Heritage

BRIEF HISTORY OF ORDER’S FOUNDATION IN AUSTRALASIA

Logo of the Oceania ProvinceAustralia and New Zealand

On November 10, 1939, the Archbishop of Sydney invited the Brothers in Ireland to make a foundation in his Archdiocese. The Second World War had just broken out in Europe. The Archbishop died soon afterwards and his successor, Archbishop Norman Gilroy, confirmed the invitation.

However on June 18, 1940, Archbishop Gilroy sent a cable to the Irish Provincial saying:
“Because of the turmoil now prevailing in the world it would be wise for us in Sydney to make no further move at present regarding the establishment of a House of St. John of God in Sydney. When peace returns to the world, the matter may be again considered.”

The war, which had interfered with the plans to make a foundation of the Order in Australia, ended in Europe on May 7, 1945, when Germany surrendered unconditionally. The Allies then turned their attention to the Pacific. After the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan announced its surrender on August 14, 1945, thereby bringing to an end the costliest war in history.

In February 1946 Pope Pius XII called Archbishop Gilroy to Rome to be elevated to the College of Cardinals. While he was in Rome the new Cardinal received the Prior General, Brother Ephrem Blandeau, and discussed with him the possibility of the Order opening a house in the Archdiocese of Sydney

On March 8, 1947, Irish Provincial Brother Benignus Callan wrote to Cardinal Gilroy saying that, in view of “the long delays and many difficulties which a journey to Australia entails nowadays, I am arranging to send two Brothers out to Sydney with instructions to remain there and co-operate with Your Eminence in establishing a foundation”.

On July 11, 1947, Brother Benignus appointed Brother Kilian Delegate Provincial for Australia and New Zealand. In fact, the foundation of the Order in Australia was, from the beginning, the foundation of a Provincial Delegation of the Irish/English Province and it foresaw the extension of the Order to New Zealand.

Just before noon on August 31, 1947, Brothers Kilian Herbert and Laurence Hartley arrived at Sydney, thus bringing the Order finally to the Archdiocese of Sydney. They stayed with the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary at their Lewisham Hospital.

The Sisters, having the Brothers as house guests, were able to promote their idea that the Brothers should seriously consider St. Joseph’s Convalescent Home on Lake Macquarie, Morisset, as the location for their first house in Australia. Brother Kilian agreed to go up to Morisset to see the place.

In a report to the Irish Provincial dated  September 14, 1947, Brother Kilian gave a detailed description of St. Joseph’s. His description was couched in terms that would assure the Provincial that the house had all the elements necessary for the Brothers’ community life and apostolate. The two Brothers, with two Australian postulants, took up residence at Morisset on December 10, 1947.

The first work of the Order in Australasia was a residential special school for boys with learning difficulties located on Lake Macquarie, N.S.W. The school, St. John of God Kendall Grange, operated for more than 50 years but the clientele changed and its educational programme eventually became one of wider service for families whose need for assistance is manifested in a child’s emotional and behavioural difficulties. Before the Order separated from the programme it transferred it to Newcastle where it became a programme of support for families and aimed at distrurbed children being able to eventually return to mainstream education.

In the early fifties the successful operation of the Order’s N.S.W. residential special school brought invitations to set up similar schools in Victoria and New Zealand. Consequently the Order’s growth in Australasia included the establishment of a school in Victoria at Cheltenham in 1953 and in New Zealand at Christchurch in 1955. The Cheltenham school transferred to Greensborough in 1967 and became known as ‘Churinga’.

The fifties also saw the establishment of two St. John of God Hospitals in N.S.W. at Richmond (1956) and Burwood (1958). Both hospitals began with a clear mandate to provide treatment and care for persons with a psychiatric illness in true St. John of God style - in an atmosphere of Hospitality. These hospitals later provided the bases for various daycare and outreach programmes and, in recent years, the Casa Venegas (1996) initiative for persons whose homelessness is compounded by a psychiatric condition. Another outgrowth from the hospitals was Corporate Health Services (1992) which provided  counselling and other psychological services at, or associated with, the workplace.

