New-Zealand - REFLECTIONS AND MEMORIES
As part of our celebration of 150 years since the Foundation of the Little Sisters of the Assumption in 1865, families we have worked with over the years were asked if they would be willing to share some thoughts/memories of their experiences of LSA in their lives. Some of the thoughts/reflections shared are indeed very humbling.
The Sisters arrived in Petone in 1957 and took up residence at 48a Britannia Street. The house had previously been a private residence (I think it had been a boarding house) and was deemed to be a suitable Convent. It must have been terribly cramped for the five Sisters.
I remember the Sunday it was to be officially opened and blessed by Archbishop McKeefry. The day was very wet and the event had to be moved to the church. The Archbishop said it didn’t matter it was raining because nothing could spoil the joy of having the Sisters come to the Parish. The Parish Priest, Fr. O’Donnell, was of like mind, though I think some of the joy came from the Petone parish getting one over the Hutt in that the Sisters came to live at Petone.
The next morning the Archbishop came to the convent to say the first Mass and finally bless the Convent. Another altar boy and I were selected to serve at the Mass. We had to put our altar boy outfits on at the church and then walk down Britannia Street to the Convent. Fortunately there were not many people around at that hour of the morning at 6.30am. The Archbishop gave us a little speech afterwards about what a wonderful occasion it was, but I think most of it went over our heads. We were more concerned about getting home for breakfast before coming back for school. If I remember rightly the Chapel was very small. It was extremely cramped with 5 Sisters and the bishop and 2 altar boys.
The Sister’s Mission was to help care for families (Catholic and non-Catholic) when the mother was sick and the father had to keep on working.
There was a roster of gentlemen in the parish who would drive the Sisters to the homes in the morning, return to take them back to the Convent for lunch and then repeat the exercise after lunch. My father on occasions used to drive them at the weekends when he was able. On one occasion he was taking them back to the Convent and another car went through a stop sign at Cuba St and hit the car. Fortunately there was not much damage and the Sisters pretended not to hear what he said. He was still able to take them safely home.
Later on the Sisters were supplied with motor scooters and bicycles and my father helped to teach them to ride. There was much excitement when they passed their licences and the ’Scooter Sisters” soon became a familiar sight round town.
I don’t remember all their names, except for the Superior, Mother Veronica, who was from France (the other Sisters were, I think, from Ireland). We as a family experienced their care and Mother Veronica left a very lasting impression with her care for my mother. My parents never forgot her. I believe she was a very wise lady. One of the original Sisters took ill after some time in the parish and when she died the whole parish went into mourning. I have never seen a church so full at a funeral.
The Sisters were greatly admired for their work and became highly respected in all of Petone, not just in the parish. In many ways I think they were ahead of John XXIII and Vatican 2.
I remember how Mum and Dad were grateful for the support they received from the Sisters and how that impacted on us growing up. I can vividly remember putting the pins in the lapel signs for the Street Day Appeals, and of course standing at the station from 6.30 a.m. until it was time to get the train to school at Taita and then into work.
Sister Johanna or Sister Patrick as she was known in those days, used to drive a little green mini and sometimes a motor scooter without a helmet – you could see her coming down Kensington Avenue with her habit flowing behind her.
I remember one of the nun’s way of vacuuming the house in Britannia Street was to sprinkle confetti first so no part of the room was missed.
I remember when mum was in hospital having a baby, one of the Assumption Sisters came around to help and did the ironing. Our iron was partially broken and had a hole in the front that the sister took for a steam iron, needless to say she put water in the hole and the iron blew up.
Sometimes the sisters used to drop around excess food, it was great because we didn’t just get small amounts, we got boxes of the stuff, which was great one Easter when we got lots of chocolate but not so good when we got boxes of dried milk blocks.)
Among my earliest memories is the sisters’ scrubbing the floors of home whilst my mother was in hospital. I remember especially Sister Johanna a servant to the domestic church and the poorer families like ours in the parish. Sr Johanna was an inspiration to my mother’s work in the free parish pre-school. How blessed the parish was with her presence! The sisters have played an important role in my life, for which I am very grateful to them.
These nuns are called to help the community and to spread the Word of God through works of mercy. From their Britannia Street home I know much of their time was spent in silent prayer and reflection. It was there I remember joining them for devotions. From there they would head out into the community to do whatever they could, assisting the poor, nursing, or giving spiritual counsel. What impressed me, looking from the inside out is that prayer formed the basis of their work. I think now that the good they achieved had an earnest prayer to begin with and a prayer of gratitude at the end.
On that note I wish to congratulate them on their 150th anniversary and also to express my personal thanks and gratitude to all the nuns from the Sisters of Assumption, who helped give me formation as well as my family through prayer and works. Those were surely the good old days when it was appar-ent to me how much beautiful sacrifice and offerings theirs was – they deserve a great blessing and thank you. Their example is so much needed today and I hope they survive and flourish against the tide to secularize the religious.
