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100 Points of Light - 1980


In 1977, Marist Bishop Francis Lambert of the tiny Oceanic island country of Vanuatu, formerly known as the New Hebrides, invited the Columban Fathers to assist his diocese there. By this time, the Columbans were already very familiar with Oceania, having maintained a presence in Fiji for about 25 years. 

In January 1980, Columban Fathers James J. Shiffer, Arthur F. Tierney, and Kevin Fleming, arrived in Tanna, one of the southern islands of Vanuatu. 

Although very small in terms of population, Vanuatu possesses the highest density of languages per capita of any country in the world. So the Columbans serving there had to pick up the local pidgin English, known as Bislama. 

Over the next few years, the Columbans worked among the Catholic community in Tanna, serving in parishes that the Marist Fathers had started years before, and weathering some political turmoil, harsh weather, and austere economic conditions. 

The three original Fathers who went to Vanuatu in 1980 were the only Columbans who served there permanently. Nevertheless, several other Columbans who were stationed in Fiji, including Father Edward I. Quinn, visited Vanuatu and worked there temporarily. 

The Columban mission in Vanuatu is no longer active, but the Society clearly had an influence on the Catholic population there. 

The Pacific Regional Seminary in Fiji saw many vocations from Vanuatu in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In fact, Father Shiffer returned for a visit to Vanuatu in September 2003 to find many locals who remembered the Columbans fondly.