MSC Province of the Pacific Islands-Brief History
MSC Province of the Pacific Islands – a brief history.
While in France in 1887 for his Episcopal ordination André Navarre persuaded Father Chevalier to dispatch a group of MSC to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands to begin a foundation in the Vicariate of Micronesia. So, despite the limited resources of the Society, the first MSC arrived on the island of Nonouti in the Gilbert Islands on the 10th of May, 1888. They were Frs Bontemps and Leray and Bro Webber, members of the MSC French Province.
Arriving at the island of Nonouti they discovered that the people had already built a church and a presbytery for them, such was the faith of the people who waited eagerly for their arrival. In fact, the Catholic Church in the Gilbert Islands had already been "founded" in 1878 by two laymen, Betero Terawati and Rataro Tiroi. They had been baptized in Tahiti while working there as indentured labourers. When the MSCs arrived on Nonouti they found more than 600 baptized Christians, a large group of catechumens and a number of church buildings already prepared for them. So, the first task of the missionaries was to catechize the converts and catechumens and help deepen their understanding of the faith. By September of that year some 1000 had been baptized, out of a total population of about 2500. After the 2nd World War, attempts were made to encourage local vocations. The first local MSC made their novitiate and undertook their seminary studies in Papua New Guinea. The first MSC from Kiribati, Paul Mea, was professed in 1965. For many years candidates from Kiribati did their formation in Papua New Guinea. Kiribati then became part of the Pro-Province of PNG when it was established in February 1972. With the foundation of the Pacific Regional Seminary in Fiji in 1972 it became possible for religious candidates to undertake their ecclesiastical formation closer to home. Since the MSC Formation House was established on the campus of the Pacific Regional Seminary in 1981, most of the MSC from Kiribati undertook their seminary studies in Fiji. However, they continued to make their novitiate in PNG (and sometimes some of their seminary studies) until the early 1990s when the novitiate was transferred to Kiribati. In 1988 the region was separated from the Pro-Province of Papua New Guinea and on the 10th of May 1988 the MSC Pacific Union was erected. This was also the day when the Union celebrated the centenary of the first arrival of the three French confreres in Kiribati. The first superior of the Union was the late Father Joseph Hegglin. The MSC presence in Fiji also began to expand, undertaking work among underprivileged youth and alcoholics, as well as in parishes. The opening up of the Union to a wider presence in the Pacific became more evident when in 1997 the then superior, Father Stephen Dives, transferred the headquarters of the Union from Kiribati to Suva, Fiji. Before and during 1988 candidates for brotherhood from Kiribati did their novitiate on Abemama, whereas all the others went to Australia, PNG or the Philippines. The novitiate was closed on the 2nd February 1989 in order to upgrade the buildings. In 1990 the novitiate reopened with improved facilities for all candidates from the Pacific.
However due to its isolation the novitiate was moved to Wainadoi just outside Suva, Fiji. The new novitiate was opened on the 8th December 1997 with Fr John Ribat (now Cardinal) with 13 novices. On the 17th October 1998 the new formation house was set up in Wailoku, Suva and was blessed and opened for the students and formators. Today candidates come not only from the traditional source of Kiribati, but also from Samoa, Fiji, Chuuk, and Wallis and Futuna. Since the General Conference of 2014 in Guatemala the General Administration had journeyed with the Pacific Union offering support and guidance and on the 10th of May, 2021 the Province of the Pacific Islands was canonically erected. At present there are 48 local members of the Province – 24 priests, 7 Brothers and 17 students. Members from other provinces also help in the direction of the Province and its ministries: from Indonesia, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and the U.S. The membership of the Province is still generally young and the ministries and works of the PPI are geographically scattered over the Pacific. The Province consists of two Districts. The Northern District consisting of the island nations of Chuuk, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Nauru. The Southern District consists of the Fiji Islands, Wallis and Futuna, Samoa and the Kingdom of Tonga. We take this opportunity to thank the past and present General Administrations for their support and guidance through the years that we were a Union. We also thank the Australian Province and the Papua New Guinea Province who both played a major role in our growth towards becoming a Province. We also extend our sincere gratitude to all the entities of the Congregation who have generously provided us with finance and personnel over the years since the beginning. As we begin this new chapter as a Province we are reminded that the Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart was born in the midst of the uncertainties and calamity of the French Revolution. In a similar way our Province is erected in a time of great suffering and misery because of the Covid-19 pandemic affecting countries all over the world. As a Province we want to be a sign of hope and love to everyone as we stand in prayer and solidarity with all
those suffering from this deadly disease. As members of a new Province, we will fix our eyes on Jesus and together contemplate his compassionate Heart. It is in the compassionate heart of Christ that we can find true healing, peace and comfort at this challenging time. May God bless and protect us all from this pandemic. May our Mother Mary, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, continue to intercede for us and protect our humble Province.
Administration and Formation
Relocation from Kiribati and PNG to the Fiji Islands
The General Administration in Rome recognized the general growth of the local MSCs in the Central Pacific and thus, in 1988, made a decision for the Central Pacific to separate from PNG. The new region became ‘the Pacific Union’. On May 10th, 1988 the Pacific Union was officially erected with its administration house established in Tarawa, Kiribati. At this time the Pre-Novitiate and Novitiate houses were already established in Kiribati. Philosophy and theology houses of study were located in Fiji.
Growth and Expansion
The opening of the Union to a wider presence in the Pacific became evident, that in 1997, the administration house and all formation houses were transferred from Kiribati to Fiji. This decision was made because of the strategic location of Fiji in the South Pacific. Besides its accessibility, there are more resources in Fiji than in Kiribati. The diverse, ethnic, and cultural communities in Fiji provided more opportunity for exposure and pastoral apostolates. Moreover, the availability of secular institutes available in Fiji such as Corpus Christi Teacher's College and vocational trade institutes gave more room for the Brothers’ On-Going formation. The transfer of administration and formation houses to Fiji meant that for the first time the MSC presence was no longer centered only in Kiribati. It challenged the members in discerning to look at the future with the sense of hope that will benefit the society and the church.
With all formation and administration houses situated in Fiji, there is a smoothness felt in working together in one country rather than having formation and administration houses in different locations in two different countries. Growth and expansion has slowly taken place and the charism of the MSC has found its way to other countries in the Pacific. The universality of its mission has started to take root in Melanesia, Micronesia and lately in Polynesia. With the existing parishes already established in Kiribati, Nauru, and Fiji, the Pacific Union was able to work in Samoa, Marshall Islands, and in Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia. It was the dream of Fr. Chevalier to have his missionaries proclaim the loving Heart of God everywhere. We thank God that this has started to take place and is planted on the shores of the South Pacific.