History - Fiji

15 Nov 2013

In early 1888 three sisters travelling from the Marquesas Islands to France called at Suva and met Bishop Vidal sm, who was then preparing to go to France to be consecrated Bishop. He told the sisters that he would like Cluny Sisters to teach in Fiji. He asked Father Lepetit, the parish priest, to write to the Mother General in Paris and ask for a foundation in Suva. On his return journey from France, Bishop Vidal visited our Convents in New Caledonia. As a result of his visit and the previous negotiation with Paris, four foundation members from Noumea arrived here in September 1888. Mother St Martin (French), Sr Tarcisius Mongin (French), Sr Mary of the Holy Name (Irish) and  Sr Francis Chambers (Newfoundland).

Of the four pioneers, Mother St Martin, who established the foundation in Suva, spent a year here and then returned to France. Sr Francis contracted a serious illness and died aged 31, in December 1989. Sr Tarcisius, who died in 1920, spent 32 years in Suva. Sr Mary of the Holy Name, still remembered by many families in Suva as “Mother Holy” spent 45 years in Fiji. She died in May 1933. These three sisters are buried in the Suva Cemetery.

For the first two years the sisters lived in the corner of Toorak Road, on Waverly Hill, where the present Suva Hotel is built. They were given Mrs. Huon’s House, which served as the convent and school. The sisters opened school in Toorak on 3rd December, 1888 with 15 pupils. As their numbers increased the buildings became too small. In 1890 three small cottages were brought in Pratt Street by the Bishop, for the sisters. They were used as a boarding and day school for 14 years.   By 1904 St Joseph’s Convent was built and became a flourishing primary and secondary boarding and day school.

Also at this time the St Joseph Sisters started another school in the Sacred Heart Cathedral Crypt, known as St Peter and Paul’s.  This was replaced by the present St Anne’s School which was built and opened in 1932. Its architect was Fr Bourdier sm. The old St Anne’s School became the Catholic Mission Office and Procure, where Bishop Foley had his office until Nicholas House was built in 1956. In 1962, the Procure Building was removed to Suva Point and used as a classroom for Cathedral Secondary School.

Until 1895, the Sisters went to Noumea for their annual retreat because the Suva Community was then under the Province of New Caledonia.

Between 1920 and 1930 the sisters taught in school in Namosi. One of the sisters was Sr Peter Hulek, a member of a well-known Fiji family, who had made her novitiate in Noumea.

In 1932, the Cluny Sisters replaced the SMSM sisters in Nadiri School, Kadavu, Sr Peter and Sr James Drew being two sisters sent to this new mission. Owing to a shortage of personnel, this school was closed down in 1948.

From 1934 to 1960, the sisters had a boarding and day school in Lomeri where they carried on the good work begun by the SMSM Sisters. This school was staffed by the Cluny Sisters until it was handed over to the Corpus Christi teachers in 1960.

In 1938, the Golden Jubilee Year of the arrival of the sisters in Fiji, Mother Ursula opened St Philomena’s Secondary School on the third storey of St Anne’s School in Pratt Street.

Until 1940, the Cluny Communities in Fiji were linked to New Caledonia. However, in 1940, when the sisters, led by Mother Ursula McCormack, made their first foundation in New Zealand, the New Zealand province was established, consisting of New Zealand, Fiji, and the Cook Islands.

In 1956, the secondary pupils from St Joseph’s and St Philomena’s School, Pratt Street, were transferred to St Joseph’s Secondary School, Waimanu Road, the first wing of which was completed that year. The sisters who staffed the School formed part of the Pratt Street Community until 1961. In May of that year, a house adjacent to the school property was purchased and a separate community was established at Waimanu Road. The Primary School continued in St Joseph’s, Pratt Street, until December 1968, when the amalgamation with St Anne’s was completed.

In 1968, St Joseph’s Convent, Hercules Street was built as a residence for the sisters staffing St Anne’s School. In February 1969 the clergy took residence in the old St Joseph’s Convent, Pratt Street, and it became known as the Cathedral Presbytery. It was demolished in 1979. In June 1980, Nicholas House which was built in 1956 under the administration of Fr Hugh Law (on loan from Sydney) was demolished. In May 1980 the new Nicholas House was opened. It is erected in front of the Cathedral Presbytery, which was built in  early 1979, between the Cathedral and St Anne’s.

