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Mary Gennaro Tither

List of deceased Sisters

Date of death 26/04/2010

God is light; there is no darkness in him at all (1 Jn 1:5, 1st reading at her funeral).

Born in the southernmost part of New Zealand, in Invercargill, on 18 December 1921, Margaret Mary Tither was the oldest daughter of the eight children in this household of story-telling, song and Catholicism. Her brother, David, became a Redemptorist and worked all his life in the Philippines. Her youngest sister, a Dominican, was the only sibling present at her funeral.

Margaret entered Heretaunga novitiate, received the name Sister Mary Gennaro, and was professed on 11 February 1944. Immediately missioned to Fiji, she spent a brief time of orientation at Makogai before leaving for Loreto, Ovalau, where she taught and was head teacher. Two years in Rotuma (1952-1954) and then at Loreto Hall, NZ, (1957 – 1958) were the only breaks during her 36 years in Fiji. She, like many smsm, had professional training after years of experience in the field teaching at Tunuloa, Wairiki, Sumi, later in Suva and Naililili.

Her calling to be a missionary was deep, strong and made forever. She loved Fiji – the people, the children, the way of life. All her life she was a people person. She could adjust herself to all styles of living, the rural Fijian setting, working in the plantation, planting rice, harvesting cassava and coping with the floods of the Rewa delta. She was just as at home as principal of Yat Sen Chinese School in Suva, meeting the challenges of conscientious students and over zealous parents, or sampling Yum Cha or eating Dim sims or wontons. Or as a student in her 50’s studying for her degree in linguistics and Pacific history at the University of the South Pacific.

She was awarded a special medal instituted by Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of Fiji’s independence, 10 October 1970, an award she treasured.

But the Lord had other plans for her. In 1980 during her study in Manila at the East Asian Pastoral Institute she contracted a serious chest infection from which she never fully recovered. As a result, the rest of her 30 years were to be spent in New Zealand.
Slowly she came to re-adjust to life in New Zealand, to a country and a Church she hardly recognized after an absence of almost 40 years. She gradually became very much a part of the NZ scene, although she never lost her love of Fiji and its people.


Sr M. Gennaro never stopped investing herself in various groups of people: Care and craft, senior citizens, yoga... She established the Poets’ Corner at St Catherine’s Rest Home where she resided from 2005 until her death, and only the week before she died, did she hand over the books, saying she thought someone else might need to run it in the future.

Gennaro gave with her every breath – and breath was something precious to her, given her chronic lung condition. There were no half-measures. She lived her missionary Marist and religious life to the full, savouring every drop of flavor from every moment gifted to her. Full of stories, and longing to hear the latest news, she loved having visitors and kept abreast of the world, its needs and events through her little radio. All were brought to the Lord in prayer: “When I think of it, good can come from anything and everything that happens in our life.” This brought her to the point where she could say: “These days when I pray, it is very simple… ‘Jesus, I trust you!’ ”
Sister even had her funeral planned: it was to be a happy day, a celebration for her life, with red roses, and specific hymns, even the celebrant was to be a Redemptorist who knew her brother, Fr David, well. This last desire was not fulfilled as Fr Humphrey preceded Gennaro to eternal life, but no doubt was on the “reception committee to welcome her” there.

Messages received at the time of her death speak of inspiration, example, support, encouragement, and lasting friendships. They tell of a dedicated teacher who expected discipline, hard work and excellent results, yet could be caring and compassionate when a student had done his or her best and still fell short of the pass mark. Sr M. Gennaro was to say often: “Remember the good others have done, their achievements rather than their failures.”

From her family background and the positions of responsibility she held, Gennaro had learned how to organize people and events. She could remain positive when her ideas were not accepted, and quickly overcome her disappointment if her ideas were not accepted. An enthusiastic community member, Sr M. Gennaro grew to accept that the energies of her sisters were not always as high as hers. It meant much to her that she had other smsm companions at St Catherine’s Rest Home, and that sometimes a novice on apostolic experience was one of the carers.

Although she was ill for some months in Auckland City Hospital during 2009, she regained her spirit and sufficient strength to return to St Catherine’s Rest Home where she continued her interest in life and limited involvement in activities. But death came unexpectedly: a brain haemorrhage on the night of April 24, a fall from which she never regained consciousness. Sr M. Gennaro would be happy with God’s plan for her exit: dying during Eastertide, vigil on the feast of St Peter Chanel, and requiem mass on the feast of St Catherine of Siena for this former Dominican student.
May she rejoice in the company of Mary in the light of the new life the Lord has given her.

Sr Patricia Leamy, smsm