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Missionary Disciples for a new world

Port Moresby: Throughout the centuries the world has seen men and women, inspired by the Spirit of God, open their hearts to those living on the frontiers of society. The Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny are missionary disciples and follow in the footsteps of their foundress Bl. Anne Marie Javouhey.

Bl. Anne Marie Javouhey responded to God who had chosen, prepared and sent her to live the Gospel and to make Him known and loved in the far corners of the world has propelled and continues to propel her daughters to venture into doing the same.

This year marks 50 years of the Cluny Sisters presence in Papua New Guinea in the Catholic Diocese of Kerema where the sisters first began their missionary work.

In 1971, at the request of His Grace Archbishop of Melbourne at that time Bishop Knox, Sr Josephine O’Kelly and Sr Gwen Daw made their first journey into Kanabea, a village on a mountainside in the Gulf Province. They were later joined by Sr Bernadette Gauthier that same year.

The mission to Kanabea was supported by the members of the Melbourne Overseas Mission team of lay missionaries, priests of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and Cluny Sisters supported by the people of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. The ministry of education and health continues to this day. Once the Sisters put their hands to the plough, they never looked back. They went about doing a little good wherever God inspired and directed them.

Education had already existed in some areas of the mountain region. However, with the remoteness and villages scattered near and far, children had to walk long distances to get a proper education. Hence, with the growing need for education, the Sisters ventured into Bema in 1997. Bema had been the only High School for the mountain people and the Cluny Sisters under the management of Sr Alice Vivien took over after the OLSH Sisters left.

Today, the small group of Sisters from Australia, India, Philippines and PNG are serving the people of Kamina, Kotidanga and Kaintiba Local Level Government in the mountains of Gulf Province. The sister’s presence has brought about women groups, literacy schools and FODE Centres to help cater to the growing population.

“As we celebrate the 50 years of our presence here in PNG, we give glory to God for the wonders He has done through us for our people and we thank all those who have been part of this faith journey,” said Sr Rachel Arputham, Region Leader. “This year also coincides with the year of St Joseph, the patron saint of the congregation. We entrust our dear Congregation to his care for the continuation of our mission here in PNG and for the canonisation of our Mother Foundress, Bl. Anne-Marie Javouhey.”

The congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny has approximately 2600 sisters in 57 countries, 30 provinces, 418 communities across 5 continents, working in education, health, evangelization and social action.

To commemorate their Golden Jubilee, the sisters will celebrate a two-day event. The first will be on 23rd January with religious and close friends and the second will be on Sunday at the St Joseph's Catholic Church, Boroko with the parishioners.

Foundress of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny

Blessed Anne Marie, the foundress of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny was born on November 10th, 1779 in Chamblanc, a village in Burgundy, France to a deeply Christian home and was the oldest daughter of the Javouhey family.

Young Ann taught catechism to the village children, and helped the priests who were struggling to escape capture. This was during the French Revolution where they tried to destroy the Catholic faith. Her works of mercy began during these days. Protecting priests, bringing communion stealthily to the dying, even at the peril of her life, teaching catechism to the children of her village etc., were the acts of mercy she undertook even before her teens.

In the garden of her home there was a little oratory and here Anne spent many hours in prayer, feeling a call growing within her. With the ardent desire to do a little good, to take care of the most deprived she decided to consecrate herself to God. On the night of November 11, 1798 in the presence of an ’outlawed’ priest, her family and trusted friends, she consecrated her life forever to God.

The Revolutionary fury had destroyed all the convents. Anne Javouhey set out in search of a place where she could begin her mission, first in Besancon where Jeanne-Antide Thouret was attempting to revive the Sisters of Charity, then in La Trappe in Valsainte, Switzerland where she met Dom de Lestrange. When she realised that her mission was not to be found there, she once more took up her search attempting various works: catechism, care of orphans, small free schools. She experienced failure after failure, living in poverty; one might even say misery.

In 1804 Pope Pius VII, who had come to France for the coronation of the emperor Napoleon, stopped in Chalon-sur-Saône. Anne and her three sisters had an interview with him and he encouraged them in their vocation. As other young women joined them, Anne went to the Bishop of Autun who advised her to draw up a Rule of Life and then apply to have Statutes for the young Society. The Emperor approved these on 12 December 1806.

She obtained permission to use the Autun seminary which had become national property and there she educated young girls and trained them for manual work. Wounded soldiers from the war in Spain returned to France in large numbers and the Sisters became nurses at their bedside. After three years another house was needed and Balthasar Javouhey bought for his daughters the former Recollets Convent in Cluny. Soon the name Cluny, linked to that of the Sisters of St. Joseph, would be known in the five continents.

When Anne-Marie Javouhey died on 15 July 1851, she left 1,000 Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny settled on the five continents. These young sisters carried out a variety of apostolates – education, nursing, and pastoral work, all with special attention to the underprivileged.

The congregation, which the Foundress said was the "work of God" and not hers, continued to expand and diversify. More and more it welcomed sisters of different origins, taking root in new countries.

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