CATHOLIC PRIEST LEAVES AFTER 50 YEARS IN PNG

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Well-loved ‘Kupari Sam’ will be missed in Southern Highlands

By Andrew Alphonse

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Jan. 5, 2011) – The longest serving Catholic priest in the Diocese of Mendi and a good friend of Hela and Southern Highlands yesterday bade farewell to Tari and Southern Highlands after serving for more than 50 years.

Fr Samuel Driscoll, affectionately known to the Huli people as "Kupari Sam", would leave Tari today by Air Niugini flight forever for the United States.

Yesterday, in front of a packed church building at Kupari Catholic mission in Tari, Fr Sam said his last mass with his congregation.

Community and church leaders even from other denominations came to thank Fr Sam for all his years of untiring service in meeting the spiritual needs and development of the Catholics in Tari and Hela.

Bishop of Mendi Diocese, Stephen Reichert also came in from Mendi with other clergies to attend Fr Sam’s farewell mass.

Reverend Holene Yawai, chairman of the Hela Council of Churches who also represented the Evangelical Church of PNG (ELCPNG) at the mass, thanked Fr Sam for his years of service to the church, the body of Christ in Hela.

Rev Yawai described Fr Sam as a great servant of God and someone who worked well with church workers from other mainstream churches in Tari and Hela to spread the Word of God.

Kupari church committee chair-man Richard Ayai said the Tari and Hela people would lose a dear friend who always had the heart to love and serve the Huli people.

"Whether you are Catholic or not, Christian or pagan, young or old, sick, dying or healthy, poor or rich, drunkards, drug addicts or not, Kupari Sam was always there to help the Hela people and he would long be remembered for his unrestricted love and care to the people apart from his main pastoral duty of spreading the Word of God in Tari and Hela," Mr Ayai said.

After the mass, members of the congregation shed tears and swamped Fr Sam with gifts. Youths sang farewell songs to send him off with a memorable experience.

Originally from Charleston in West Virginia, Fr Sam came to PNG in 1961 as a young priest with the Order of the Franciscan Capuchin Friars Minors. His first posting was to Ialibu parish in the Southern Highlands where he served for more than 12 years.

Besides teaching and preaching the Word of God, Fr Sam helped establish the Tukupangi and Orei primary schools in Imbonggu. In 1973, he was posted to Sohe parish in Nipa where he stayed for another 10 years and helped started the Kurump primary school in Wara Lai.

In 1983, Fr Sam was given a taste of coastal and city life after his years in the rural Highlands of PNG, when he was appointed parish priest at Holy Rosary parish at Six Mile in Port Moresby. There, among other duties, he learnt to meet the challenges of helping the unfortunates in the tough city life.

After seven years in Port Moresby, Fr Sam was recalled to Ialibu where he served there until 1997 when he was posted to Kupari in Tari. He served in Tari for nearly 14 years.

He recalled that in all his years in PNG, he observed that people are beginning to move towards western civilisation.

He said when he first come to the province, there were no good roads and they had to ride on motor bikes to visit outstations for mass, marriages, baptisms, confessions and administering of other sacraments and church duties.

He said he loves the Huli and Southern Highlands people very much and felt that he has fulfilled God’s call and will for him to serve as a missionary in PNG where he would be leaving with fond memories.

Fr Sam will head back to Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania where he would still serve as a priest at the OFM Cap headquarters.

With a smile he said his last words to his beloved people of Tari: "Always follow the Gospel of Christ. For me, I am not retiring, I am fading."

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