I end with this tribute message:
’As you serve the Lord with all your heart and his life shines through you to light the way for others, may you rejoice in knowing what a difference you are making in His kingdom. For the work, love and goodwill that you spread throughout the community, may God bless you.’
I do remember Sr Mary Rice. Mum had immense respect for her. She went to work in New Plymouth. Years later when I moved to Taranaki she came to visit me at Okato a few times. I attended her funeral a few years later in NP.
The Sisters provided many of our Xmas presents. I wonder where they came from?
I remember with great affection the silent, unassuming but effective work of the Assumption Sisters in many families in Petone. They never made us feel ashamed like a charitable cause but rather a dignified family in need of a little support from time to time. Their constant cheerfulness and loving kindness worked a great apostolate in our area. Like the arm of the church reaching into the margins of society without a fuss!
Their work with the Island families in Petone, be they Tokelauan, Tongan or Samoan was legendary, and they helped change the outcome for many families supporting them to buy their own home, educate their children, and find decent work, whatever the need was.
Sr Johanna was especially close to my family and a great support and friend to my mother who had 10 children and limited means. Together, and with other mothers in the area, they started a Tokelauan Preschool which operated in the Sacred Heart Parish hall for many years from about the early 70’s. Several of the Tokelauan mothers went on to have careers in early childhood education – they were inspired by the example and dedication of the Assumption Sisters and the love they showed for the children in their care.
Petone is a very distinct parish because of the influence of these nuns in our midst. To my knowledge nowhere else in the region have we seen such successful outcomes for minorities in terms of educational attainment, sound values, citizenship, participation in the church.... the list goes on. The foundation for this was the material support, encourage-ment and practical help that the Assumption Sisters provided to assist the Tokelauan community to integrate well into New Zealand society.
Fr Clancy introduced me to the Assumption Sisters in 1969 when I was working at the Home of Compassion in Wanganui.
In 1971 I came back from Tonga to get married. I had no family here and I visited the Petone Convent again and I told Sr Johanna Heffernan that I was getting married soon. She gave me a wedding dress and veil and gloves that had been worn by one of the Sisters when she became a novice. I have never forgotten that – I was here on my own with no family. Since then the Assumption Sisters became my parents and family in NZ.
The Sisters saved my life when they introduced me to Natural Family Planning at a time when I felt overwhelmed by one pregnancy after another.
The Tongan Sisters helped me by sharing our culture at a time when I felt alone in this country. I opened my house to them and they are always welcome if they need me.
Sr Johanna and the Assumption Sisters set up the Polynesian Pre-school for our children – it was free or by donation if we could afford it. Most of our children now have Degrees and have good jobs.
Fr Greally and Sr Johanna set up a Housing Scheme through which we could rent to buy. And now most of the Tokelauan families in Petone own their own homes thanks to this Scheme.
When I was having my babies the Sisters came and looked after me – doing the shopping, the washing and looking after my family until I was able to manage by myself.
My first born son, Stephen had a heart problem and the Sisters helped me nursing him and gave me a break at a very stressful time. And when Stephen had major heart surgery Sr Johanna sat with me at the hospital and supported us when the operation was not successful and Stephen died. Sister drove us home and stayed with us as we grieved over the loss of our son.
Without the Assumption Sisters, I don’t think I would’ve survived and be doing so well today.
We miss the Sisters in Petone – especially our young people when they are in trouble – the Sisters were always there to help with their prayers and advice and financial help.
Thank you Sisters for saving my life over all those years. You are never forgotten in my life and that of my family.
We greatly thank our Lady of the Assumption Community of St John the Evangelist in Otara, Auckland, NZ for their help and support for our family with food, children’s outings, some clothes for our needs. We also let other people know about the service, plus their continuous visits and prayer for the sick. May God bless them and their great work for the community of St John the Evangelist, Otara.
Augustino & Kolopa (Otara)
‘Let your love, your labour speak Jesus Christ’
Fr Stephen Pernet
Our numbers and circumstances and type of mission have changed many times over the 60 years since our first foundation in Dunedin in 1955, but we pray that these words of Fr Pernet continue to guide and inspire us.
Barbara Gibbs (Petone)
April 1959 - The "Scooter Sisters", Petone
1980 - Marian Mothers group, Mihi Pickering LSA, with the toddlers
December 1959 - Sr Theophane. Picnic with the children from the pre-school
Beginning of the 1980s - Polyneson day-care nursery.
Jacinta Joane, Johanna Heffrnan, Akata Lui
1957 - The first house in Britannia St.
1976 - Polynesion Centre, day care for young children
Poirua, 1970 - Sr Raphael, Veronica
1960 - Sr Brigid (Bernadette Reilly) with the McCombie children