I grew up in a large Catholic family in a village in Samoa, I was the seventh of eight children. We were very poor, and from an early age I had to help to support the family. After school I would go to the market to sell coconut and sugarcane. This helped my family to pay for food and for our school fees. Although we struggled to get by from day to day, we trusted in God and prayed for his help. We had a strong sense of vocation and were always ready to help others.
We had a Catholic church in our village, but there were not many priests in Samoa at that time, and we only had Mass about once a month. But every evening, the whole village would stop for prayer. It was here that my vocation started.
When I started college, I saw that we had so few priests in my country and started wondering if perhaps I could become a priest when I grew up. I wanted to serve my people in this way. During my college years I became quite active with the Legion of Mary and other Catholic youth groups. There were many young people thinking about the vocation to the priesthood at the time, and this encouraged me to take the step
After Sixth Form, I went to the Theological College in Samoa for two years. After that, I was sent to the seminary in Fiji. Altogether I spent six years there. Halfway through, I started to feel unsure about becoming a priest, and took a break for two years to think about it. My parents kept supporting and praying for me, but they left me free to make my own decision. Eventually I realized it was what I really wanted, and I went back to finish my training.
Towards the end, I started thinking about New Zealand where many Samoans were living. I contacted Cardinal Tom Williams, and he accepted my request to come to Wellington to be a priest here. I was ready to be ordained, but he sent me to Holy Cross Seminary in Mosgiel first! After so many years, I was not expecting to spend even more time in seminary. But I could see that it was important for me to familiarize myself with life in New Zealand, which is very different from Samoa!
Finally, after such a long journey, I was ordained as a priest. My whole family travelled from Samoa to New Zealand for my ordination; it was a very special occasion.
In the last 32 years I have served in many parishes as well as the Samoan chaplaincy. It has been a wonderful life. I enjoy being with the people, visiting them at home and becoming a part of their lives – being with them in important moments and in every-day moments. I like to work with the youth, and the children at school bring me great joy. Sometimes, when I meet school children on the street, they tell their mums and dads that I am Jesus! That is what I do as a priest, I bring Jesus to the people I am called to serve.
Fr Maleko is currently serving as Parish Priests at St Joseph’s Parish, Upper Hutt.