When Tokarerei Matiera arrived in Australia from Kiribati recently to begin her Novitiate with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, it was both the culmination of a long journey and the beginning of an exciting new chapter in her life.
Tokarerei was received into the Novitiate on February 14 by Congregational Leader Sister Patty Fawkner SGS.
Her arrival in Australia took longer than expected due to COVID-19 restrictions and a visa delay, but Tokarerei said she did not grow too impatient, waiting instead on God’s timing.
“I calmed myself and waited for God’s decision and the time God suggested that I go,” she said.
“I am so extremely excited to spend more time with my (Good Samaritan) communities, ministries and families.”
Before coming to Australia, Tokarerei spent close to two years in the Pre-Novitiate with the Sisters in Kiribati.
“I have come to know them well and I am pleased and delighted that they were a part of my discernment journey,” she said.
Tokarerei grew up in a Catholic family where faith was a big part of life and said she was drawn to religious life from primary school age when she first saw the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (OLSH) Sisters come to the school to teach religion.
“I was inspired by what they taught about the life of Jesus and the way they dressed, with a veil, and I thought I wanted to become like them and proclaim the Gospel,” she said.
Her dream of religious life receded into the background for some time, but when she went to secondary school in North Tarawa, she was one day charged with cleaning the convent, and some fellow students joked that anyone who was called to clean the convent was a future nun.
“That seemed funny to me, and I didn’t mind,” she laughed.
During the school holidays, however, when she was working in a part-time job at home in South Tarawa and invited to attend a company Christmas celebration in North Tarawa, she found herself visiting one of the company’s retail outlets, which was close to the OLSH Sisters at Immaculate Heart College. She decided to knock on their door and tell them of her desire to become a Sister.
“I can’t explain what kind of feeling came over me during that time, but I received a whispering to my heart that I really wanted to become a Sister, and that led me to go to North Tarawa and knock on the Sisters’ door,” she said.
“I knocked three times, but each time received no response, and I went home sad and upset and told my mum that maybe I wasn’t called to be a Sister.
“But I also tried to stay calm, realising that perhaps they were just away on a holiday or something.”
After that experience, Tokarerei put aside the idea of religious life until she started studying at the Kiribati Pastoral Institute, where she first met the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.
“Sister Juniko Toaua SGS came one day after Mass to promote the Congregation and ministries and invited the ladies to ‘come and see’ at Temaiku,” she said.
“That’s when I came to know the Good Samaritan Sisters. I was so touched and inspired by their ministry, charism and the story of their founder, Archbishop John Bede Polding, St Benedict and his twin sister, St Scholastica, that it made my way free, and I followed them to seek where God was calling me to be.”
Tokarerei said the more she came to know about the charism of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, the more she loved it.
“Their ministries are wonderful, and I was inspired by their deep listening and connection with the people who are not usually seen in our lives,” she said. “They teach Religion in primary school, visit the psychiatric hospital and those in prison, as well as people with disability, elderly people, and those who are in hospital. They listen to anyone who needs help.
“One of the most interesting and inspiring things for me was praying with them, especially lectio divina. Hearing their sharing showed me that they are very intelligent people and I have much to learn from them.”
After arriving in Australia for the first time in February this year, Tokarerei has been getting to know the Sisters and the Australian way of life.
She will undertake her Novitiate at Lawson in the NSW Blue Mountains, under the care of Director of Novices, Sister Maree Nash SGS.
Maree said that apart from studying the Rule of Benedict (RB), Tokarerei will take English lessons to further improve her level of language and will deepen her prayer life through such means as Creative Prayer.
“Creative Prayer involves engaging in different ways of praying, through art, such as mandalas, and other ways of praying and reflecting, using art,” Maree said. “It’s about human development as well.
Tokarerei will undertake Structured Autobiography, to explore her family history and develop more self-knowledge.
“And she will receive accompaniment from me, as I help her reflect on how she’s going with things like community life and the pattern of life,” Maree said.
Tokarerei will also have units in Biblical Study and Religious Life and participate in the daily life of the Congregation, including Morning and Evening Prayer.
Maree said one of the challenges for Tokarerei will be that she is the only Novice at Lawson at this time.
“That could be a challenge, not having a peer to work with and to go through this journey with her,” she said. “I’m not really finding any peers from other Congregations to widen her social circle with, either, but we will keep looking for different avenues and opportunities.
“It’s helpful that she can now have more internet conversations with her family back home, which hasn’t always been possible in the past. And Tokarerei is approaching all this with a positive attitude, which is great.”
Tokarerei said she hoped her Novitiate experience would be a time of listening, learning and discerning God’s call in her life.
“I want to carry on listening with the ear of my heart, for where God is calling me, and seeking God with all my heart, even if I experience some challenges, I will try to do my best for him.”
For information about becoming a Good Samaritan Sister, click here.
This article was published in the May 2023 edition of The Good Oil.