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  • Sr Mary McCarthy pbvm

Missionary Disciples for a New World – the Cluny Sisters Story 1971-2021

Photos by Fr Ambrose Pereira sdb


It was a day of joy, a day of hope as the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny gathered from their remote outposts - Kanabea and Bema in Kerema Diocese with their Port Moresby community celebrating 50 Years of Missionary Presence in Papua New Guinea 1971-2021. The Church of St Joseph’s, Boroko was filled with those who have walked those 50 years with them and are their companions still on this faith journey, this adventure in faith.



Blessed with the presence of Kamea Mountain youths, presently trainee teachers at Sacred Heart Teachers’ College, Bomana, twelve dancers in traditional attire including one young lady, led the joyful procession into the church. The dance was accompanied by song in the Tok Ples of their people. The words were projected so that all present could join in the lively singing. The dancers expressed their feeling of exuberance as they took the lead – these young teachers in training from a place where not so long ago no local teacher existed.


Cardinal Archbishop John Ribat MSC was the main celebrant for the Thanksgiving Eucharist. His concelebrants were our Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Kurian Vayalunkal and Bishop of Kerema, Pedro Baquero SDB. The lead choir was Basic Christian Community #1 to which the Cluny Sisters belong, and they were in full voice. Religious women and men were present in large numbers eager to celebrate with the Cluny Sisters. Others present were representative parishioners particularly those serving on the Parish Pastoral Council, benefactors and friends from the Indian community and many others. This two-day celebration will continue with St Joseph’s Parish community on Sunday at the regular 9.45am Eucharist with Bp Peter Baquero as the main celebrant.


How did all this get started? In her beautiful welcome address, PNG Cluny Sr Fatima Mafu, described how the first two Sisters, Sr Gwen Daw, a nurse and midwife, and Sr Josephine O’Kelly, a teacher, disembarked on Yule Island in 1971. No Air Niugini in those days! They were later flown by army helicopter, carrying fuel for the building of an airstrip, to Kanabea. Following the Second Vatican Council 1962-65 Catholic Bishops universally resolved to reach out to the needier parts of our world. Churches like Australia were challenged to “look north” and to offer personnel and other resources to younger churches like that in PNG, not yet an independent nation. Melbourne Overseas Mission was established in 1968 by Cardinal Knox who sent three Diocesan priests to PNG. It was not long before the need for women missionaries became apparent and so began the Cluny Story in Kerema mountains among the Kamea people. There, in this very remote and difficult to reach location, they have lived with the people for 50 years.


In 1972 the first Kamea was baptized in Kanabea. Missionary activity later developed groups responding to the needs within family life, women’s groups, faith formation. Today the Sisters ministries include the Sacred Heart High School Bema – where no Government high school exists, literacy schools, training of Gr 10 school leavers as instructors in the absence of qualified teachers, FODE centres, Street Ministry in the city, support of the Manus refugees and much more besides. The gathering celebrated collaborative work and the grace of God working in the hearts of the 7 Cluny Sisters leading the liturgy – Srs Rachel Arputham, Region Leader, Angela, Pawithra, Pia, Beula, Fatima Mafu, Sylvian Aua remembering their many predecessors over 50 years. It was a joyful thanksgiving for a new church established among the Kamea people in the mountains of Gulf province.