Sister Mary Rose Bernard Honored in PNG


Just before Christmas last year, Sister Mary Rose Bernard (Groth), a long-time missionary, was notified that she had been nominated for a medal from the Papua New Guinea government.  The reception of this medal would make her a Member of Logohu  (an honorary Order for honoring people who have made laudable contributions to Papua New Guinea and its people). Logohu is a Motuan word for the bird of Paradise, the national bird.

Sister was reluctant to accept the award, but the sisters of her house urged her to accept it as an honor for the church and for the congregation.  So she sent in her acceptance.  She was invited to come to Port Moresby on March 19 to receive the medal from the Governor General of the country.

On the Sunday before the event, the Banz Catholic Women’s Association found out about the award and made plans to celebrate the occasion.  They succeeded in keeping their plans secret from Sister.  On Wednesday, Sister left for Port Moresby to receive the medal on Thursday.  On Thursday, while Sister was receiving her medal, the women were bringing and presenting food to the sisters:  2 pigs, chickens, cooking bananas, taro, kaukau, greens, fruits, and their monetary contributions.  We sisters sat outside all day, receiving  the gifts on Sister’s behalf.

On Friday morning, some of the women dressed traditionally and accompanied the sisters to Kagamuga Airport to welcome Sister.  They had permission from the officers to go out on the tarmac and form a guard of honor.  When Sister came down from the plane, she was surprised to see two sisters walking towards her.  They were followed by one of the Shalom Care Centre volunteers in traditional dress. Sister looked back at the plane in puzzlement, thinking that a “bigman” must be coming off the plane.  But the volunteer, Maria, came up to Sister and placed a lei around her neck and gave her a bouquet of orchids from the sisters’ orchid garden.  Then came the other women singing and dancing their welcome.  And Sister realized that it was for her.  She was totally surprised!  On the ride home to Banz, in a caravan of 4 cars, she was thinking how nice it would be to go to the house and story with the other sisters about what she had experienced.  But there were more surprises in store for her before she could do that.

When she arrived at the junction of the road going into the parish property, there was a large crowd awaiting her:  more women singing and dancing, some of the “bigmen” from Banz, and the St. Anselm school children lining the road and throwing flowers.  She was led to the grandstand in front of the church and then the speeches began.  In the speeches, Sister was repeatedly thanked for her many ministries to the people in the Jiwaka area over the 46 years she has spent in Papua New Guinea:  as a teacher in the primary school, as founder and headmistress of  the Kimil and Ambang schools (simultaneously), providing health care to the people of Banz before a sister nurse was available for this work, as first manager of Maria Kwin Vocational School, as pastoral worker in the Banz parish, as probation officer and prison minister at Baisu Prison near Mt. Hagen, as a pioneer in ministry to people with HIV/AIDS.  The last speaker was Archbishop Douglas Young who gave a glowing tribute to Sister.

After the speeches were concluded, Sister was led by the dancing women to Maria Kwin Centre, where a meal had been prepared. According to custom, she was carried into the hall by several women. Then the line of people followed Sister in.  The women had brought so much food, that everyone who came was able to share in it.

It was an overwhelming and joyful day for Sister, which she told the people she would never forget.  All the Sisters were happy and proud of Sister for the way she has ministered to so many forgotten people in this part of PNG for 46 years.