Work of Catholic missionaries acknowledged

The history and legacy of Catholic missionary congregations who founded the Divine Word University, starting initially as the Divine Word High School in 1968, was on display at the university’s Open Day recently (Sunday 6th May, 2018).

The display of the work of the missionaries and their profiles were an eye-opener for visitors and also members of the University community.

The founding congregations of DWU are the Society of Divine Word Missionaries or simply the “SVD”, which is the abbreviation of their Latin name Societas Verbi Divini and the Holy Spirit Sisters, who are formally known as the “Missionary Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit" which in Latin is Servae Spiritus Sancti and go by the abbreviation “SSpS”.

The University’s mission and identity directorate, headed by Professor Father Philip Gibbs SVD, put up the displays of the work of the missionaries in DWU. Professor Gibbs is also DWU’s Vice President-Research and Higher Degrees.

The booth of Mission and Identity Directorate also featured profiles of all the missionaries that served as headmasters and presidents of the former Divine Word High School (1968-78), Divine Word Institute (1979-1995) and Divine Word University (1996-2015) respectively. More about the missionary work in the institution can be read here:

The founding Headmaster of Divine Word High School and one of the missionaries who built the institution was an American priest, the late Fr Kenneth Feehan SVD. Fr Kenneth was also the founding president of Divine Word Institute (DWI) when the high school transited into an Institute in 1979.

The first two academic programs introduced in 1979 were Communication Arts (Journalism) and Business Studies, program choices that trace back to the work of the founder of the SVD, St Arnold Janssen. The pioneering work of Fr Kenneth is acknowledged in the University with one of the male student dormitories named “Feehan Hall”.

An SVD priest from Poland, Fr Jan Czuba was the last missionary to head the institution when he completed his 20-year tenure in 2015. Fr Czuba joined the then Divine Word Institute in 1995 from his parish mission post in Ambunti, East Sepik Province, and oversaw the transition of DWI into a University in 1996. He was the longest continuous serving head of the institution from 1995 to 2015.

Fr Jan was replaced in 2016 by the current President, Professor Cecilia Nembou PhD, the first Catholic layperson to head the institution since DW High School.

Prof Nembou is a career academic who served in senior management positions in PNG and overseas. Upon her appointment by the DWU Council, Professor Nembou became the first Papua New Guinean woman to head a university in PNG as President (a position referred to as Vice Chancellor in other universities in PNG).

The University Council, which is headed by the chair in SVD Missionary and Archbishop of Mt Hagen Archdiocese, Dr Douglas Young, recently extended the tenure of Professor Nembou to 2020.

Along with SVD priests and brothers were Holy Spirit Sisters who continued to serve the institution as teachers, lecturers, administrators, counsellors, female wardens and so on.

One SSpS member, Sister Miriam Dlugosz PhD, currently serves DWU as an associate professor and is the Acting Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

The longest serving missionary on the DWU staff at present is Professor Father Patrick Gesch SVD PhD from Queensland, Australia, who joined DWI way back in 1982.

Professor Gesch, an anthropologist, is the Head of the PNG Studies and International Relations program in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

(DWU Open Day guest speaker and BSP Madang branch manager Barry Namongo with Fr Geovanne Bustos at the Mission and Identity Directorate booth. Next to them is a display of missionaries who led DWU over the years – Photo by Dr Kevin Pamba)

Meredith Kuusa