In 1979, the decision was made to transfer the Novitiate for the Province from New Zealand to Fiji. This operated first within Hercules Street Community, then in the Waimanu Road Community, until a separate novitiate building was erected in 1983, in Toganivalu Street. In the year 2000 the Australian Region and The Vice Province of Tahiti and New Caledonia expressed the desire to avail of our novitiate and trained staff for the formation of their Candidates. This was agreed upon by the General Administration and the three Provinces have established a Novitiate Council that sees to the administration, finance and staffing of the Novitiate. At the end of 2006, the Staff members were composed of  the Novice mistress from the New Zealand Province, and the assistant from the Australian Region. There were 12 formandees: 4 from the Australian Region; 1 from the Vice Province of French Polynesia, (Tahiti and New Caledonia) and 7 from the Province of New Zealand and  the Philippines.
In 1980 two Cluny Sisters joined Marist Sisters, Marist Brothers and lay teachers as foundation members of the staff at the newly established St Bede’s College, a co-educational boarding school in Savusavu, on Vanua Levu.  A Cluny presence was maintained in this school until 1991, by which time it had become well-established.

In 1984, a Kindergarten was opened in the convent at Hercules Street. Like the Primary and Secondary Schools, this attracted pupils from the various cultural groups that make up Fiji Society.

In August 1988 celebrations were held to mark the centenary of the arrival of the first Cluny Sisters in Fiji. The guest of sees to the administration, finance and staffing of the Novitiate. At the end of 2006, the Staff members were composed of the Novice mistress from the New Zealand Province, and the assistant from the Australian Region. There were 12 formandees: 4 from the Australian Region; 1 from the Vice Province of French Polynesia, (Tahiti and New Caledonia) and 7 from the Province of New Zealand and the Philippines.

In 1980 two Cluny Sisters joined Marist Sisters, Marist Brothers and lay teachers as foundation members of the staff at the newly established St Bede’s College, a co-educational boarding school in Savusavu, on Vanua Levu.  A Cluny presence was maintained in this school until 1991, by which time it had become well-established.

In 1984, a Kindergarten was opened in the convent at Hercules Street. Like the Primary and Secondary Schools, this attracted pupils from the various cultural groups that make up Fiji Society.
In August 1988 celebrations were held to mark the centenary of the arrival of the first Cluny Sisters in Fiji. The guest of honour, delegated by the newly-elected Superior General, Sr Marie Noel Lefrancois, was the retiring Superior General, Mere Rene Vandame. The celebrations gathered together many sisters who had worked in Fiji, as well as past and present pupils, past and present teachers, parents, P.T.A.members, and friends. The main thanksgiving Eucharist was celebrated by Archbishop Petero Mataca, Archbishop of Suva, with many priests concelebrating.

In 2003, the sisters accepted to be part of a Mission Station in the Wanibuka Area. Three sisters were missioned to Vanuakula Mission Station in May 2005 and began to assist in serving the Mission Station. As they worked they saw the grave needs of the mission and this led to the opening of a Kindergarten in February 2006.

In 2004 St Anne’s Primary School celebrated its centenary. The celebration took place in July and the guest of honour was Sr Claire Houareau, representative of the Mother General, Sr Morag Collins. This occasion was again one which brought past and present teachers, pupils, parents, friends and committee members from all corners of the World. Archbishop Petero Mataca, Archbihop of Suva, celebrated the Thanksgiving Eucharist in the Sacred Heart Cathedral and the festivities were held in the School Compound. Many tributes of gratitude were accorded to the wonderful education given to the pupils over the past 100 years.

In September 2006, St Joseph’s Secondary School celebrated its Golden Jubilee. Again Past pupils from many countries gathered in the Multi-purpose Hall to celebrate this mile stone in the life of a school which has flourished over the years and provided women of excellence all over the world in all fields of work and service.

In January, 2011 the sisters handed the administration of St Anne’s School to the local order of Sisters, The Sisters of Our Lady of Nazareth. This was a sad and painful reality but a true missionary gesture having run the school for 107 years.

Today we carry out mission in the Fiji Church, in the spirit of Blessed Anne Marie, whose desire was, “May God be glorified in everything and everywhere, may His Holy Will be done.” (In the Radiance of Blessed Anne Marie, Const. P 12) 

We give glory to God by our Cluny involvement in the Church’s Mission. Our participation in the Church’s Mission in Fiji today is intensified by our intimate union with God, sustained by the daily reception of the Eucharist and nourished by His living Word, by living out the charism of Blessed Anne Marie Javouhey and by our own personal witness.  “Our Mission is not limited to our apostolic activities; our whole life contributes to it.” (Const. Art. 11, p. 19)

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