By Sophia – N’Druwin
IN 1961, the year when many of us were not yet born, a petite American woman, with a big heart and a steely determination, stepped on Papua New Guinea soil. Her mission was not only to bring Christianity to the country but to help foster formal education in the days when formal education was just starting in the country.
Sr Jane Frances Millane, a Catholic nun, was that young woman. Earlier this month, satisfied that all she had come to do has been accomplished, she bid farewell and left our shores for good – at a ripe old age of 86.
Although she may have left in person, her legacy is left behind which is evident in the thousands of students whose lives she has touched during the 40 years or so spent teaching at Lourdes Catholic Secondary School, Malala. The school in Madang was where she spent much of her life, serving as a nun, teacher and school principal.
Sr Jane Frances Millane was born on the April 23, 1931 in Iowa, in the United States. She comes from a family of nine. She has a twin brother.
School started for her at the early age of five and she came to like reading books very much. It isn’t surprising that she later took literature courses at university, and after four years, became a teacher.
It was while teaching in Illinois, USA, that she made another decision to join the Holy Spirit Sisters. She once remarked that this was a decision that she made from the heart. After three years, she made her first public promise to become a nun.
She continued teaching in different schools in Chicago, Pennsylvania and Arkansas, and still had some time to continue studying. During those early years of teaching, she found time to also qualify to be a typing teacher.
As a child, Sr Jane had heard about New Guinea through the education superintendent, who often visited her primary school.
She desired to visit the country one day and this was still her biggest hope when she made her final promise to remain a nun forever. In 1961, she was finally appointed to Papua New Guinea. She had done her thesis on PNG, so she knew something about the country, well before she made that long trip. Sr Jane was in different places, before heading to Lourdes College, Malala Provincial High School.
She was first appointed to be the principal of the then St Therese Teacher’s College in Alexishafen, Madang, and also looked after St Michael’s Demonstration School, (now St Michael’s Primary School, Alexishafen). At the beginning, most of the teachers were sisters of St Therese, because the college was only for female students. When Holy Trinity Teacher’s College started, the Megiar Training School for boys at Megiar (now Megiar Pastoral Centre) and St Therese, became part of Holy Trinity.
In 1970, she worked in Port Moresby on language materials with Professor Frank Johnson and Mick Bricknell, at the University of Papua New Guinea, before being called to return to Malala to be the headmistress.
She initially didn’t think it was a good idea, because it was a boys’ school, but later accepted, after the late Archbishop Adolf Noser, explained that Fr John Kolnik the headmaster, was ill and had to return to the US. Malala Provincial High School began classes in 1958, 13 years before Sr Jane arrived.
During her time there, she continued on with what was started and always pushed for more developments. It was through this kind of determination that enabled the first girls to enroll at Malala in 1972.
Other infrastructural developments took place under her watch with able assistance from other Holy Spirit sisters such as Sr Maria Burke, Sr Ingerburg and Sr Caritas, as well as overseas volunteer teachers and local teachers. The people of Malala, were fully behind the establishment of school gardens and the school farm, making it entirely self-reliant.
Buildings were renovated and facilities expanded. One other significant development Sr Jane brought about was the push to have secondary schools in the country.
That was when Malala became one of the pilot schools, taking up upper secondary level of studies in 1992. Students who have graduated from Malala, particularly after year 12, have always treasured their ability in typing.
Not only that, they learnt computing, going from the basics of Microsoft Office to Power Point presentations. All, with one computer each.
These were possible through Sr Jane’s resolve for the best for her students.
Going on in years, Sr Jane was happy for someone to take her place, and so in 2001, Patrick Silata, who was then the deputy/academic, became the first local principal.
She, I am sure, is happy with the changes she has championed to make Malala become one of the best schools in the country, academically. She now leaves it to us to maintain that accolade. And that is our challenge.
No doubt, anyone who has passed through Malala, would be proud that she was “Once a Malala, Always a Malala”.
Sr Jane resigned from actively serving the country in 2014. Even then, she thought she had not done enough for Malala. She lived at Alexishafen up until she left for the US last month, after receiving her dual citizenship. Not seeing her family in Iowa after all those years may not have been such a great deal for her, but many of us would agree that returning home after 54 years (1961-2017), as a missionary abroad is a very long time. Her family frequently visited her in PNG during her teaching years to see the work she was doing.
They are proud of her achievements and are also pleased to see her return home where she now lives with the Holy Spirit Sisters. Sr Jane has left a lasting legacy for Lourdes Catholic Secondary School and the education fraternity in the country. Her biggest hope is that the legacy is continued and maintained.
Good-bye Sr Jane. You may be in the US, but we know that your heart is truly in Malala.
- Sophie N’Druwin is head of the language and literature department at Malala Secondary School.