On 13 August, 1896, the six pioneers SVD missionaries landed at Friedrich-Wilhelmshafen, the present Madang. They were Frs. Joseph Erdwig, Frans Vormann, Bros. Eustochius Tigges, Canisius Hautkappe, Theodulph Schmidt, who came directly from Style, Holand, and Fr. Eberhard Limbrock (A German Missionary to China who waited these five in Singapore for their journey to Madang).
When they arrived in 1896, they struck with two major setbacks: the knowledge that they were not really welcome in Madang, and their first attack of malaria. There was little comfort in Madang. Ten hectares of land promised to them were not available and the Lutherans were not pleased to have Catholics moving in Madang.
A german plantation manager from Aitape happened to be in Madang and suggested the new mission start at Tumleo Island, Aitape which about 450 km northwest of Madang, where the climate was healthier and a good distance from the Lutherans in Madang.
Fr. Limbrock sent Fr. Franz Vormann to Aitape to investigate the possibility of settling there. When he returned with a favourable report about the Island, Father Limbrock was too sick to travel. He sent Fathers Vormann and Erdwegg and Brother Canisius off to Tumleo establish a station there. He remained at Madang with Brothers Eustochius and Theoduph.
Never one to waste time, Fr. Limbrock borrowed a small boat as soon as he and the two Brothers were well enough, and begun exploring the inlets and little islands north of Madang. And so it was then in September of 1896 he was in Alexishafen for the first time and was highly impressed with its three small rivers and four freshwater ponds.
However, at the end of October the ship left for Aitape and took the three missionaries along, with the result that the SVD presence for the next eight years would be at the far end of the colony.
Once the mission was sufficiently well established at Tumleo, Father Limbrock turned his sights back towards Madang. He started stations and plantations at Monumbo in 1899 and at Bogia in 1901. In 1905 land was cleared at ‘Doilon’ and the first simple building constructed. Madang, the second-largest German settlement after Rabaul, was only about 20km to the south and had a regular shipping service from Europe, Asia and Australia.
Within a few years they had established large coconut and rubber plantations A small school was started on Sek Island. A sawmill, and workshops, residences, a clinic and chapel were built at Alexishafen. Steel tracks were laid for trolleys pulled by water buffalo; and the first wharf went into service. In 1909 the central mission school was move from Tumleo to Alexishafen, and the Catechist school followed soon afterwards.
In 1996 the whole province celebrated the centennial of the SVD mission in PNG and the focus of that celebration looked back to the Madang beginning. At the centennial it was apparent that the church is now more indigenous rather than foreign. Now there are a number of local priests and many local sisters. During that year 1996, Divine Word Institute in Madang was recognised as a University. Divine Word University is very much part of the growing church in the Madang district and in the country.
Main apostolates of the district:
Since the beginning the SVD in Madang have concentrated on parish apostolates while helping established the local Church. Health and education are also important apostolates. It has been like that for years and years up until now. The apostolate to Hospital and education were also part of the whole beginning up until now.
Our SVD Madang District presence in the diocese continued to assist and help the local church in their needs of personnel at the same time in administration of the diocese.
There is rapid development in the province. New multi-national companies are coming in. The population is becoming multi-cultural. Many people are attracted to money and material possessions. Traditional customs from the past are sisappearing. These include going to the church on Sundays and sports on free days. Now it is not easy to have people come together for meetings. Church activities compete with a growing mentality associated with monetary compensation.
Because of overseas companies coming intp the province many people are also experiencing displacement from their land. Some are retreating to isolated areas near the mountains. This raises law and order issues and this is a challenge for the society and the church. As a district, we are challenged to develop new apostolates that called us to be in this modern multi-cultural society. We are challenged to answer new questions in responding to the needs of today.