the Zulus Expressed by Their Beadwork Ornaments, and Some General Notes on Their Personal Adornments and Clothing.”  Mayr’s articles “The Zulu Kafirs of Natal” and “Zulu Proverbs” were published in Anthropos, an anthropological journal edited by Wilhelm Schmidt. Schmidt, a corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, suggested that Mayr and three other Catholic missionaries receive phonographs to preserve indigenous music from various parts of the world.
Though Mayr was not the first person to produce Zulu recordings, his are some of the earliest sound documents made in that language. His recordings were originally made on wax cylinders and later copied to discs, so-called Phonogramme, in the Phonogrammarchiv of what was then the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna. On his motivation to record Zulu music, Mayr commented, “It is certainly high time for such a study, as European music is rapidly penetrating into every part of the country, and harmonicas, concertinas, etc., are taking the place of the original primitive instruments.” In one of the protocols enclosed with his Zulu recordings, Mayr wrote, “I intend to write a more detailed treatise on Zulu music for Anthropos after receiving the result of listening to the phonograph cylinders.” The article was not published in Anthropos but appeared instead in the Annals of the Natal Government Museum as “A Short Study on Zulu Music.” 
Mayr was interested in the culture of the African people among whom he lived and worked as a missionary. His writings, however, convey feelings of superiority, justifications of mission work, and other politics of the time that Mayr would have wanted or been forced to defend. It is therefore important to understand the local situation in Africa and Mayr’s own personal history. His comments and notes should be examined within the proper sociohistorical context, with an eye on Mayr’s interests and influences.
Clemens U. Gütl
This article is an abridged version of my contribution to Series 10 of the Sound Documents from the Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences which was published in 2006. I am grateful to Rosalind Early for editing my English text. Special thanks also to the Hochschuljubiläumsstiftung der Stadt Wien, Magistratsabteilung 8, which funded part of the research. I thank Sandra Sanneh for providing translations of three of Mayr’s isiZulu and chiManyika titles.
See Clemens Gütl, ed., “Adieu ihr lieben Schwarzen”: Gesammelte Schriften des Tiroler Afrikamissionars Franz Mayr (1865-1914), (Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2004), pp. 27-36, 43-45.
Ibid., pp. 36-40, 50-53.
Ibid., pp. 54-304.
J. G. Duckworth, The St. Mary’s Story: A History of St. Mary’s Catholic Parish Pietermaritzburg (Mariannhill: Mission Press, 1989), pp. 5ff.
Natal Almanac (1886), p. 370.
Register of Baptisms, vol. 3, 1888-1901, St. Mary’s Church, Pietermaritzburg.
See Gütl, “Adieu ihr lieben Schwarzen,” pp. 27-36, 43-45.
See “Feast of the Holy Family at Maryvale,” South African Catholic Magazine 3 (1895): 170-71.
“A la mission de Maryvale,” Missions 147 (September 1899): 274-78.
Register of Baptisms, vol. 3, 1888-1901.
See Gütl, “Adieu ihr lieben Schwarzen,” pp. 100, 173ff.
Ibid., pp. 305-16, 366-87.
Ibid., pp. 389-90.
Ibid., pp. 116-17; Franz Mayr, Zulu Simplified, Being a New, Practical, and Easy Method of Learning the Zulu Language, 5th ed. (Pietermaritzburg: P. Davis & Sons, 1904); Franz Mayr, Zulu Simplified, Being an English-Zulu Exercise Book, with Key for Colonists and Natives, 6th ed. (Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter, 1911).
See Gütl, “Adieu ihr lieben Schwarzen,” p. 121.
Franz Mayr, Incwadi Yokufundisa ukufunda isi Zulu (Manual for teach- ing and learning Zulu) (Salzburg-Maria Sorg: St. Petrus Claver Sodalität, 1901).
Franz Mayr, A Chimanyika Spelling Book (Mariannhill, [1910?]).
Franz Mayr, Katekisma kana Tsamba ye rudzidziso rwe Sangano katolike (Catechism or book of the teachings of the Catholic Church) (Mariannhill: Ignatius Cartlan, 1910).
Franz Mayr, Munda we mweya kana Tsambe ye minamato ne ndwiyo (Field of the Holy Spirit or book of prayers and hymns) (Pinetown: Mariannhill, 1911).
Collective from Triashill, Gore Rinoyera re Sangano kana Mavangeri e Masondo: Ne e Misi mikuru minamato ne ndwiyo dze gore rinoyera re Sangano zwimwe zwimwe zwiro: Kwakabarwa nge wadzidzisi we St. Triashill (The Holy Church Year, with the Gospels for all Sundays and holidays, prayers and hymns for the Holy Church Year, besides some other prayers. Published by the Patres R.M.M., Triashill) (Mariannhill, Natal: Catholic Mission Press, 1918).
