Nelson’s Mission sisters celebrate 150 years

It’s 150 years since Nelson’s Mission sisters arrived in the developing province from France.

St Joseph’s School pupils and other members of Nelson’s Catholic community celebrated the milestone with a special Mass on 11 February.

During the service, a video presentation documenting the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions history and contribution to the community of the sisters was played.

After the Mass, a pohutukawa tree was planted and a plaque commemorating the anniversary was unveiled near the site of the old convent building.

A poem read at the service implored everyone to remember….”voices, names, all those who so long ago set out from home, who left a familiar country … and sought from a rolling ship a strange coastline who worked, toiled and prayed to their days end.”

“Who brought learning and hope to this country, what they have planted has grown into a great tree.”

The Order of Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions was founded in Lyon, France by Adèle-Euphrasie Barbier. Known in religious life as Marie du Coeur de Jésus, the Order of Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions began with Barbier’s aim to work in the foreign missions.

Within six weeks of the first two sisters’ arrival in Nelson, they were joined by Superior Marie St Madeleine and Marie St Pierre.

The newly-arrived Mission sisters were immediately immersed in parish, teaching and community life – despite only Sister M. Michel being able to speak English.

The sisters often had to rely on the charity of the local Catholic community at first.

Later, when they became more established, the sisters taught music, cared for boarders and orphans and continued with domestic activities.

The order has maintained a prominent presence in St Joseph’s School and St Mary’s church families over the years.

Sisters from the mission taught at the school until the late principal Sister Maureen Lawson’s retirement in 2001. Many Nelsonians received musical tuition from French-born Sister Leon until the 1990s.

Today, five sisters from New Zealand and overseas continue the work of those pioneer women, living in the present convent beside St Mary’s church.

The order’s province leader Sister Margaret Monaghan said the desire to live a life of service and dedication to God and people led her to religious vocation.

“It is a really wonderful milestone that something which began 150 years ago still exists, although maybe in a different capacity.

“It’s a time to be so grateful to God and all those people from the past who have brought us to this point – we stand on the shoulders of those people.”


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News category: New Zealand.