Tibwau Matia has had a long association with the Good Samaritan Sisters. She first met them as a nine-year-old soon after their arrival in Kiribati in 1991 when they settled near her family. Now, 26 years on, that neighbourly connection has grown into something much more.
On April 29, Sister Tibwau Matia made her perpetual profession as a Sister of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict, becoming the third I-Kiribati woman to do so.
The Rite of Perpetual Profession took place during Eucharist at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Kiribati’s main island, Tarawa, in the presence of about 250 people.
Those gathered included Tibwau’s mother and her four siblings (Tibwau’s father is deceased), Good Samaritan Sisters living in Kiribati and a small contingent visiting from Australia, many extended family members and friends, and members of other religious congregations.
Bishop Paul Mea MSC, who first invited the Good Samaritan Sisters to Kiribati 26 years ago, and Father Albert Yells MSC, Director of the Kiribati Pastoral Institute, presided over the Eucharist.
Tibwau said the whole celebration was “very special”, but named some significant moments, such as singing the Suscipe, an ancient prayer from the Rule of St Benedict, and lying prostrate before the community as her Sisters prayed the litany.
“Speaking my vows and signing them before the people was also very special. When I placed them on the altar I felt I was giving my whole life to God,” she said.
During the rehearsal a few days before the ceremony Tibwau said she “was very nervous”, but on the day she “felt strong”.
“The liturgy was very meaningful and prayerful. The singing and the local dancing were very connected with the ceremony and were very good and prayerful. Sister Clare’s words to me were very encouraging. I felt supported by my sisters, my family and friends.”
Congregational Leader Sister Clare Condon described Tibwau’s perpetual profession as “a delightful experience of Kiribati culture and Good Samaritan Benedictine values in concert with each other.
“Her family and the Kiribati Pastoral Institute provided the singing and dancing throughout the ceremony,” Clare said.
“Tibwau is the third Kiribati woman to make perpetual profession in the congregation; together with two temporary professed sisters, three novices and three pre-novices the sisters are creating their own Good Samaritan Kiribati life together.”
For Sister Juniko Toaua, one of the two temporary professed sisters, Tibwau’s profession was an experience of personal renewal.
“I was really touched with the singing of the Suscipe, ‘Receive me Lord…’. It reminded me of my first profession and in my heart I renewed my own vows,” she said.
“When I read the Good Samaritan Litany for Tibwau it reminded me of all that the Rule of St Benedict tells me is important for living my personal life as a Sister of the Good Samaritan in community and ministry.”
Following Eucharist, the celebrations continued with a traditional botaki, where family and guests gathered for a variety of speeches, local cultural singing and dancing, and a feast of local food.
Tibwau, age 35, was born and raised in Nabeina on North Tarawa. She attended primary school in the village of Abaunamou before completing her secondary education at St Louis High School, Teaoraereke.
Following high school, Tibwau worked as a computer operator at the local hospital. In more recent years she has completed a Certificate in Early Childhood Education through the University of the South Pacific (Kiribati Campus) as well as theology and scripture studies at the Kiribati Pastoral Institute.
For the past seven years Tibwau has been working at the Good Samaritan Early Childhood Learning Centre at Abaokoro on North Tarawa with Sisters Kakare Biita and Tuata Terawete. Opened in 2009, the Centre provides vital pre-school opportunities for children from Abaokoro and neighbouring villages.
“I like working with the little ones,” said Tibwau. “I like talking with them and listening to them. I like caring for them and watching them grow.”
Also living in community with the sisters at Abaokoro are three young I-Kiribati women who are part of the pre-novitiate program, which is led by Tibwau and Kakare. Where once they were being mentored in their religious formation by Australian Good Samaritan Sisters, Tibwau and Kakare are now taking on an important leadership role mentoring I-Kiribati women interested in exploring Good Samaritan religious life.
Sister Geraldine Kearney, who is responsible for the initial formation of temporary professed sisters, said it was “a joy” to celebrate with Tibwau in her own village and with her extended family and the Good Samaritan community.
“The privilege of journeying with a temporary professed, or anyone in formation, is always for me a challenge to daily renew my own commitment. This particular journey was no exception and was especially moving for me,” she said.
“I have known Tibwau now for over 16 years and I can only rejoice with her in this wonderful culmination of a long journey; a journey of careful and consistent discernment.”