The recent announcement that a young Englishman, Fr. Victor Foley, S.M., who was born in
Kent, has been appointed VicarApostolic for the 20,000 Catholics living irt Fiji, where they form one-tenth of is , population predominantly Mahommedan, conies at the end of the first hundred years of missionary enterprise in this South Seas island. The Cross was planted there on August 12, 1844.
Some called Fiji a cannibal island, otheis associated it with Captain Bligh's adventures. An adventurer for Christ would he the only type of person apart from a few explorers, escaped convicts and shipwrecked mariners to visit Fiji a hundred years ago. for it was known that the natives would show themselves definitely hostile. First Christian adventurer was the VicarApostolic of Western Oceania, Bishop Bataillon, S.M., and his reception was very unfavourable. But he decided to leave missionaries, and on August 12 Fr. Breheret, S.M., landed on the small island of Namuka.
SUFFERING WAS THEIR DAILY BREAD Progress was very slow. For four years the Marist Fathers laboured, undergoing great physical hardships. In 1848 they were visited by Fr. Mathieu, S.M., who found them in a pitiable condition suffering from disease and shortage of food. And all they had to show in return were three neophytes and eight catechumens.
" How I admire these Fathers," wrote the visitor to Bishop Bataillon, " they have only crosses to offer the good God, and how numerous they are. Suffering has been their daily bread since they landed in Fill."
IBut tor 1863 the Church bad progreased so far that Fiji was removed from the care of the Vicar-Apostolic of Central Oceania and Fr. Bieheret was appointed Superior as Prefect Apostolic. For 25 years he held this position, and when in 1888 he felt obliged to retire, the number of Catholics was 6,000 and the Mission had eight stations in various parts of the archipelago. •
In 1911 the Governor of Fni asked the Bishop to allow Sisters to staff the Leper Colony which the Government was setting up on Makogai 'Island. The Bishop complied willingly, and in September two Sisters and two native
Sisters began their heroic work. Today Makogai is recognised as one of the most successful leper settlements in the world and in 1936, Sir harry Leke, Governor of Fiji, when conferring on the Rev. Mother Agnes the insignia of the 0.13.E., stated publicly that " the remarkable success and extension of this work is due mainly to the devotedness and work of the Sisters."
SUCCESS OF, LEPER COLONY Over 2,000 patients have been admitted since 1911 and cures effected in some 16 per cent. of the cases. At present 15 white and eleven native Sisters tend 575 lepers But the missionaries have not all escaped the ravages of the disease. One of the original band of Sisters, Sister Mary rhilomena, died a leper in 1941, and at her death she was assisted by another leper, Sister Mary Rufina. The first chaplain, Fr. Nicouleau, S.M., died, a second Damien, in 1928, whilst among the lepers at the moment is Fr. Lejeune, S.M., who did part of his studies for the priesthood in England.
Bishop Charles Joseph Nicolas, S.M., who in 1922 became VicarApostolic, devoted himself wholeheartedly to the cause of education. His services to schools in the Colony were officially recognised in 1938 when the King conferred on him the C.B.E. But the Bishop always considered his main education work was the foundation of the native seminary of the Little Hower at Cawaci.
The first students of this seminary are now priests labouring for the conversion and sanctification of their fellow Fijians, and there are many more native boys anxious and capable to follow in their footsteps. When Mgr. Nicholas died in 1941 he had founded seven new stations and erected no fewer than 100 stone buildings of importance on Mission property,