A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Eighty years in Aotearoa New Zealand

Sr Patricia Leamy

By Sr. Patricia Leamy SMSM

2014 was a year of thanksgiving for the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary since it marked eighty years since the opening of their first community in New Zealand.  We have been known through the years as the “Leper Nursing Sisters”, the Missionary Sisters, or simply the “SMSM”.  A number of sisters had been in New Zealand prior to 1934: one spent a brief time with Suzanne Aubert and her sisters in Jerusalem in the 1880s, and several who staffed the government leprosarium on the island of Makogai, Fiji, came here on furlough during the 1920s.

Aurora Terrace Wellington

Aurora Terrace Wellington

Our first foundation was at 48 Aurora Terrace in Wellington. It was a base for sisters who needed to come from the Pacific missions for health reasons, and a formation house for women wanting to be missionaries.  Since 1934 the novitiate has been in five different locations, and over 280 women professed as SMSM.

As religious women whose particular vocation in the Church is to be sent “to those who do not know Christ, those seeking to know Him, or to local churches in need of missionary service” (SMSM Constitutions 17), the focus of our work is “overseas mission”.   However, at the request of bishops, the congregation has responded to missionary needs in New Zealand.  Like St Paul, our missionary role here has often meant planting the seeds for a work that brings about the kingdom, and then handing it over to others to continue.

Mother M Rose whose council decided on the Wellington foundation

Mother M Rose whose council decided on the Wellington foundation

We give thanks to God who gave us the opportunity to staff the hospital in the Chatham Islands from 1949 – 1999. For fifty years, the SMSM also ran St Anne’s Hostel in Herne Bay, serving young Maori women coming to Auckland from rural areas, and later international students and workers.  When the Wellington Archdiocese opened the Catholic Social Services, SMSM were among the staff members until the mid-70s. St Brendan’s parish school in Heretaunga was established by the congregation in 1961 and sisters taught there until the school was handed over to a lay principal. Ministry to migrants from the Pacific Islands of Samoa and Tonga began in collaboration with the chaplaincies Bishop Delargey set up to support new-comers to these shores. This apostolate was later taken up in the Wellington Archdiocese.  For ten years an SMSM sister was the nurse at the Mangere Refugee Centre.

The baking and distribution of altarbreads in the dioceses of Wellington and Auckland has been a privileged service for smsm.  As a branch of the Marist family, SMSM collaborated in staffing the pastoral institute Marcellin Hall which served the church in New Zealand with particular consideration for the needs of Maori and Pacific Island communities.

We are grateful for our participation in the National Mission Council, and for the volunteers received into our work in the Pacific.  The Catholic Women’s League, with its outreach to some overseas mission, has been a tremendous support for sisters working in different countries, as has the St Vincent de Paul Society.

And today?  SMSM continue to offer a missionary presence in the New Zealand Church through our communities in Whangarei, Auckland, Kapiti, Wellington and Christchurch. We continue to be involved in ecumenical and interfaith activities. Given the fragmentation of the world in which we live, smsm try to become “witnesses to God’s love and instruments of divine mercy” (SMSM Constitutions 26) through presence, prayer and activity wherever we are.

Interprovincial  noviate staff and novices with Bishop Pat Dunn, Manurewa, 2009

Interprovincial noviate staff and novices with Bishop Pat Dunn, Manurewa, 2009

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