Columban History in Fiji

February 15, 2010

The Marist Fathers had been working in the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific Ocean for more than a century when 13 Columban priests joined them in 1952. At the invitation of Bishop Victor Foley, S.M. they came to provide for the needs of the Church in Fiji and to reach out to the non-Christian Indian population.

Columban Father Diego Cabrera Rojas and lay missionary Rowena Cuanico pose with Fijian women parishioners in the village of Naleba after a celebration in 2002.

Because of a shortage of priests, two parishes where English was generally spoken had to be staffed immediately by Columban priests. Three were assigned to a Marist school to gain some experience in Fijian education. Within a year, these three opened Xavier College, a secondary school in the predominantly Indian western province with the aim of coming into contact with the Indian people.

Of the rest of the Columbans, four were assigned to learn Fijian and four to learn Hindi. Within the year, they were assigned to five parishes with others soon to be set up.

As the number of Columban priests increased, they took over the founding and development of other parishes and apostolates, especially among the Indian population. Several Columbans spent time in India to gain expertise in the language and an understanding of Indian culture.

A few Columbans devoted their energies to special apostolates: the training of Fijian catechists and of teachers for schools in towns and villages spread over the islands. Columbans remained in charge of the Catechetical Center and the Teachers Training College until the local Catholic Church developed the expertise and personnel to take charge of these.

As the numbers of diocesan priests increased, Columbans were able to turn over to them the many parishes that they had developed in the towns and remote villages on the main islands of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu and in the Yasawa Group.

Parishioners in Fiji invited Columban Father Frank Hoare for dinner after Sunday Mass.

Columbans also provided professors for the staff of the Pacific Regional Seminary, opened in 1972, and continue to do so. In 1988, Xavier College was turned over to the Monfort Brothers.

Today, except for four parishes, Columbans have placed themselves at the disposal of the archbishop to serve with Fijian priests in whatever parishes the archbishop may assign them. The purpose of this arrangement is to acknowledge and foster the leadership abilities of their fellow diocesan priests.

Other areas in which Columbans have made a major contribution are promoting housing for the poor and natural family planning, organizing an archdiocesan newspaper, intercultural dialogue, producing low-cost religious books and pamphlets and translating liturgical books into Fijian.

In recent years, several Columbans have promoted courses and seminars aimed at promoting racial and religious harmony and breaking down the racial prejudice between native Fijians and Indians that surfaced after the military coups of 1987 and 2000.

In 1986, Columbans began accepting local vocations and preparing them for missions outside Fiji. Two Fijian Columbans were ordained in 1995.