A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Sister Loyola Galvin’s story

Sister Loyola 2A frosty morning in Hawera, Taranaki in May 1922 saw my advent into life. A happy childhood with many pets and animals was interrupted by an accident at the age of 3 years, with serious damage to my left ankle, in which at the age of 10 years I developed Osteomyelitis. This resulted in hospital stays and painful treatment for a further 4 years. During this period I fell in love with nurses and nursing, and the desire to follow that profession was born.

Because of my medical history, my first application to begin nursing training - 1941, Hawera Hospital - was declined. Two years later I had another go. Due to a recommendation of Dr Doris Gordon of Stratford, I was approved for training in Wellington, providing I passed the medical exam requirements. So in 1943 I applied again. When it came to the medical, at the very moment when it was my turn the examining doctor was called to the telephone -- trouble had broken out with the Japanese Prisoners of War of at the Wairarapa camp. It was an emergency and all available doctors were needed to deal with the casualties. The doctor gave me only a cursory check before he left to attend the injured at Featherston. He did not look at my foot, or even read my notes, and I was given the OK! I went on to complete my training without any problems.

I nursed for two years in Wellington, and then for a time in my home town, Hawera. I had formed an attachment with a young soldier, who sadly did not return from the War. This led me to examine options for my future. In Wellington I had had contact with the Home of Compassion through a relative, and I was drawn to caring for disabled children. In 1947 I joined the congregation as a postulant.

For my first ten years in the order I worked in Compassion facilities in New Zealand, principally at Island Bay caring for babies and children, as well as doing duties in the geriatric section. Further children’s work followed in Australia at Broken Hill, and geriatric work at Wagga Wagga. Returning to New Zealand in 1963 I continued nursing in Compassion facilities in Timaru and Island Bay, as well as caring for unmarried mothers and babies in Auckland.

Mother Aubert

Mother Aubert

In 1979 I relieved a chaplain for 3 months at Wellington Hospital. I subsequently did chaplaincy training, leading to a full time chaplaincy position at the Hutt Hospital for 14 years. I was often called to support parents with new born disabled babies. Because of our philosophy which calls us to respond to ‘Need, not Creed’, I was available to all. Out of this grew my concern for the needs of parents of still-born babies. In 1988, due to efforts by 3 mothers, a midwife, and myself, ‘Still-Born Support’ was established at the Hutt Hospital. This is now a nation wide organisation. Among services offered are help with providing caskets, support for parents, and educative initiatives in the health profession.

Historically still-born babies were often buried without ceremony, mainly in unmarked graves. Many people had difficulty resolving their grief in these cases. After 7 years of lobbying, a memorial stone gifted by Glover Memorials was installed at the Taita cemetery in 1995. Since then, more such memorials have been established throughout New Zealand.

In 1995 my chaplaincy time ended, but I continued to be involved with Still-Birth Support. I also work in ministry to the poor and disabled, including refugees and migrants, in the community. When required I am available to Wesley Community Care for transport of the frail elderly. In latter years I developed an enthusiasm for conservation, and with the NZ Forest and Bird Society I regularly contributed my efforts to the re-forestation programme of Matiu-Somes Island. In Island Bay there is always plenty of gardening to do at our own Home of Compassion. I also represent the congregation as a trustee with the neighbouring Tapu Te Ranga Marae. 

In 1996 Sr Loyola was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for Community Services. She was also named NZ Gardener of the Year in 2008-NZ Gardener Magazine’s annual accolade recognizing NZ’s unsung horticultural heroes who use their passion for gardening to give back to the community. The award recognized her work establishing a Common Ground Community Gardening scheme on an area of lawn at the Home of Compassion for allotment-style gardens for people in the area with no land to grow food.


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1 Responses »

  1. I just wanted to write to let you know Sister what an inspiration you are. I returned home tonight after watching your documentary Gardening with Soul, and I felt so energised. I learn't so much in that short space of time about life, about your life, about gardening, about myself. You have touched the lives of so many people, you are amazing, a true gem.
    You taught me today to stay determined. That once you make your mind up about something to just do it. To keep going until you achieve it. That you can achieve it!. And that along the way to always be thinking of others.
    I wish you all the best, and hope that by chance one day we might cross paths.
    Rebecca Lees