The Catholic Church in the Cook Islands was founded by Father Bernadine Castanie, who arrived in Rarotonga from Tahiti on October 29, 1894.
Less than a year later, at the invitation of Father Castanie, the first two Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny arrived from Tahiti.
They were a Frenchwoman, Sister Lydia Berger Superior, who was also the first principal and Sister Marie Hearn of the Holy Relics, who was Irish. They opened the school on the main road in Avarua on July 29, 1895.
At the time there were 78 pupils, some of whom had previously attended the Protestant school. By 1915 the roll number increased to 120.
The anniversary is also for the Sisters of Saint Joseph’s of Cluny too, said acting principal Savenaca Tukitoba. “Through them came the school, so we are very grateful to the sisters who started from nothing and struggled a lot so we are where we are today.
He acknowledged their perseverance in those early days.
Today, there are two sisters from St Joseph of Cluny on the Island, Sister Elizabeth Browne-Russell from Rarotonga and Sister Luisa P Nava from the Philippines, who is also teaching grade 4 and 5.
“We have two young women from Fiji, Vaviola Babakula and Anamaria Irava, who are also on their final stage of being moulded and prepared to become a Cluny sister in the near future,” Tukitoba continued.
Outgoing principal Shelley Berry was the 19th principal for the school, and one of just three who were not nuns; the other 16 leaders had taken their vows.
Sister Celine Amaia Siimon from India was the principal from 2006 to 2013, she was the last nun to hold the post.
The kindergarten classes started in 1963 and continue to function today.
Tukitoba said it was amazing to see how the Sister of St Joseph of Cluny and the school had gone from strength to strength in Cook Islands, and their impact on the community at large.