Ana Manueli was born on the island of Rotuma on 20th January 1940. Although politically linked with Fiji since 1881, Rotuma has its own distinct character – as did our Sister Blaise. She did her primary education at Sumi, a village on her home island and then when she was 15 years old travelled the considerable distance to Levuka, Fiji to do two years at the Commercial School which was run by the Marist Sisters. A couple of years later at the age of 19 Ana left “home and country” to take up Marist religious life. This meant travelling a much greater distance to Merrylands in Sydney for her initial formation under the direction of Mother Romanus for the first year. Ana was professed in June 1961 as Sister Blaise and remained in Sydney for another seven years. During this time she lived in Woolwich and then again in Merrylands, completing her secondary studies and assisting with domestic duties, including cooking.
The Sisters in Australia have very fond memories of those days, remembering Blaise as bright and quick-witted with a larger than life personality. It was around this time she became renowned for her ability to cook for over a hundred boarders, keep the kitchen spick and span and still have time for scrabble playing her right hand against her left!! A little later when cooking at Merrylands she became known for her Saturday night hot curries which reduced Sr David’s novices to coughing fits and – much to their delight – brought an end to the silence of the evening meal.
In 1969 Blaise returned to Fiji where she did her teacher training at Corpus Christi. In 1971 she took up the role of head teacher at the Yasawas. From then on her characteristic strength, compassion and humour took her from one leadership role to another. These included head teacher at St Agnes Samabula and in Levuka; supervisor of the Commercial School in Lautoka and boarder mistress at Cawaci; care giver in Nadi; bursar in Vatukoula and Levuka, local leader in Levuka, Lautoka, Vatukoula and Lami. With great generosity Blaise also gave community service for over two years at Marian House in Sydney as well for three years in our general house in Rome.
For the past few years Blaise was back at Levuka where she first met the Marist Sisters. Again she held positions of responsibility – local leader for five years and recently local bursar. Some time ago her sight began to deteriorate so earlier this year Blaise moved to the Nadi community. It was there on 27th June this year that Blaise celebrated 50 years of Marist religious life with Sisters, family and friends who joined her for this very happy occasion.
There was joy and excitement in the air the morning of Monday, October 10th – Fiji Independence Day. During the first part of the morning, Blaise and Sr Maria Goretti were busy printing the Archdiocesan Vision Statement in our four major languages: English, Rotuman, Fijian and Hindi. The rest of the morning Blaise spent filling in her cross-word puzzle and Sudoku – her normal activity of a morning before lunch was ready.
The community then gathered in the dining room where Blaise led the prayer by singing the Vision Statement song. It was in the second verse of the song that Blaise moved back against the table, seeking support. Sr Miriama, who was standing close to her, noticed this and put her arm around Blaise. “I’m weak”, Blaise whispered to Miriama but she continued to sing in spite of it. Miriama alerted the rest of us that all was not right with Blaise. While the rest of the Sisters gathered around Blaise and helped her to a wheel-chair, Sr Marlene called for an ambulance, the parish priest (Fr Ipolito sm), and Dr Raymond Fong. Fr Ipolito was the first to arrive to administer the Sacrament of the Sick. When Dr Fong arrived he confirmed that Blaise had suffered a brain haemorrhage. When the ambulance came to take Blaise to the hospital she had already lapsed into the coma from which she never woke up.
From the hospital, Marlene called Sr Mariana (Sector Leader) with the news of Blaise’s collapse. Sr Jane Frances (Superior General) and Sr Julie (Regional Leader) were in Nadi for their visitation and were part of the anxious group awaiting news at Mt St Mary’s. Over the next few hours Blaise’s family and friends were informed of her illness. The Rotuman Community responded with love and devotion. They arrived from all over Viti Levu and took turns with our Sisters in keeping vigil by Blaise’s bedside in the hospital. Her brother, Kepieni, arrived from Brisbane on Saturday afternoon and went straight to the hospital. It was as if Blaise was ‘waiting’ for Kepieni to arrive! Together with his younger brother, Mua, Kepieni bade good-bye to his beloved sister, Ana.
Blaise remained in a coma from 1.50 pm on the 10th of October until she peacefully slipped away into God’s care at 4.50 am on 16th October. The parishioners of Mt St Mary’s Nadi, Lautoka, Nadi Town, the Rotuman relatives and friends of Blaise came to offer their help, bringing gifts of different kinds. The Sisters were overwhelmed by their show of love and support.
The Vigil was held in the convent chapel on the night of the 18th October and was attended by very many relatives and friends. The Mass of the Resurrection was celebrated the next day by Fr Kaitu’u the Rotuman priest who had offered Blaise’s Golden Jubilee Mass. Fr Kaitu’u was assisted by eight priests. Blaise and Sr Nolasco now lie side by side in Balawa Cemetery, Lautoka, their graves overlooking the sea which both loved so much in life.
Blaise – like St Paul – has run the race and fought the good fight. She was loved by young and old, remembered as strong and forthright, but with a big heart, generous, vivacious and great fun. As one of our Sisters put it: “We have another Marist in heaven. May she now enjoy the reward of a Marist life lived to the full.”
I have been blessed to have known a woman of such great substance. I was born Ana Filomena Manueli – named after two of my father’s sisters. From a very young age I knew her as Auntie Blaise and that I was going to grow up and be just like her. She was full of life, outspoken and forthright – something that was not always tolerated in a child but always encouraged when I was in her company. I remember attending Mass with her and the peace I felt when I listened to her pray. A large part of my faith can be attributed to how she lived her life. She once said that her saving grace was when she ‘joined the convent’. I like to think that that was just the icing on the cake, and that becoming a nun simply shaped her into a woman of such strength and character. She lived life to the full, believing that all we had to do, was take it all to the Lord in prayer. I miss her. I loved her and knew that she loved us all. My heartful thanks to the Marist Sisters, friends and families who have loved and supported her throughout her life. Thank you