18 Marist Sisters from all over the world gathered in Dublin recently for their Plenary General Council(PGC) meeting from 15-30 September. The theme of the meeting was Women of the Word, Whole-makers, embracing Life! Present at the meeting were four Sisters from Asia-Pacific – Srs Cath Lacey (Australia), Lavinia Henry (Fiji), Gemma Wilson (New Zealand) and Sheila Manalo (Philippines). The PGC was a wonderful opportunity for the sisters to reflect and discern together and so experience solidarity as a whole congregation.
Marist Sisters in Fiji gathered together to celebrate the life of Jeanne Marie Chavoin, foundress of the Marist Sisters. Australian Marist Sister, Kate McPhee, led the sisters through a process of reflecting, discussing and moving through various rooms which had been set up by the five Fijian Marist Sisters’ communities.The journey began 200 hundred years ago in Coutouvre with Jeanne Marie’s companion Marie Jotillon and ended in Jarnosse with stop-offs at Cerdon and Bon Repos. The process helped the sisters to connect with the realities of the time…the simplicity, the humility, the environment , prayer life and desire to do the will of God.
Following these days of reflection the sisters engaged in a wellness programme led by another Australian Marist Sisters, Ruth Davis. The sisters found this to be very interesting and relevant to their life in Fiji.
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Marist Sisters in Australia gathered at Hunter Hill on the June long weekend to reflect and to celebrate. On Saturday morning Mrs Margery Jackman led us in a reflection on Option for the Poor. In the afternoon Sr Ruth gave us guidance on how to assist someone who has had a fall to ensure the safety of the helper and the one who has fallen then Sr Kate updated us on some financial matters.
It was with great joy that we gathered in the chapel at Marist Sisters’ College Woolwich on Sunday to celebrate our Jubilarians: Sr Catherine Lacey – Golden Jubilee, Srs Clare Francis and Marie Patricia Toomey, Platinum Jubilee.
Marist Father Paul Mahoney celebrated the Eucharist during which our Jubilarians renewed their vows. This was followed by afternoon tea in Marian House.
Easter holidays saw the Marist Sisters of Aotearoa-New Zealand gathered for three days of assembly in Mt. Albert which concluded with the celebration of Sr Jane Frances O’Carroll’s golden jubilee of profession. Mass was celebrated in our recently renovated chapel by Bishop Patrick Dunn, for whom Jane works.
Sr Antonia Avey sm was called to eternal life on Saturday 29th April 2017.
Eternal Rest grant to her, OLord.
May perpetual Light Shine upon her.
May she rest in Peace.
We extend our prayerful sympathy to the Marist Sisters in New Zealand and to Sr Antonia’s family. At Antonia’s funeral Sr Francine delivered the following eulogy.
“When I heard last Saturday morning that Antonia had gone to her real home, these lines (with a slight gender change) came to mind – lines from the poem ‘Requiem’ by Robert Louis Stephenson:
Here she lies where she longed to be:
Home is the sailor, home from sea
And the hunter home from the hill
Antonia had a great desire and longing to be with God which in the latter years of her life she expressed often. I will talk about this later.
In “Sr Antonia’s Story” where she writes about her life, and in special detail her 23 years as a missionary in Fiji, she speaks of a happy and united family life with an open door to anyone who cared to call. This characterised Toni’s attitude towards anyone who called at our door during the 10 years I lived with her in Linden and Tawa. It was in her family that her vocation was fostered. She would often accompany her Dad to daily Mass. She said his deep love of the sacramental presence of the Lord rubbed off on her.
Antonia did her primary schooling in Taihape and the convent school in Frankton with the Sisters of the Mission continuing at Sacred Heart in Hamilton. Her final year was spent as a boarder in Mt Albert with the intention of getting to know the sisters before travelling to Sydney. She thoroughly enjoyed that year but admits to ‘not studying terribly hard’ and she writes “At the back of my mind I thought that if I didn’t study too well they might not want to have me in the convent. What generosity! However I was gradually coming round to the truth that Jesus was calling me and I would answer the call.”
