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Profile of Sister Petronia Gawi RSM

A profile of Sister Petronia Gawi RSM written by Teresa A Flaherty RSM (Sisters of Mercy PNG, 1964-2003) at the request of Sister Theresia Tina RSM, Vicar and now acting Leader of the Sisters of Mercy PNG Region. The profile covers Petronia’s childhood, her ministry of teaching and love of learning, her silver jubilee celebrations, funeral and burial and includes memories and tributes. 

Petronia’s Childhood

Gabasaki Gawi was born in the Ambunti District at Avatip Village along the Sepik River in 1958. Petronia Maree were Christian names she later adopted prior to her Baptism in 1972. Her father was the Headman of the tribal ‘Haus Tambaran’ and the Gawi family followed strong, religious traditions. The mighty eagle, soaring high above the tallest trees with all the strength and power of the river spirits, was their tribal emblem. During her childhood Petronia was taught to be independent, courageous, spiritual and knowledgable. She received her primary education (1966-71) at Avatip Community School where the Headmaster, Mr Christopher Voivoi, encouraged her in her education and Christian life. When the School Inspector, Sr Dominique Coles SSpS arrived at the school by seaplane and spoke to the students, Petronia was so impressed she dreamt of one day becoming a sister / inspector! Although she kept this secret, family expectations for her future were high, and when tragically, two of her brothers, Matthias and later Daniel, met early deaths, each made a dying wish for their little sister to advance in her education.

Accepted for secondary school at Mercy College Yarapos (1972-75) in the Wewak Diocese, Petronia asked to be baptized into the Catholic Church, and Sr Denise Coghlan prepared her for this. The next steps on her journey were teacher training at St Benedict’s Teachers College and teaching at St Therese’s Primary school, Yarapos (1978). During these years she deepened her desire to lead a Christian life of service through education and experienced a strong call to religious life. She applied to the Sisters of Mercy she had come to know and love during her teenage years and Sr Irene Callanan walked closely with her as she considered taking this step. With two other young women, Veronica Lokalyo from Enga in the Highlands and Theresia Gongi from Burui in the East Sepik, she entered the postulancy program at Pumakos in Enga. This was a very significant step for the sisters as the call of these three young women proved a strong motivation for the different Australian foundations of the Sisters of Mercy in Papua New Guinea to unite. This took place in July, 1981 as the Sisters of Mercy PNG, with Sr Helen O’Brien as leader, united as part of what was to become the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy Australia (December, 1981).

The complete profile can be accessed here.

Messages to: Caroline Ryan RSM, Institute Vice President