The story of Our Lady of Fatima can be traced to the decision by Bishop Henri Delalle OMI to purchase three lots of land north of the Umgeni River in 1926. An additional two plots, immediately in front of the existing property were subsequently purchased in 1948.
Although the decision to create a new parish was only taken in 1957, the idea had long been in the minds of the church hierarchy. In fact, in purchasing the land, Bishop Delalle had had a convent, school and church in mind and this thinking was taken a step further when the previously-purchased plots were combined into one, giving a total area of three and a half acres.
Up until the late 1950's, Catholics living north of the Umgeni had their spiritual and pastoral needs catered for by the parish of St. Michael the Archangel. St. Michael's had its origins in a small wood and iron building erected in 1922. Under the leadership of Father Raymond Coates (later Parish Priest at Fatima), funds were raised for a new brick church which was blessed and opened on 4 December 1949.
An important step towards creating a home for Durban North's Catholic community was taken by Archbishop Hurley when, during his visit to Durban in 1948, he asked the Prioress General of the Newcastle Dominicans, Mother Bruno O' Grady, to consider building a convent and school in the area. His request would be taken to Rosary Priory - the Sisters' Mother House in England - where the ultimate decision would have to be made.
Archbishop Hurley had strong ties with the Sisters in Newcastle. His own parents, who were Irish, had become very friendly with the Sisters, no doubt drawn by their common Irish heritage. Archbishop Hurley had also been schooled by the Dominicans, first at St. Elmo’s Convent at Umzumbe and thereafter at St. Thomas’ in Lennoxton near Newcastle.
In 1950, on a visit to England, the Archbishop met Mother Bruno and the General Council at Rosary Priory and here he learned that his request had been granted. Planning for the new school could now begin.
The two separate buildings - convent and school - were officially opened by Archbishop Hurley in the Marian Year 1954 and the building was dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima.
And why, 'Our Lady of Fatima'?
Between her meetings with Archbishop Hurley, Mother Bruno had been a visitor to Fatima and, perhaps with a premonition that a convent and church were going to be built, she returned with two stones. Reminiscent of Jesus’ words to St. Peter, "Upon this rock I will build my church", each of the two stones is to be found in Durban North’s Fatima precinct today. One was placed in the wall of the convent chapel (today the Principal’s office) and the other was later built into the wall of the Lady Chapel in the church.
The new convent soon proved to be a 'home' for the nearby Catholics who started to utilise the new school and convent’s facilities for Masses and other liturgical celebrations. Masses on Sundays and other feast days were celebrated in the school hall and the convent chapel was used for daily Mass and Baptisms.
With the expansion of Durban’s northern suburbs and the increasing Catholic population, a decision was taken to establish two new parishes. With Margaret Maytom Avenue being determined as the boundary, those on its northern side became parishioners of Virginia / Glenashley, and those closer to town fell into the ambit of Durban North.
The decision to establish what we now know as the parish of Our Lady of Fatima was formalised in the Decree of Erection of a Separate Parish, dated 25 March 1957, and Father Henry McCabe was appointed parish priest. As a sign of intent, the house belonging to the Stone family at Number 159 Northway was rented as a home for Father McCabe.
In 1956, a year before the official establishment of the parish, the Catholic Women’s League had formed a separate branch in the area and set about fund-raising activities for a new church.
In May 1959, the Catholic Action Committee met for the first time under the chairmanship of Father McCabe. This group became the Church Building Committee and took upon itself the responsibility of making the dream become a reality. In addition to driving the fund-raising programme, Father McCabe visited a number of parishes to ascertain the best design for the new church, being mindful of the climate and the humidity especially. A theme song was written in which 'Five and twenty thousand pounds' was indicated as the amount needed to build the church.
Being an American and with contacts in that country, Father McCabe travelled there in search of financial support and, even though the exchange rate was not as one-sided as it is now, the injection of US Dollars certainly went some way to reaching the target.
The architects commissioned to design the church were Alan Woodrow and Austin Collingwood, both Catholics. Woodrow was a leading member of the Knights of da Gama and Collingwood later became a priest.
The architects favoured the ‘contemporary’ style and had been responsible for the design of several churches built in Durban in the nineteen fifties and sixties. They had been the architects of the Berea’s Holy Trinity church (blessed and opened in 1958) and a number of lessons were heeded in the design of Durban North’s new church. Perhaps most significantly, there had been complaints about the lack of ventilation with the result that the new church was blessed with rows of windows that opened on both sides of the church.
The quantity surveyor involved in the project was the firm of A. Douglas Dunlop and Partners, and the building contractor was T. Midgley and Son (Pty.) Ltd.
The foundation stone was laid and blessed on 1 July 1962 and just over seven months later, on 17 February 1963 Archbishop Hurley blessed and opened the church of Our Lady of Fatima.