Sister Loyola Still Inspires

Last month, on October 24, more than 30 ex-students of the former Loreto High School in Ovalau, gathered with the Marist sisters and close friends at Mt St Mary Convent
09 Nov 2014 11:07
Sister Loyola Still Inspires

Last month, on October 24, more than 30 ex-students of the former Loreto High School in Ovalau, gathered with the Marist sisters and close friends at Mt St Mary Convent in Nadi, to celebrate with Sister Loyola her 75th year as a Marist nun. Now in her mid-90s, Sr Loyola was especially acknowledged by those present as one of Loreto’s finest teachers. It was clear from the testimonies of those who made presentations during mass, and in the general talanoa session that followed during lunch afterwards, that Sr Loyola had touched the lives of the students committed to her care in her time at Loreto in so many positive and empowering ways. Loreto was a Marist institution, located beside the village of Tokou in Ovalau. It began in 1955 as a Catholic girls’ boarding school, in response to a growing need for a high school for Catholic girls graduating from primary schools from all over Fiji. Beginning with only 29 students, the numbers grew to well over 100 by 1973 when Loreto High School merged with St John’s College in Cawaci, at the other end of the island, to form a Catholic co-educational high school. As a high school, Loreto was not unique in its academic curriculum which focused on the social sciences, Maths, English and French, and studies in Catholic doctrine. What was unique about it was the spirit with which the classes were taught, and with which the continuing upbringing and development of the Loreto girls in their home away from home, was provided. At its pivot was the school motto, Centred in Christ – in our learning and living at Loreto, we were taught to set our bearing on Christ and His teaching, and on His loving and humble mother Mary as our intercessor and guide in all of our challenges. In this spirit of Christianity we learned, and studied to the best of our abilities so that we, too, would one day be able to give back to others what was given to us in our educational opportunities. Cherished prayer In 1962, an Irish nun landed in Nadi to begin the fulfillment of her long cherished prayer for a mission in Fiji. Sr Loyola was born in 1918 to devout Catholic parents, in Sligo, Ireland, in the harsh economic times following World War 1. She was christened Kathleen Grehan and no doubt, it was in these trying times that she learned how love conquers all, among her struggling family and siblings. In spite of the hardship, Kathleen completed her schooling after which she sought permission from her parents to become a Marist nun. For Catholic families all over the world, a calling to the service of God which was heeded, was an honour and blessing for the family, and Kathleen got her wish. On the other side of the world in Fiji, this would be the beginning of the answer to the prayers of many other parents, aspiring for a secure future for their children through high quality education. Sr Loyola is petite, about 5 feet tall, slight in built and soft spoken, all belying the strength and determination her protégés know too well. At Loreto, apart from being principal at the time, she also taught English, English Literature, French, Geography, Mathematics and Library Science with the passion and energy of a teacher devoutly pursuing her calling to bring those in her care to their purposes in life. We loved and enjoyed her classes. Even though Loreto was not as well resourced as other high schools in Fiji at the time, the fact that many of us succeeded academically at Loreto is testimony to the resourcefulness and innovativeness of the teaching team.  A further challenge for Loreto teachers was the fact that many of the girls came from rural districts and towns where English was very much a second language hardly spoken outside of the school. Perhaps for this reason, Sister Loyola was told that beyond high school there was not much else Loreto’s graduates would be able to do. This remark was, for her, a new challenge – she vowed that she would do everything possible to ensure that every graduated Loreto girl would find a good job. This began Loreto’s relationship with the then BNZ bank; upon being approached by Sr Loyola, the manager responded by inviting graduates from Loreto to join the bank. Since then a number of Loreto girls have begun work and risen in the ranks of the bank in recognition of their hard work, honesty, reliability, capability and not least, because they spoke and wrote English well. After all, this was the essence of the training they received at Loreto. Success stories And there are many other such success stories, all part of Sister’s determination to bring out the best in every girl, and her marvelous faith that God would deliver on his flock’s best efforts. In her time at Loreto, the students participated in nationwide essay-writing  competitions organised by the Government, and by FSC as a promotional exercise. Loreto girls won the top prizes! For those students who aspired towards university education, there was an arrangement that they would attend Form 6 at Suva Grammar and go onwards from there. These students have excellent academic achievement records at Suva Grammar including the dux of the school award. In keeping with the spirit of service with which they were taught, most Loreto girls joined the teaching and nursing professions, some going on from there to university studies and eventually to leadership positions of principals, directors and managers in their respective institutions. There are now among ex-Loreto students those holding diplomas and degrees all the way up to doctoral studies. In the process of gaining their qualifications there are those who stood out as students especially in English, achieving marks that made professors comment on the quality English education they must have received in high school! There are those who have held, and currently hold, leadership positions in the civil service and in the Parliament of Fiji, and within the Catholic Church. Proudly, our Catholic Archbishop was also a student of Sister Loyola when she moved to join the teaching team at St John’s College. Fittingly, the Archbishop offered mass on October 25. Seizing the moment as we sat at the lunch table after mass, Sr Loyola leaned across towards him and in her usual soft but firm voice she counseled her former student, “Now that you are head of the flock, take care of yourself”. When Loreto began in 1955, those who attended it did not have a choice, coming from faraway places in Fiji and needing a place to stay. In the years that followed, and with much credit to the teaching team headed by Sr Loyola as principal in the 60s, Loreto became a high school of choice. Many of my sister ex-students and I, coming as we did from the city and towns of Fiji which had well-established reputable high schools, chose to come to Loreto not just for the assurance of good quality education, but for the then renowned caring and warm home environment that it provided. School excellence Even as she worked hard to make Loreto the school of excellence that it became, we are sure that it was very quietly in her time with God, that she prayed for what was uppermost in her heart, that we turn out to be good girls – that we valued family and friendship, that when our turn came we would be responsible, devoted and devout Catholic mothers and wives, and that we developed a belief in ourselves that radiated a confidence born of humility and faith in God. In a recent phone conversation with her, we spoke of the disintegration of the twin values of loyalty and devotion to our purpose in life in the self-centredness of the world today, and the need to continue to keep them alive in our own lives. Clearly, these were the hallmarks of her own life, modeled no doubt after Mary, mother of her beloved Christ. Indeed, in her Magnificat, delivered at her 75th anniversary, she thanked God “For the gift of Mary, my Mother”. It did not stop with instilling Christian virtues and values. We were taught to physically carry ourselves with dignity, head high, back straight as we walked and as we sat. Our social training included table etiquette; chewing gum was undignified especially in public, and friendships with the other sex must command the respect that all girls deserved. What the world saw of us on the outside had to reflect the dignity we accorded ourselves internally, as Christians. God’s call Sr Loyola has spent 75 years of her life as a nun. Her whole life is an ongoing gift to humanity, a model in self-oblation and obedience to God, as she continues to give of her services. At 96 years of age, she provides the junior professed nuns at Mt St Mary assistance with their assignments and their English. We continue to be blessed that she is still here with us. In her presence, and in the memory of our time with her at Loreto, we are reminded to be driven by our faith in God in all that we did, to create and bring hope where it is needed, and in responding to the will of God in our individual lives, to do so with love – as she taught us in the exemplary way she lived her life. Sr Loyola, we pay you tribute: teacher, mother, mentor, friend, and gift from God. (Eileen Tuimaleali’ifano is a former student of Sister Loyola. She holds doctoral qualifications in education and is currently the Director of the Centre for Education, Languages and Technology in Suva.) Feedback:  newsroom@fijisun.com.fj

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