Sisters of Nazareth Congregation of the Sisters of Nazareth History
Sr. Mary Ignace Schaal smsm, with approval of the most Rev. Thomas J. Wade sm, Vicar Apostolic of the North Solomons, founded the little Sisters of Nazareth, accepting the first three novices on 22nd Feb, 1933.
A member of the third order Regular of Mary, Sr. Marie Ignace left her home country of France in 1899, missioned to Samoa Immediately after her first profession. In 1908 she was transferred to Patpatuai in the North Solomon Province where there was not one baptized person. In a truly missionary spirit she came with the intention of establishing one day a local congregation of religious sisters.
Father Maurice Boch sm, perfect Apostolic, and his fellow missionaries, as well as her own religious community of Marist Sisters, supported and encouraged Sr. Marie Ignace in her initiatives in this direction.
In 1922 the Marist Sisters transferred from Patpatuai to Turiboiru. Fr. Allotle sm, paid the traditional price according to local custom in the Buin Area to twenty girls to leave their parental homes and entered the mission school. After some time, interested young women began living and working in the convent where Sr. M Ignace would provide appropriate instruction. Finally a candidate house was built to the convent.
During the 1933 annual retreat for the Sisters, Bishop Wade announced that, on the conclusion of this retreat (2nd Feb) he would receive three young Melanesian women into the novitiate of "The Little Sisters of Nazareth," to be instructed by Sr. M. Ignace in the way of religious life. He chose this Title for their Little group because he wanted them to model their lives on the Holy Family of Nazareth. He presented the little sisters with the religious habit. Prepared by Sr. M. Ignace. Their Foundress; a long sleeved blue dress with a white collar a white cincture and a short white veil.
After three years of initial formation, the little Sisters made their first profession of religious promises on 2nd February 1936. At the same time two new postulants were received into the Novitiate. Following the suggestion of the Bishop, the sisters took up the care of orphans as their first apostolate. Soon interested young women from other parts of the Vicariate began to apply for admission. The existence of this small developing community was to be tried by fire.
The Japanese invasion of Bougainville early 1942 was swift and devastating. Many missionaries were sent off to prison camp in Ramale, East New Britain Province. For a very short time, Sr. M. Igace was able to take her suc professed little Sisters, two Novices and postulants to the Neighbouring Parish of Piano, but it became clear that she had to go. Bishop Wade released the Little Sisters from the promises and directed them to return to their homes.
Of the original three members, Sr. Mary Josephine died in 1942, Sr. Mary Deomisia at the moment of her holy death. She proved attested to the fidelity of these two founding members. The Japanese conquerors had tried to persuade the sisters to Marry, assuring them that the missionaries would not return. These dedicated women were determined to remain faithful in the hope of committing themselves fully to Christ.
Sr. M. Ignace had escaped the misfortunes of prison camp and gone to Australia. In 1946 she was one of suc Marist Sisters chosen to return to the war-devastated Island of Bougainville. To her surprise and delight, when landing at Torokina on 8th August, she was met by one of her former novices and the two postulants.
On October 15th 1942, two little sisters renewed their promises, resuming their former Religious names, one of the Novices made her first profession and one of the postulants began her Novitiate formation. Sr. Mary Gizelle smsm, became the Novice Mistress and Sr. M Ignace was appointed the Superior General. How ever, age and ill health were taking their toll on Sr. M Ignace so she resigned two years later. In 1949, when Sr. M Gizelle was appointed Regional Superior of the Marist Sisters, she was given charge of the little Sisters of Nazareth at the same time.
Fr. JB Poncelet sm, had written a constitution for the little Sisters while he was in the prison camp at Ramale. Bishop Wade, together with two Marist Fathers and three Marists Sisters revised this constitution according to the norms of the sacred congregation for religious.
The Bishop presented the final result to each of the professed little sisters and Novices on 22 July 1951. By 1954, the little Sisters were living in communities with Marist sisters, working side by side with them. This was to consolidate their religious commitment and to broaden their apostolic experience.
In 1957 was a memorable year for the young congregation. The novitiate was moved from Tearoki, where it had been located for seven years, to Chabai in the North.
Bishop Wade chose Sr. Therese as Patroness of the New Novitiate. As some of the soldier professed felt the little sisters were ready to Establish Communities on their own, a start was made at Tinputz and Manetai Stations. The first little sisters to become registered teachers college at Asitavi. Retired in Turiboiru, Sr. M. Ignore had enjoyed her final years working in little ways with the people there. On 8th April 1959, she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee of her Religious Profession. One month later she died peacefully called to her eternal reward on 13 December 1962. The Sacred congregation for the propagation of the Faith granted to Bishop Leo Lemay sm, New Vicar Apostolic of the North Solomons, the power to the definitive date of the Foundation of the little Sisters of Nazareth (Prof. No. 5242162). On 1st May 1963 the same congregation decreed that the little sisters of Nazareth were raised from a pious Association to a Religious Institute with public promises. The term "little" was to be dropped from the official title.
By decree of 10 January 1965, Feast of the Holy Family, Bishop Lemay proclaimed 15 October 1947 as the definitive date of erection of the congregation of Sisters of Nazareth, of diocesan right according to canon law. The sisters were declared a diocesan religious congregation with public vows.
Bishop Lemay had the constitution revised to conform to the decrees of the second Vatican council and directives of the Holy See. On 8 January 1975, Sr. Veronica Kehono was elected superior General, the first Sister of Nazareth appointed to this position. This was a basic step towards the sisters taking responsibility for their own government and formation. For the most part, the sisters of Nazareth now had their own communities attached to mission stations.
The General chapter of January 1981, with the Bishop's approval, made adaptations to the constitutions on an experimental basis. The 1985 General chapter made specific amendments, the amended constitutions being adapted definitively.
Bougainville was once again to be torn by the ravages of war, this time in the form of a revolution. In many instances the sisters of Nazareth showed remarkable faith, endurance and stability. Most of the foreign missionaries including the Marist sisters, had withdrawn, either freely or on advice. The sisters of Nazareth struggled on in the face of deprivation, recognizing that this was a proving ground for them. They took initiative important to the stabilization of the congregation.
In 1993 the sisters began a process of research involving all members of the congregation, with the assistance of a facilitator, leading to the definition of their charism, spirit and spirituality. By decree of the fifth general chapter of 1997 this process was to continue for as long as necessary to enable the sisters to produce their own constitution. There was deep appreciation of their heritage; tribute being paid to bishops, priest and Marist sisters, but the sisters saw the need for adaptation to their own Melanesian spirituality.