Franz Mayr and Aegidius Pfister, trans., Buku re masoko anoyera e chirangano che kare ne chipswa rakawambzirwa nge masoko e Sangano (Bible History, Containing the Most Remarkable Events of the Old and New Testaments, to Which Is Added a Compendium of Church History) (Mariannhill: Catholic Mission Press, 1917); Franz Mayr, Easy English for Natives in Rhodesia (Mariannhill, 1928).
Franz Mayr, “Language of Colours Amongst the Zulus Expressed by Their Beadwork Ornaments, and Some General Notes on Their Personal Adornments and Clothing,” Annals of the Natal Museum 1 (1906): 159-66.
Franz Mayr, “The Zulu Kafirs of Natal,” Anthropos 1 (1906): 453-71 and 2 (1907): 392-99, 633-45.
Karton 1, Konvolut 1, Akt-No 89/1909, Archiv der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phonogrammarchiv.
Franz Mayr, “A Short Study on Zulu Music,” Annals of the Natal Government Museum 1, pt. 3 (May 1908): 257.
See protocol enclosed with Phonogramme 1755, Archiv der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phonogrammarchiv.
Mayr, “A Short Study on Zulu Music,” pp. 257-67.
Most of Franz Mayr’s letters are held by the General Archive of the Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver, Rome. Other writings appear in the following archives: General Archive of the Mariannhill Missionaries, Rome; Archive of the Vinzentinum, Bressanone (Italy); Archive of the Diocese of Brixen (Bressanone, Italy); General Archive of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Rome; General Archive of the Order of the Servants of Mary, Rome; Provincial Archive of the Order of the Servants of Mary, Innsbruck (Austria); Archive of the Archdiocese of Durban (South Africa).
Works by Franz Mayr
1899 Zulu Simplified, Being a New, Practical, and Easy Method of Learning the Zulu Language. Pietermaritzburg: P. Davis & Sons.
1901 Incwadi Yokufundisa ukufunda isi Zulu (Manual for teaching and learning Zulu). Salzburg-Maria Sorg: St. Petrus Claver Sodalität.
1906 “Language of Colours Amongst the Zulus Expressed by Their Beadwork Ornaments, and Some General Notes on Their Personal Adornments and Clothing.” Annals of the Natal Museum 1:159-66.
1906-7 “The Zulu Kafirs of Natal.” Anthropos 1:453-71; 2:392-99, 633-45.
1908 “A Short Study on Zulu Music.” Annals of the Natal Government Museum 1, pt. 3 (May): 257-67.
[1910?] A Chimanyika Spelling Book. Mariannhill, Natal.
1910 Katekisma kana Tsamba ye rudzidziso rwe Sangano katolike (Cathecism or book of the teachings of the Catholic Church). Mariannhill: Ignatius Cartlan. A Catholic catechism.
1911 Munda we mweya kana Tsambe ye minamato ne ndwiyo (Field of the Holy Spirit or book of prayers and hymns). Pinetown: Mariannhill. Catholic prayer and hymn book.
1912 “Zulu Proverbs.” Anthropos 7:957-63.
1917 (trans., with Aegidius Pfister) Buku re masoko anoyera e chirangano che kare ne chipswa rakawambzirwa nge masoko e Sangano. Mariannhill: Catholic Mission Press. Translation of Richard Gilmour, Bible History, Containing the Most Remarkable Events of the Old and New Testaments, to Which Is Added a Compendium of Church History (New York: Benziger, 1881).
1918 Gore Rinoyera re Sangano kana Mavangeri e Masondo: Ne e Misi mikuru minamato ne ndwiyo dze gore rinoyera re Sangano zwimwe zwimwe zwiro: Kwakabarwa nge wadzidzisi we St. Triashill (The Holy Church Year, with the Gospels for all Sundays and holidays, prayers and hymns for the Holy Church Year, besides some other prayers. Published by the Patres R.M.M., Triashill). Mariannhill, Natal: Catholic Mission Press.
1928 Easy English for Natives in Rhodesia. Mariannhill.
Works About Franz Mayr
Gütl, Clemens. “Mayr, Franz.” Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon 27 (2006): 921-34, available also at www.bautz.de/bbkl/m/mayr_fr.shtml.
—. “Franz Mayr and ‘His Blacks’-A Missionary’s Interest in African Countries and Cultures.” In Sound Documents from the Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences: The Complete Historical Collections (1899-1950). Series 10: The Collection of Father Franz Mayr (Zulu-Recordings 1908), ed. Dietrich Schüller, pp. 14-32. OEAW PHA CD 25. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2007.
—, ed. “Adieu ihr lieben Schwarzen”: Gesammelte Schriften des Tiroler Afrikamissionars Franz Mayr (1865-1914) (“Farewell, Dear Blacks”: Collected Writings of Franz Mayr (1865-1914), Tyrolean Missionary to Africa). Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2004.
[1*] Photo courtesy of General Archives of the Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver, Rome.
This article, received in 2009, was written by Clemens U. Gütl, Curator for African sound recordings at the Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, and Lecturer in African History at the University of Vienna. He is the author of books and articles dealing with the history of missions in Africa.