Death of Tongan priest and academic Fr Mikaele Pāunga is a loss to all of the Pacific

The death of Fr. Dr. Mikaele Niusenia ‘Oto’Ota Pāunga SM is a great loss to Tonga and the Pacific as a whole.

Professor Fr Mikaele Pāunga

Fr. Pāunga died in the Colonial War Memorial hospital in Suva, Fiji, yesterday morning (September 3).

He was 68.

A graduate of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he gained a doctorate in theology, Fr Pāunga had taught at the Pacific Regional Seminary in Suva for 22 years.

In a post on its Facebook page, the seminary said Fr Pāunga would never be forgotten.

“Prayers and fond memories are what we have to remember our dearly departed. May the love of family and friends comfort you all during these difficult days, our most heartfelt condolences,” the post said.

Born in Vaipoa, Niuatoputapu, Tonga, Fr Pāunga was the youngest brother of Marist Fr Nisifolo ‘Oto’ota.

He was educated by the SMSM sisters in Vaipoa before entering ‘Apifo’ou College in Nuku’alofa, where he was taught  by the Marist fathers.

He finished his secondary education in New South Wales where he attended Belambi High School.

He entered the Novitiate in Tutu, Taveuni and was professed in the Society of Mary at the beginning of 1980.

He studied for a Licentiate in Sacred Theology at the Gregorian, graduating in 1985. This was the start of a lifetime of lecturing, beginning with the Holy Spirit seminary in Bomana in Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.

He was parish priest of St Anthony of Padua Basilica in Nuku’alofa from 1991-1992.

He then returned to the Gregorian, graduating with a doctorate in Sacred Theology in 1999.

The following year he joined the Pacific Regional Seminary where he taught Dogmatic, Systematic and Contextual Theology, Anthropology, world Religions and Modern Social Issues.

He was also Dean of Studies for five years.

Dr. Pāunga was a regular contributor to academic journals and collections, covering a range of topics including globalisation, culture, justice and development, human rights and the social mission of the church.

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