One of our missionaries, Br. Anton Freitas, MSC, passed away this month. Br. Tony was a foreign missionary for most of his religious life (volunteering for the mission to Papua New Guinea in 1957 after he made his perpetual profession of vows). Here are some of his reflections on his nearly half a century of service.
I served in Papua, New Guinea from 1957 to the mid-1960’s. I then took a two-year course at the A.T.E.S. Electronics School in Niles, Ohio and returned to Papua, New Guinea upon completion of the course. In 1974/1975 I came back to the United States temporarily on leave and returned to Papua, New Guinea in 1975, shortly after it gained its independence from Australia. I continued to serve there until 2006, at which time I retired and came home to the USA.
At first I captained the ship Raskai, a small vessel in which we brought supplies to the various mission stations. As the work progressed, we began hauling timber (some of the pieces being more than 60 feet long) which was used to build hospitals, homes, schools, etc., and purchased a larger vessel, the M.V. Margaret, an 80 ft. sailing ship which also had a six cylinder engine. The people were fascinated by the ship Margaret, as they had never seen a sailing ship before. We also transported boys and girls to school from the various islands in the area; the boys to school on New Ireland and the girls to school on Manus.
Through my ministry with the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in taking supplies to all the mission stations, I served different native populations of the numerous tribes in the area; there were many islands. A supply run would usually last about three weeks; supplies would be dropped off at the first island port and, if it was not too late in the day, we would continue on to the next island. If the time grew late, however, we would stay overnight and be on our way first thing next morning.
Dolphins, whales, and sharks would often be seen on the journey. I remember one time we were in very calm waters and stopped the ship so the crew members could take a swim; the swim was over before it even started, as sharks began to circle the ship.
During our first trip to the Western Islands we carried Reverend Martin Kopunek, who would look after the spiritual needs of the Western Island people. He was the first priest to land on the Ninigo Islands (which are part of the Western Islands). Over time, several priests came along to help Father Kopunek in his work of evangelizing the people. Father Vincent Freeh, one of the priests helping Father Kopunek, sang American songs and played them on the guitar. The local people, in turn, learned the songs played by Father Freeh and re-played them on a ukulele; they also used a tambourine-like instrument and taught Father Freeh some of their local songs. It is well-known that the people of Papua New Guinea very quickly learned how to play the guitar.
On Manus Island the school kids came aboard for a tour of the ship Margaret; they especially enjoyed going into the wheelhouse and turning the ship’s wheel.
One time we got a local man to substitute-captain the ship while I was away on shipping business. As they started out on their journey, the crew told him “This is not the course the Brother takes”. He said “I am the captain and, therefore, you will do what I say”. They got lost and were missing for two days; finally made radio contact with one of the islands. They were told to keep going until they saw emergency lights, and were then directed to land.
The climate was tropical and warm, 80º or more. The rainy season, known as the Northwest Season, would last for at least three months. During that time, the temperature would drop down to about 70º. There were also quite a few earthquakes, most of them not severe, and we learned of them through newspaper or radio. There was one severe quake, which caused a tsunami off the mainland. There were also volcanic eruptions, which caused much devastation.
When the transport of mission supplies was turned over to commercial carriers, I began to teach vocational courses at the mission station school in Puas in the diocese of Kavieng, Island of New Ireland. These courses included English, Morse Code, a little bit of engine repair, a bit of math, weather science and basic navigation. I was also personally involved in the radio communication between mission stations, assisted Father Bernie Miller at the parish of Milmila on Duke of York Island, and worked at Rakanda, a mission plantation where coconuts and cocoa are grown. I retired in 2006, and lived in Kavieng for a while before coming to the Sacred Heart Villa Community in Center Valley, PA.