Bethlehem Mission Society

In Switzerland, various Catholic missions were located. They educated priests and laymen to send them overseas. This project was supported by the donating people back home. In doing so, the Swiss Catholics became an integral part of the missionary endeavour. Hence, the broad fundraising campaigns opened for them a window to the world and established a relationship over a long distance. 

Despite this important role of the Catholic missions in entangling Switzerland with non-European regions, they haven't been a historical research object so far.


By focusing on the activities of the SMB in colonial Zimbabwe, the project examines an essential part of these entanglements: the society was the largest and most important Catholic mission in Switzerland. It was founded in 1921 in Immensee as a seminary for foreign mission. As an association of world priests, the SMB directly answered to the Sacred Congregation for Propagation of the Faith in Rome, which allowed the SMB to achieve greater goals and led to the rise of the entire Swiss Catholic mission.


Candidates for the society came largely from the pro-gymnasiums (high schools in Fribourg and Rebstein), the gymnasium (Immensee) and the seminary (Schöneck), which were run for this purpose. For the young men, a missionary career brought the opportunity of a higher education and a life abroad.


In 1924, the first missionaries traveld to China, and in 1925, the first missionary brothers were admitted into the SMB. Since 1938, the mission area in colonial Zimbabwe became steadily more important because of the expulsion of the missionaries from China. Later, this was followed by missionary assignments in Japan, Peru, Ecuador, Kenya, Philippines, Bolivia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. Since the 1960s, the SMB has not taken over areas allotted to it. Instead, at this time it began project assignments for a limited period in cooperation with the local churches.