Little Sisters of Poor Oceania
'Making the elderly happy, that's what counts ' St. Jeanne Jugan
Western Samoa History
Samoa and the Little Sisters made each other’s acquaintance at the beginning of March, 1970 when Fr. Peter Schwehr, S.M., after forty years of missionary work in Samoa, was received into our Auckland Home for a few weeks before his death. Bishop Pio T’aofinu’u, with solicitude for this ailing missionary, had arranged this admission. He quickly saw the role our apostolate could fill in his diocese of Samoa.
One of the characteristics of the beautiful rich culture of the Samoan people is their extended family, of whom the elderly are the most revered. Their function is to impart wisdom to the young. When this foundation was requested by Cardinal Pio T’aofinu’u, and the younger generation of Samoans were seeking work in New Zealand and other places and it was time to think about alternative care for the elderly left at home. The Cardinal was concerned about the welfare of his ageing catechists.
During a short visit to Apia, to assess the situation, the Provincial Superior, Mother Marie de la Passion wrote: “"There is no pension, no medical benefits. The hospital cannot take many elderly people. Even if the doctor writes a prescription they cannot get the medicine if they are unable to pay. …We are quite convinced of the need for a Home.”
The foundation was accepted by the General Chapter of September 1970 and preparations commenced. As the “countdown’ to the departure from Sydney approached, four Little Sisters assembled at Randwick to study the language and customs of their new country. These Sisters represented four countries, New Zealand, Spain, India and Australia.
It was the 27th June, 1971 when they arrived in Apia, Western Samoa. The airport was an empty paddock but within a few years a well functioned airport was built. In the afternoon of their arrival a beautiful high Mass with the Cardinal presiding was celebrated in the Cathedral. It seemed the whole of catholic Samoa was present. In the evening they were entertained by the villagers who presented a wonderful singing and dancing performance. The Sisters were early charmed with these loving and gentle people.
While the Sisters continued to care for the aged Samoans in their homes of thatched roofs and ingeniously raised and lowered blinds made of coconut leaves, efforts were made to confront the difficulty of the erection of a suitable home. There were no facilities on this mid-South Pacific island for building the extensive structure that would be needed to care for the incapacitated elderly. Providence assisted this home, in the person of Mr. Andrew Richardson, a Melbourne builder and benefactor, who had rendered great service to our home in Melbourne. When he heard of the difficulties, he immediately flew to Samoa. Once there, he was able to assess the needs and proceeded to assemble the workers who would obtain what was necessary to build the home. Mr. Richardson even took on himself a good share of the finance involved. For some months a group of Samoans had been shoveling sand from the sea, washing it clean of salt, and making bricks. A large number of them were employed in the building project.
The Samoan people have great love and respect for their elderly family members. Most adults worked in plantations distant form their village. Here they grew taro (root vegetable, part of their staple diet) bananas, coconuts, pineapples. Very often the elderly would be at home with only the younger children. In the four years calling on them while the Home was constructed, the people began to see that we could help them. For over 40 years we have been able to contribute to the well-being of these kind, generous and loving people.