Snapshots: The Sisters of Mercy in Torembi, Papua New Guinea
A remote parish in southern Papua New Guinea, Torembi lies on the swamplands of the Sepik River. In the 1950s it was only accessible by plane, and was chiefly known for its mosquitos, and its isolation. When Bishop Arkfeld put out a request to the Sisters of Mercy to establish a mission in the area, the call was answered by sisters from the Federation Congregations of Townsville, Cairns, Rockhampton, Brisbane, and Grafton. The five sisters landed in Torembi on 6th March 1958. Immediately the sisters set about establishing education and health care in the district.
The ISMAPNG Archives Townsville Collection holds photographs taken in Torembi during the 1960s. They illustrate the daily life, and the work of the Sisters in the region. Below are some of these photographs that illustrate the sister’s ministry and work in Torembi.
School Buildings, Torembi
Soon after arriving in the area in 1958, the sisters established a school, which eventually became a boarding school for both boys and girls. At first there were 177 children enrolled at the school. Within four years this number had grown to 420 students. The sisters were also able to place a strong emphasis on the education of girls.
Travelling through the region was difficult. This photograph shows travelling down river by canoe. Other times the sisters would have to cross the rivers and swamps on bridges made of logs.
A New Convent
In 1960 a sudden freak wind collapsed the original convent whilst the sisters were praying in the chapel. There were only minor injuries. The new convent was built with the help of the local community. After the sisters withdrew from Torembi, the building was used by the local nurses to carry on with health care work in the region, building on the foundations already established by the Sisters of Mercy. The sisters lived in the new convent until they withdrew from Torembi in 1974.
Sisters also kept daily accounts of events called chronicles. In the 1971 chronicles the sisters wrote: “those of us who are here are proud and happy to be working for the Lord in this hidden corner of the vineyard, and hope and pray that the seed we are sowing will one day bear fruit.” The seeds they planted in Torembi, of quality secondary education, would continue to develop at Mercy College Yarapos, which still continues to provide secondary education for the children of Papua New Guinea to this day.
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 Teresa A Flaherty RSM, Crossings in Mercy, (The Sisters of Mercy – Papua New Guinea Region, 2008), pp. 99 – 100.
 Crossings in Mercy, p. 100
 Chronicles of the Sisters of Mercy of Torembi, 1958
 Crossings in Mercy, pp. 102 – 104.
 Chronicles of the Sisters of Mercy of Torembi, 1971
 Crossings in Mercy, pp. 102 – 107.