This she did in 1940 on the S.S.Mariposa with Sr Margarita at the tender age of 17 years. They both got very sick on the boat and she tells the story of them and I quote, ‘feeling so seedy the second night we couldn’t face going down to our cabin. We staggered down to get a couple of cabin blankets, came back to the deck, made ourselves as comfortable as we could on deck chairs, draped ourselves in the cabin blankets and there we stayed. A couple of times someone came along the deck saying, “Would those with cabin blankets on the deck please return them to the cabins.” Neither of us moved. We thought that if they wanted them back in the cabin they could take them themselves. We weren’t going down again. We awoke next morning to the sound of swishing water with sailors washing the deck.”
The novitiate at that time was in Woolwich, a beautiful spot which overlooked the Lane Cove River in Sydney. Her time there was short-lived as a submarine was spotted in Sydney Harbour and the Woolwich community, the Novitiate and boarding school of 50-60 boarders had to move to Mittagong, a safer place in the country. The hardships during this time were a very good preparation for her time as a missionary in Fiji. This move fulfilled her greatest desire which was to be a missionary.
She travelled to Fiji and spent the next 23 years there as a primary school teacher in different schools. 13 years were spent on a remote island in the Yasawas which was the highlight of her time in Fiji. Travelling on the village boats to reach the island took 8 hours and Antonia was very fearful to begin with but after a couple of trips with the Fijian crews, she lost all her fear because of their prowess at handling the boats. She had many stories to tell of her time there.
Antonia returned to NZ in 1967 where she taught at Mt Albert. She completed her teacher training at Loreto Hall and then taught at both Mt Albert and Herne Bay with several years in Melbourne. Subsequent years were spent in remedial teaching and pastoral work in 7 different parishes throughout the North Island. Her work in Linden, Tawa was mostly with refugees who benefited greatly by Antonia’s teaching skills. One of them who came from Cambodia, wanted to set up a hairdressing business and Antonia spent a lot of time taking him around and showing him what that would entail. He changed his mind but did manage to set up a hairdressing business in his garage later. A young Somali girl was another of Antonia’s pupils and she took infinite pains with her. She came to live in a bedsit opposite our house in Linden where she received a lot of mentoring and instruction. Another Chinese gentleman with his wife went to see her several times at Marian Rest Home as it was called then when she moved North and they still ask after her 10 years later.
In 2007 Antonia moved from Tawa to MacKillop Care and we were told what a wonderful difference she made there, greeting newcomers and visitors with a cheerful smile and a kind word as well as making a great contribution to the life of the residents with her astuteness, sense of humour and prowess at rummykub in the early days and scrabble later. Prue, the Manager, said she was one of life’s special ladies, everyone loved her and she was a joy to have every day. She would walk around humming and singing, often telling someone how nice she looked and that if the admired item of clothing was left around, she’d take it and put in her wardrobe. Gemma recounts that in probably the last game of scrabble she ever played, she beat her by getting TWO words of 7 letters thus receiving two bonuses! This is spite of being in a lot of pain! Prior to her illness, she was a dab hand at cryptic crosswords, crochet and knitting.
Antonia has lived in 15 convents in Fiji, Australia and New Zealand touching the lives of countless numbers of people and many, many children. She was a woman of deep faith, prayer and compassion, totally committed to living out her vocation as a Marist Sister. It was a great hardship for her to live out of her own community in the last 10 years but she did so in a spirit of acceptance and courage. I have already mentioned that Antonia often expressed a longing for Heaven and in St Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians he wrote “We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.” This longing for Heaven, this homesickness for heaven is something Antonia bore within herself daily. She remembered that Jesus said “There are many rooms in my Father’s house, if there were not I should have told you I am going now to prepare a place for you and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me so that where I am you may be too. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
On April 29th in the 74th year of her Marist life, God called Antonia home.
Sr Rita Raikuna sm was called to eternal life on Saturday 8th April 2017.
Eternal Rest grant to her, OLord.
May perpetual Light Shine upon her.
May she rest in Peace.
We extend our prayerful sympathy to the Marist Sisters in Fiji and to Sr Rita’s family. The following eulogy was delivered at her funeral.
