"Elizabeth Hayes in History" Program, 2016

Sixteen Sisters in PNG rose to the challenge of looking at ‘Elizabeth Hayes in History’ through a new 5-part program developed and facilitated by Sr Francine (Shaw).

Wewak, PNG, Jan.- Feb. 2016

By Sr. Francine Shaw, fmic


Two different groups were involved with a 3-week commitment in each of January and February in Stella Maris Convent in Wewak. The Sisters coped well with 2 one-and-a half-hour sessions of core material each week-day morning with extension material usually enjoyed in the evening sessions.

Some Sisters roughed it at night, sleeping on thin mattresses on cement in the down-stairs shared room usually used by mothers in need of shelter. Most Sisters travelled the rough, pot-holed road from Aitape to be with their Sisters in Wewak to share the program which was strongly supported by Sr Rosella (PNG Circle leader). ‘All work and no play’ can make students dull so there were many times of laughter and enjoyment as well as learning and sharing.

Participants discovered that Elizabeth Hayes not only made history but that she knew history on many levels. The Sisters appreciated being able to see Elizabeth in new light through some of her published history articles in the Annals of Our Lady of the Angels as well as through her Diary.

Part one of the Program was devoted to gaining new insights into the big picture of outstanding women religious down the centuries. Elizabeth’s Annals articles often guided us and a hands-on experience of finding articles through an alphabetical index on laptops surprised participants. Next we examined our MFIC history as found in manuscripts, printed material and books; this was related to encouraging greater use of available library resources. We explored Elizabeth’s courageous life in 3 sections, ‘Early Years 1823-59, Mission Search 1859-1872, Mission & Ministry 1872-94.’ For the first time, through yet another new power point, the Sisters grasped the 1883 pilgrimage of Elizabeth and Angelica (Chaffee) from Rome to Paris, to holy places, to Portugal, through Spain and so on. We appreciated Elizabeth’s words in her Diary related to St Teresa of Avila and took advantage of recent pilgrimage accounts that honoured the 500 years since Teresa birth.

Another new dimension of the program was experienced through use of chronicles and the ‘Memories’ from Mothers Chaffee and Doucet. Finally our mission history in different countries was looked at; Sisters who have benefited from overseas visits to our missions shared their experiences with extra enthusiasm. PNG history received special emphasis. Eizabeth’s unique charism and rich legacy attracted our attention, as well as seeing her as Franciscan foundress, teacher, missionary, journalist and outstanding, trans-Atlantic, 19th Century woman.

What did the Sisters think of the Program? Having been given a folder holding 75 pages of handouts for use during the program, in each group’s final evaluation sessions, participants shared some of their note-taking. The participants ably told their group what new insights they gained, what inspired them about Elizabeth Hayes, how Elizabeth touches their lives, the kind of person they discovered through ‘Elizabeth in History’, what delighted them, what surprised them, what their greatest learning was during the program and so on.    

As facilitator it was a privilege to work with eager women who were always on time for sessions, who were patient with my Australian accent, and who displayed commitment to knowing Elizabeth Hayes more fully, to understanding our MIFC roots and history, and to live in this same spirit.