by JENNY McPHEE
A festival atmosphere could be heard beyond the thick stone walls of the Carmelite Monastery in Christchurch on February 2. The occasion was the celebration of the silver jubilee (25 years) of Sr Marietta Agnes of Jesus, OCD, which took place on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which was also The World Day for Consecrated Life.
The heavy iron gates of the monastery were swung open to welcome 35 family members from various nations, followed by more than 350 friends, youth groups and parishioners, many wearing Pasifika dress, all carrying a special place in their hearts for Sr Marietta. The occasion featured blue and white balloons, flags and streamers, put up by friends and family of the jubilarian the previous day. A local Girl Guide Centre was set up to help accommodate the many visitors. Sr Marietta’s sister
Maria and her two boys welcomed their New Zealand, Samoan and Australian cousins and family members with a powhiri, “Haere Mai” and a haka.
A Jubilee Mass was celebrated by Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin, with Bishop Basil Meeking, Msgr Brendan Daly and 13 other priests concelebrating. At the Penitential Rite, Sr Marietta’s sisters, Maria and Monika, solemnly handed over a fine mat to Srs Anne Teresa and Anne Mary, who covered Sr Marietta with it. The jubilarian knelt close to the grille while the St James Samoan youth choir gently sang a penitential hymn. Bishop Martin sprinkled Sr Marietta with Holy Water and the fine mat was uplifted.
In the homily, Bishop Martin spoke of dedication. “This is why it is appropriate today on this feast of Jesus being brought to the Temple, that we each recall the dedication and grace of our own Baptism.
“The Baptism and profession of Sr Marietta Agnes of Jesus, OCD, . . . in union with the whole Church on this feast day, celebrate The World day of Consecrated Life.”
The Catholic Youth Music Team led the singing, helped by the St James Samoan youth choir. The congregation overflowed outdoors where there was a marquee and a screen to view the Mass. At the end of the Mass, Sr Marietta was presented with a papal blessing by Bishop Martin. The prioress, Mother Elizabeth, read out a message of congratulations and blessing from the
superior general of the order, Fr Saverio Cannista, OCD. Sr Marietta thanked all present for their loving, generous support of her and her sisters for the 25 years of her religious life and she quoted the first letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians which had been read at Mass — “God has called you and he will not fail you.”
Sr Marietta recalled God’s faithfulness, noting that God had never failed her in these 25 years. She added that God will never fail those who ask in prayer.
The renewal of Sr Marietta’s vows, and those of priests and religious brothers and sisters present, was followed in the visitor room by the cutting of a three tiered cake by Sr Marietta. Lunch came next, and there was singing and dancing put on by various groups.
Sr Marietta was raised in Samoa. She was the sixth of eleven children of Lesina (mother) and Tuliatu Liulevaega Penese. She recalls helping her parents after school with their work of laundry duties for the SMSM sisters in Vaimoso. Lawn-raking and ball-fetching on a tennis court were rewarded by the sisters with gifts of lollies or by readings by a sister out of a book — these took place under a breadfruit tree. Sr Marietta’s father
went on to supervise the painting of schools, churches
and a hospital for the Special Projects Development
Corporation. Her parents were caretakers of a convent
and of a school property.
The family attended daily Mass. The desire to become a Carmelite and accept God’s special calling came after she read the life of St Therese of Lisieux, in a book she picked from a library when she was at St Mary’s College, Vaimoso.
Present at the Jubilee Mass in Christchurch were some of her classmates and a teacher from Samoa, as well as some of the SMSM sisters.
Before entering religious life, she worked as an accounting clerk for Apia Motors and Avis Rental Cars.