The Marist Brothers in Papua New Guinea

The Marists Brothers have been present in Papua New Guinea since 1940, although according to the historical background, the first Marists arrived to Melanesia (Oceania) in 1845, nowadays Papa Nueva Guinea and Solomon Islands. Due to the incidents that the brothers experienced at that time, the mission was suspended for decades. And in 1940 Bishop Thomas Wade SM invited the Australian Marist Brothers to open a school on the Island of Bougainville, which at the time was part of the Australian Territory of New Guinea.

The Marist Brothers arrived in August 1941 and went to Chabai on the west coast of the main island where a catechetical boarding school already existed.  However, four months later, the Pacific war started, Bougainville was invaded by the Japanese and the Brothers Augustine, John and Donatus were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and beheaded in 1942. Six years later, Brothers Borgia and Simeon arrived on Bougainville, marking the return and continuation of the Champagnat Marist mission. Supported by Bishop Wade and the Marist Fathers, the Brothers moved to Rigu, next to Kieta in central Bougainville, where they established their school, St Joseph’s, which was destroyed during the Bougainville conflict ( 1988 to 1998).

In the 1950’s, three Chinese Brothers, who had fled the communist government, arrived in Rabaul to lead Sacred Heart School which was comprised mostly of Chinese students. In 1954 the Brothers opened a small school at Tarlena, on the north west coast of Bougainville Island. The Melbourne Province agreed to send men to the Sepik and in 1959 they arrived at St Xavier’s on Kairiru Island.  Also, a local Juniorate was established at Kieta in 1967.

The decades of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were years of more rapid development in the footprint of Marist Ministry. On Bougainville, communities opened at Koromira, Buin and Marai. In PNG proper, Brothers went to Wewak, Kunjingini, Passam, Bongos and Yangoru in the East Sepik. They also opened communities in Goroka, Port Moresby and Madang. The Marists also ventured beyond their strongholds to the Enga and Western Provinces.

After the conflict, when peace was restored, the Marist Brothers were invited to help re-open the schools on what was then the Autonomous District of Bougainville (AROB). Hutjena High School (on Buka Island), Bishop Wade High School (Tarlena), St Mary’s (Asitavi), St Gregory’s Vocational School (Koromira) were all re-developed with Brothers either Principals or members of staff.

While the works in PNG were initially started and staffed by either the Provinces of Melbourne or Sydney, the Marist mission there gained a degree of autonomy when the District of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands was established in 1984. Its leaders were Jeff Crowe, Des Howard, Ray Arthur, Brendan Neily.

In 2003,  the District of Melanesia was reorganised and Vanuatu and New Caledonia were added to the administrative unit. Brendan Neily, Ken McDonald and Jean-Marie Batick were its leaders. In July 2020, the District merged into the Province of Australia.

Ministry Today

Currently there are 3 brothers from PNG and 5 from the Autonomous District of Bougainville (AROB). Over the last twenty years, as the Expat Australians left and the number of local Brothers declined, there has been a gradual withdrawal from places of ministry.

On the other hand, recently some Brothers have worked at the Lasallian Vocational school in Port Moresby and other Brothers have been members of the staff at Divine Word University Madang; one is still there.

Currently St Joseph’s Mabiri on Bougainville is the only Marist led and governed School in PNG. This is a boys’ boarding school for over 400 students. In 2024-25 it will take in its first Years 11 and 12 students.

There is no formal arrangement that gives the broader Marist family an identity in PNG. However, there are many former Brothers, ex-students and former staff members who have maintained close connections with the Champagnat Marists. There are three Mission Groups: Champagnat Group in Mabiri (40 members), Marcellin Laity in Mabiri (2 members) and Marist Laity in Arawa (4 members).

The Brothers have currently three Communities in PNG. One at Mabiri, Bougainville; one at Korobosea, Port Moresby, which was the former District Administration Centre; and one on the site of Divine Word University, Madang.


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