Beyond the shores of Australia the Order made two more foundations - one was the St. John of God Hospital, Christchurch, in 1970. The other was a foundation of the Order as an entity in Papua New Guinea in 1972.

Things did not remain static in Victoria and a post-school rural residential centre was established at Lilydale in 1957 for men with learning disabilities thought likely to benefit from sheltered work and farming and gardening experience.

The final foundation of the Province, apart from those made in Papua New Guinea, was a home for the aged taken over from the Little Sisters of the Poor at Hastings in New Zealand in 1995.

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Logo of Order in Papua New GuineaPapua New Guinea

The Order expanded from Australia to Papua New Guinea in 1971 while that country was still under Australian administration. For ten years the Order conducted the Cheshire Home in Port Moresby for the Cheshire Foundation Homes of Papua New Guinea. Today the Order in Papua New Guinea is orientated towards rural health care and most Papua New Guinean members train in that area of health service. The Brothers are responsible for a number of church and community activities. The two most important of these is the Rohanoka Addictions Centre at Wewak and the Walamu Community Health Centre near Nuku in the Sandaun Province.

 

The following is a more detailed outline of the history of the Order in Papua New Guinea:

In 1971 the Order responded to an invitation from Archbishop Virgil Copas to come to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, to take charge of the Cheshire Home in the suburb of Hohola. The Cheshire Home was for children with physical and learning disabilities. The Province accepted the Archbishop’s invitation and Brothers Brian O’Donnell and William Lebler were the first Brothers of Saint John of God to live and work in Papua New Guinea. The Community that the Brothers established at Hohola remained in existence until 1981 when the Order passed responsibility for the Cheshire Home to a local committee.

In the meantime, in 1976, the Order responded to an invitation from Church and civil authorities to establish a health centre in the village of Kamina in the highlands of the Gulf Province. At Kamina, over many years, the Brothers would provide a wide range of health services to the people of a very isolated part of the country. Part of the Order’s development of Kamina was the construction of an airstrip on one of the slopes of the Hauakampka Valley.

The two Communities of Hohola and Kamina maintained close contact. In 1979 Australian Brother Steven Richmond was living and working at the Cheshire Home and serving as National Director of Catholic Health. In connection with his duties as National Director he decided to visit two Catholic Health Care Centres in the Gulf Province – Kanabea and Kamina. The date set for him to visit Kamina was Monday November 5, 1979. The Brothers at Kamina were expecting Brother Steven on that day and in the middle of the afternoon they heard the sound of an approaching aircraft. However it was not the expected airplane carrying Brother Steven and several friends of the Brothers from Port Moresby. It was a helicopter whose pilot had come to bring the tragic news that Brother Steven had been killed in an air crash. He had died earlier in the day when the Douglas Airways Islander plane in which he was travelling came down at Huabango, near Bema Catholic Mission, about two ridges away from Kamina.

Brother Steven Richmond was the first Brother of Saint John of God to die in P.N.G. With him were killed a travelling companion from Hohola, Parisi Kora (13years), and the Principal of Malalau Community School in the Gulf Province. Seven passengers were injured, three seriously, including the pilot – New Zealander Phil Anderson.

Brother Steven’s body was flown to Sydney and interred at Rookwood Cemetery. A qualified psychiatric nurse, he was 31 years of age and had been a professed member of the Order for 7 years. As time passed, Papua New Guinean men began to enter the Order. A decision was made in 1983 to accept candidates on a probationary basis.  The first three eventually left the Order but as time went on postulancy and novitiate programmes were established.

