This year SSF and CSC were due to hold services to celebrate 50 years working in Melanesia. Postponed due to COVID-19, it is hoped to have these events in 2021. In the meantime, MMUK’s Archivist Canon Brian Macdonald-Milne, looks at the history of the religious orders in the region.
The earliest Religious Order to arrive in the Solomon Islands was the Order of Friars Minor or Franciscan Brothers who came with the first Spanish exploratory expeditions in the 16th century. They however did not stay. Other Roman Catholic Orders came in the mid-19th century. The Pope had asked the newly founded Society or Mary or Marist Fathers, with its Headquarters in France, to undertake work in the central, southern and western Pacific islands, including New Zealand. They tried to establish themselves in the Solomon Islands, but their bishop was killed on Santa Isabel and others had a difficult time on the island of Makira (San Cristoval), so they withdraw for a while. However, they returned in the late 19th century and have been working there ever since. The Dominican Order later arrived to work in the Western Solomons. The Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary (SMSM) arrived as well.
The first Anglican religious community was established by Mother Margaret and Sister Gwen in 1930, and they called it the Community of the Cross. They had previously worked with Indian Orthodox Sisters in India and had been invited by the Bishop of Melanesia to come and establish a Community, which Melanesian girls could join. They established their base at Siota on Gela, and then moved to Bungana island in the Gela group. After disagreements with two subsequent Bishops, Mother Margaret joined the Roman Catholic Church with most of the Sisters, and some of the Solomon Islander and New Hebridean Sisters joined the RC Daughters of Mary Immaculate, a Community of ‘native’ Sisters founded by the SMSM.
When Bishop John Chisholm became Bishop of Melanesia in 1967, he was determined to ask two Communities to come to the Anglican Church of Melanesia, the Friars and Sisters of First Order of the Society of St Francis. He had seen the work of the Friars in Papua New Guinea and wanted them to work in urban areas in his new diocese as well. The Franciscan Sisters said that they did not have enough Sisters to answer his call, so instead he turned to the Community of the Sisters of the Church, which had been established in London in the 19th century to do social work, but had later extended its work to Australia, where the Bishop came from. They were now looking for new work, having decided to give up their educational work among girls in Australia.
The Melanesian Brotherhood had been established by Brother Ini Kopuria of Guadalcanal island in 1925, and there was some speculation about how the white Brothers and Sisters of the two other Orders would be received when they arrived in 1970. However, these Orders now have many professed members and novices in their Solomon Island Provinces, all indigenous. Later, Nester Tiboe of Guadalcanal, a woman catechist, became convinced that there should be a Community of Sisters along the same lines as the Melanesian Brotherhood, whose members do not usually take life vows, which the members of those other two Communities do. There are therefore now four communities working in the Solomon Islands, and the Melanesian Brotherhood and the Sisters of Melanesia also have houses in Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. The four Communities work together in many ways, and also co-operate when appropriate with the Roman Catholic Orders. Some members of the Brotherhood also work in the Philippines and Australia.
The Anglican Church of Melanesia has more members of Religious Orders compared with the overall membership of the Church than any other part of the Anglican Communion, and they do key work in evangelism, social and pastoral work, and community education. They need and desire our prayers and support.
Canon Brian Macdonald-Milne
Melanesian Mission Archivist
If you want to find out more about the four orders and their work, watch our films on the religious orders here – www.mmuk.net/films. If you would like to support the Brothers and Sisters, do consider becoming an Associate or Companion. Groups across the UK meet to pray for the communities, consider how best to support them in prayer and giving, and gather for services and pilgrimages.