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Mary Theophile Cyr

List of deceased Sisters

Date of death 25/03/2011

Sr M. Theophile, aged 105 years, died peacefully on the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 2011, after being bedridden since mid-December 2010. Her death marks a milestone indeed in the SMSM story in Fiji in which she played a central role over so many years. She leaves a big gap in her community at St Mary’s where as an older sister she brought much joy to everyone by her example of prayerfulness and her cheerful sayings, her smiles and her winks.

Sr M. Theophile (Bernadette Julia Cyr) was born in Van Buren, Maine, USA, on 4 February 1906. She made her first Profession in the Third Order Regular of Mary (later to be known as the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary) on 8 September 1928 in France. The following year she was missioned to Fiji where she spent most of her very long life. Her first short assignment was to Makogai followed by five years in Rotuma and then an appointment to Wairiki, Taveuni during which time she was named Regional Superior of New Zealand.

The SMSM foundation in New Zealand was new and the establishment of the novitiate was just one of the challenges ahead of Sr M. Theophile. An extra challenge was that her term of office coincided with the years of the Second World War which brought with it many added burdens. Sr M. Theophile showed herself to be an efficient and capable administrator, and she radiated kindness and joy to her sisters. As the threat of invasion became more imminent, many SMSM were evacuated from the different island groups in the Pacific. In 1942 some Sisters arrived in New Zealand from Tonga and another group of Sisters and a family of three children arrived in Auckland by warship from the South and North Solomons. This group had walked three days through the bush evading the occupying forces, had met at a prearranged area and were then rowed out to a submarine and from that transported to a warship in which they continued the journey to New Zealand. They arrived in New Zealand with only the clothes they wore and a few small possessions which they were able to carry. Some were suffering from malaria and other complaints after long years in the tropics. Added to this they were fearful for the fate of the companions whom they had been unable to contact in time to make their escape. It was only after the war that they learned that two of the Sisters had been bayoneted to death while a third had died in Ramale prisoner-of-war camp, and the remainder spent the time of their internment doing hard and backbreaking labour such as breaking stones, seven days a week. In wartime, it was a formidable task to clothe, accommodate and find medical attention for the evacuees, but Sr M. Theophile tackled this daunting job efficiently and willingly, with the kindness, care and understanding that were hallmarks of her life.

Living with the same spirit as our early Sisters in the Pacific, Sr M. Theophile was a pioneer in her own right. In 1946 she returned to Fiji as Regional Superior and almost immediately set about establishing a central house for SMSM in Suva. Up until that time all our communities were scattered throughout the rural areas of Fiji and whenever Sisters needed to come to Suva they were offered generous hospitality by the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny. Sr M. Theophile purchased the property here at Suva Point in 1947, an area of land which at that time was covered in bush and guava trees. With energy and enthusiasm she established our first community in Suva. Her pioneering work continued when Labasa and Korolevu were established as parishes, as Sr M. Theophile was among the first SMSM to begin an smsm community in each place. When Holy Family Primary School was started in Labasa the Sisters lived in the school offices for three years. Sr M. Theophile took this in her stride without complaining, happy to be a pioneer again, even though at that stage she had spent some forty years in Fiji.

Sr M. Theophile was also assigned to Naililili, Sigatoka and at the Fiji Chinese School (now known as Yat Sen). As a teacher she paid special attention to children with learning problems. When her pupils became uninterested or unruly, Sister would try to show annoyance but she could never succeed in looking stern. She spent much of her free time preparing lessons and projects and stayed after school most afternoons to help children “catch up”. When the Marist Fathers opened the novitiate at Tutu, Sr M. Theophile was asked to teach English to the francophone novices and postulants. Then, a few years later, at an age when most people would be looking forward to a quiet retirement, she was thrilled to be asked to go to Twomey Hospital to teach the children who had contracted leprosy. She loved being with them and they loved her.

Her rich and varied life is truly characterized by her ready and enthusiastic acceptance of change and renewal, and her spirit of joy and energy, her zest for life and her hospitality. She loved people. Perhaps a fitting testimony to Sr M. Theophile’s rich and wonderful life comes from a story written by one of our sisters some years ago:

“The sun beat down on Sr Gennaro and me as we got off the boat which had taken us across the Rewa River to Lokia Landing where we intended waiting for a bus to Suva. David Fong, a young university student but once our pupil at the Fiji Chinese School called to us: ‘Sisters, so good to see you. Please come home for tea. My mother will be happy to have you.’
We followed him to the family home where his mother served us tea and cookies. David told us of his studies, his plans and others whom we knew. Then, as though an inspiration had struck him, he dashed to the next room and returned with a small pencil box in his hand. It contained several pencils, an eraser, a compass, protractor and a few paper clips. It looked as though it had never been used or even opened.
‘This,’ he said proudly, ‘was given to me by Sr M. Theophile when I was in Class Four. I have treasured it. She was the kindest person I have ever known.’ ”

The majority of SMSM here at Suva Point now have not had the privilege of knowing the more active part of Sr M. Theophile’s life. We have known another part of her life, her latter days, which have been the crowning years of her life, the fruit of a whole life-time of surrender and abandonment to the Lord. To all who accompanied her during the last days of her life, her equanimity and her patient endurance of pain has spoken volumes about the dignity of the human person. Her continued interest in people and her welcome to anyone who visited her, whether through eye contact or a smile, have witnessed again to her great missionary spirit, and her joy in living. There are not many people who reach the grand age of 105 years, and can still show such an interest in what is happening around them. May Sr M. Theophile now rest in peace after the labours of her long and rich mission, and enjoy the fruits of a life lived faithfully for the Lord in the manner of Mary. May she, at last, hear the words spoken in love to her:
“Well done, good and faithful servant
….. come and join in your master’s happiness.” (Mt 25: 23)

Lovingly in Mary, our Mother,
Sr Denise McMahon smsm
Fiji Sector Coordinator