Amongst the Papua New Guineans who tried their vocation at Kamina was a postulant named Gabriel Bali. In 1987 he became ill and had to be sent to Port Moresby General Hospital for treatment. When Gabriel realised that his death from a life-long disease was close, he chose to return to his religious family at Kamina, rather than go home to his natural family and his own village in West New Britain Province.  After a short time back at Kamina, during which he gave great examples of patience and acceptance, Gabriel died on Saturday August 29, 1987.  He was buried at Kamina and a plaque to his memory is still there today. He was 29 years old.

The following year, on December 30, 1988, the first two Papua New Guinean Brothers made profession of religious vows in the Order. Their vows were received by the Prior General of the Order who had travelled to Kamina for the occasion.  

In 1988 the Order decided to establish another Community in Papua New Guinea. Aitape in the Sandaun Province was chosen because it could provide nurse and community health worker training for newly professed Brothers.

By 1989 the Brothers were again looking for another suitable location for a house of the Order in Papua New Guinea. They chose Port Moresby because it was the national capital and offered a variety of educational facilities that could be accessed by newly professed Brothers. To facilitate this return to Port Moresby Brother Damian Keane established a transit house in another Port Moresby suburb – Gordons. Then in 1991 the Brothers returned to the Cheshire Home. The home was struggling to survive and Leonard Cheshire, the founder of the Home, appealed to the Brothers to return. Brother Lyall Forde was the Superior of this Community and it became the location of the postulancy programme.

In 1992 the Brothers accepted an invitation to start a recovery centre for Church people struggling with addiction problems. Brother William Lebler and Brother Augustine Taiwa were chosen to start this work. Clients were admitted in August 1993. The Centre was called Rohanoka and was first located at Goroka but was transferred later to Wewak. 

In 1994 the Brothers withdrew from Kamina where they had lived and worked for eighteen years. Much good work had been done at Kamina and the Order felt it was time to hand over to the local people.
In 1995 the Brothers withdrew from any official involvement with the Cheshire Home due to difficulties with the Management Committee. The Brothers however remained on the site until 1999 in buildings that they had constructed for the use of the Community.

In 1997 the Brothers were invited to consider a bush mission at Walamu in the Nuku District of Sandaun Province. In the beginning the Brothers cared for the medical needs of the students and teachers at St. Francis High School. Later they became involved in many different medical situations in the surrounding region. They also became very committed to leadership of Church activities in the area.

Throughout the history of the Order in Papua New Guinea  the Brothers have served the Church and the people on a wide front. One such Brother was Augustine Taiwa of East New Britain Province who had made first profession in the Order in 1991. He worked in the area of addictions counselling and youth welfare and was widely recognised as an effective campaigner against domestic violence – particularly when perpetrated upon women. In 2006 he was serving at Bomana, Port Moresby, as Director of the Xavier Institute – an on-going formation centre for priests and religious.

On August 28, 2006, Brother Augustine went to Port Moresby on business connected with the Institute. During his return journey he stopped near Bomana to make a small purchase from a road-side seller. As his vehicle came to a halt a young man rushed forward brandishing an iron rod. He struck Brother Augustine with the improvised weapon and immediate death ensued. Brother Augustine was 43 years old. His body of Brother Augustine was taken to Aitape where he was interred in the garden of the Brothers’ residence.

The deaths, while on active service, of Brothers Steven Richmond and Augustine Taiwa and Postulant Gabriel Bali, are an integral part of the history of the Order in Papua New Guuinea.

In 2009, the Communities and Works of the Order in Papua New Guinea being a Delegation of the Oceania Province, a decision was taken to relocate the headquarters of the Delegation from Wewak to Madang. This decision was based on a need to improve communications between the Delegation and the rest of the Province and the Order.

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The first brothers

The first Brothers came into the Pacific Region, at Vanuatu, in 1606 but came no further south.

In modern times

In modern times the first Brothers came to Australasia from Ireland in 1947, soon after the end of World War II.

Second half of the 16th century

In the second half of the 16th century John of God shared the world stage with a number of historical personalities, including Henry VIII.