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Sister Malia 'Olivina Isitolo

List of Deceased Sisters

Date of Death 30/07/2020


(Sr Malia Soane Viane)

30 August 1938 – 30 July 2020


Daughter of ‘Isitolo and ‘Alepina Taufatoutai, Malia ‘Olivina was baptised in her parish church of the Immaculate Conception, Ma’ufanga, the day she was born - August 30, 1938. The fourth child of eleven siblings (5 sisters and 5 brothers), she spent many of her growing up years in the nearby home of her grandmother’s sister Sosefina and Soane Foliaki, the parents of Sr Malia Sosefo, smsm, and Bishop Soane. 

‘Olivina came to New Zealand at the age of 21 and lived with a family in Heretaunga for two years while she attended classes at Sacred Heart College, Lower Hutt. Becoming an smsm was a long wait for a young woman who had been thinking of entering for 12 years.

She was received as a novice on 7 December 1963 and given the name of Malia Soane Viane.   On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 1965, she professed her first vows at Heretaunga. Service at St Anne’s Hostel in Auckland followed for the next two years during which time she also joined a few classes at St Mary’s College, Ponsonby.

After her teacher training course at Loreto Hall, Auckland, she sailed on theCanberra back to Tonga in time for the 1970 school year at St Joseph’s Primary School, Nuku’alofa. Awarded a commonwealth scholarship for study in Australia, she spent 1972 at the Wattle Park Teachers’ College in Adelaide before returning to Ma’ufanga where she accepted the responsibilities of Head Teacher and assistant inspector of the Catholic primary schools. When these schools were handed over to the government at the end of 1973, ‘Olivina transferred to Vava’u where she spent four years teaching at Chanel High school.

As the Diocese of Tonga prioritised adult education, this experienced teacher was sent to the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila for pastoral training in 1978. ‘Olivina was then a team member of the Education for Christian Living programme in Tonga for several years before moving to New Zealand for pastoral work with the Tongan Chaplaincy in 1984.

Our congregation saw her potential as a gentle but firm leader.  She was regional in Tonga (6 years 1986-1991), a delegate to the 1987 General Chapter, and a provincial councillor (2001-2003). With Sr Maddalena she coordinated a renewal for senior sisters in Rome in 2004.

Sr ‘Olivina had a significant influence on the formation of smsm. Wise and practical, she was a no-fuss person with a delightful sense of humour which didn’t hide her deep faith.  She had had experience on the Heretaunga novitiate staff before being sent in 1993 to St Louis, Missouri, for studies at the Institute of Religious Formation. Her project there was a pre-novitiate Formation Manual for which she received excellent comments and her personal gifts were noted: dedication to smsm life, leadership, and listening together with the ability to challenge when needed. When, in 1995, the novitiate moved from Heretaunga to the warmer climate in Avondale, Auckland, she was appointed novice directress. Staff members came from both the Australian and South Pacific provinces as candidates were from these two provinces. A former novice paid tribute to ‘Olivina’s listening heart, her way of gently working closely with individuals through challenges for whatever time was needed for growth. Another remembers her as a strong woman, but fair. Twenty one novices were professed during the six years ‘Olivina was novice directress.

 In 2005 at the age of 66 she set out in mission to the Oceania Province for Wallis-Futuna. Although somewhat limited by language, she worked at first at Mata Utu in Wallis with families, the Third Order of Mary, and in the parish office where she could get to know people. Then ‘Olivina was transferred to Poi in January 2007. She was happy to be in Futuna where Marie Françoise Perroton and Peter Chanel lived and died.  She rejoiced that her home visit at the end of 2007 was advanced so she could be present for her nephew’s ordination to diocesan priesthood.

In May 2008 after a week of retreats with the Third Order, ‘Olivina had a stroke. She was sent to Wallis, and then to the hospital at Nouville in New Caledonia where she began physiotherapy and rehabilitation. When she returned to Wallis, limited in what she could do and her health further complicated by diabetes she required regular dialysis at Wallis hospital. She found the experience of helplessness taught her a lot and helped her grow spiritually. Gradually she used a walking stick and then a wheelchair. She was very attentive to the elderly sisters who needed care, and was a lovely presence in Notre Dame, Sofala. She never allowed her disability to stop her from serenely smiling, listening, encouraging, and helping in whatever way she could.

More than once she had been offered the chance to return to Tonga but, after prayer, she chose to continue in Wallis as long as she was not a burden for the community. Quoting St Ignatius of Loyola she would say: “I surrender; I give all back to you”. She found the words of Jesus true: those who leave land, family, brothers and sisters for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will be repaid a hundred times over.

  ‘Olivina lived through changing times in the church and congregation.  As a woman with the gift of serenity in turbulent situations, she was a steadying influence, seeing the good and potential in every person and circumstance. Her participation in the provincial council during the 1980s, either from Tonga as regional or in New Zealand, gave her a knowledge of the whole province, a vision of the Congregation further broadened by her time at LTSR in Rome 1985. She was very positive about the new organization into regions, seeing it as leading to new opportunities for greater unity and sharing. 

Sister Malia ‘Olivina passed away at Sia hospital at 2.30 a.m. on July 30, a few days after she chose to discontinue dialysis. She was taken to the smsm chapel at Notre Dame, Sofala, where her requiem Mass was celebrated by Bishop Susitino Sionepoi sm assisted by Fr Suni Halapio sm and other Marists. The Bishop noted how ‘Olivina tried to live a life of love, to live the hidden life of Mary, to live her commitment, her prayer life, and to accept her suffering in obedience right to the end. He pointed out that what is important in life is not how big the work is that we do but how big the heart and love we put into it.

The King of Wallis, chiefs and representatives of government, religious, Third Order members and friends came to say good-bye to this woman who had been in their midst for 15 years. Doctors, nurses and workers at the hospital spoke highly of her courage and spirit of gratitude. She was buried at Sofala the day she died.

When she requested entrance to smsm, Malia ‘Olivina wrote that she wanted “to live for God alone”.  May she now know the greatest joy of union with God forever.


Sr Patricia Leamy, smsm