Sr Rita or simply Rita as she was known to us, her Sisters, was a joyful person, full of life and always quick to pass a comment and bring laughter to any group she was part of. She brought warmth and joy to any group. She was a live-wire.
Rita was born on the 16th September 1948 and was the third child of Mr Nemani Raikuna (a Police Officer) and Mrs Luisa Raikuna (a Teacher). She attended a few primary schools, as a result of her parents’ postings. These schools included Marist Convent School Levuka, St Anne’s Primary School Suva and Wairiki Catholic Mission School. Rita received her secondary education at Loreto High School in Levuka. This was her first introduction to the Marist Sisters. After completing High school, she was successfully accepted into Corpus Christi Teachers College, from where she graduated in 1969.
Her first teaching post was Bemana Primary School in Sigatoka in 1970. There, she thoroughly enjoyed her single life as a teacher. Her weekends included expeditions across the river for shopping and dances in the mission hall in the parish compound. She always had us in stitches of laughter as she retold those real life stories of her four years in Bemana.
1975 saw her teaching in Mount St Mary’s in Nadi and it was then she decided to become a Marist Sister. The following year she became a postulant and was transferred to teach at Marist Convent School, Lami so as to be under the guidance of Sr. Eamon.
She was received as a novice on the 14th December 1976 in Merrylands, Australia where our novitiate was at that time and made her first profession there on the 18th December 1977. After profession she came back home to Fiji and taught in our schools namely – St Thomas Primary, Marist Convent Lami, Marist Convent Levuka, Convent School Vatukoula, and Nasomolevu Catholic School in Yasawa.
In 1989 she was asked to be missioned to The Gambia in West Africa. She once said that it was with mixed feelings of appreciation, apprehension and a little excitement that she responded to the call. Appreciation – as she felt privileged to be chosen; apprehension – the fear of going into the unknown; and excitement – to find out what was out there. She fitted in easily and was well accepted by the people of Farafenni in The Gambia. She loved her work and was happy. She loved the people and was at home with them.
Then in 1995 she was asked to return home, to be the Novice Directress. Her response was and I quote, “I was struck dumb and numb the whole evening.” If you know Rita, you cannot imagine her being struck dumb or numb. But in her simplicity and humility she responded to the call, her words being and again I quote, “Through my vow of obedience, I acknowledge my shortcomings and weaknesses and will do what the Lord wills in my life.”
She packed up, said her good byes and returned home.
Back here in Fiji she was involved in Formation until she was elected a Regional Councillor and went to live in New Zealand. During that period she attended our General Chapter in Rome and was elected to be a General Councillor, which meant living and working in Rome for a term of seven years. During her time there, she brought much joy and laughter to the community as well as those who visited the community.
It was towards the end of her seven years term she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. This was coupled with rheumatism. Both conditions progressed quickly and caused her a lot of pain which began to cripple her.
Her inability to do certain activities was a big cross; at times almost too heavy to carry. In spite of her suffering and pain, the spark of her lively spirit never faded and they carried her to the end.
She was a woman, a Sister, gifted with many gifts, bright, outgoing (a real extravert) popular with youth. She was conscientious and efficient. In leadership role, she cared for the development of her staff and Sisters, and the spiritual growth of the children in the schools. She had a genuine concern for others and this was manifested in her involvement in pastoral ministry and parish activities. Most importantly she was faithful to her hour of prayer in the mornings before 6.30am Mass. Rita radiated joy, was generous and sensitive in contributing to the communal work load.
Thank you, Rita, for your example of simplicity, joy and faithfulness to our Marist way of living. I can hear you echoing the advice of Sr. Mary Christopher, “When responsibility clashes with pleasure, pleasure must go and responsibility take precedence.” Thank you Rita!
Three Marist Sisters from the Asia-Pacific Region are currently in Rome – Srs Lorraine Campbell (ANZ), Noelene Simmons (Aus) and Lilibeth Cajes (Ph) as members of the Marist Sisters Finance Committee. They took time to visit the Basilica of Santa Sabina. This is one of the Basilicas visited by Fr Jean Claude Colin, the Founder of the Marist Sisters, during his final visit to Rome.