Sister Josephine and the boy she taught to box

Sister Josephine

Sister Josephine – both a person and a movie about the boy she taught to box – is coming to a screen near us one day soon.

Their story is being turned into a short film for the New Zealand Film Commission under the direction of long-serving police officer, film director and author Stef Harris.

Sister Josephine, by the way, was a real person and this is Harris’s childhood story.

It’s a story about human resilience, empowerment and heart, told through the lens of nostalgia in the 1970s says producer Amanda Jenkins.

Wrapped in a crystalised moment in time, the story acknowledges those people you meet in life who enable change for the better.

In essence, it’s about frightened 10yr old Maaka. Sister Josephine confronts him and convinces him to fight.

Overwhelmed by her rough-house boxing lessons, he is forced to find his fighting spirit from within. It’s a spirit he will carry for life.

Life lessons

Sister Josephine’s unorthodox approach to help Harris find his inner strength worked wonders.

“My film ‘Sister Josephine’ is a true piece of shrapnel from my childhood, shattered by violence, alcohol abuse and dangerous secrets. Somewhere in the North Island around 1971 I found myself in a boy’s home.

“Here’s the thing. I’m an atheist really, but among atheists I guess I’m more religious that most.

“When I was a kid, no shoes, no school lunch, no bicycle, embarrassing clothes, I was treated with kindness by the nuns. I was malnourished and starving and they fed me scones and jam.

“The nuns were strict but their kindness was like sunshine on my back.

“I have never forgotten the day Sister Josephine singled me out for boxing lessons.

“Even as a ten year old I was aware of the great gift bestowed on me.

“As a result I have pursued martial arts my whole life… In a small but powerful way Sister Josephine set me on a pathway that continues throughout my life.

“That was many years ago now, it’s fifty years later and I’ve been a police officer most of my adult life.

“In the police we talk of being one big family, myself I would say we are more a very tightly-knit tribe. Eleven thousand sworn officers, all of whom I would trust with my life and some of them actually put (sic) to that test.”

Church groups helpful

Harris says much of the positive work he’s achieved as a police officer has been working in conjunction with Church groups.

There’s a similarity in values. In police there are very much Christian beliefs, he says.

“We see ourselves as protectors of the people, good shepherds. All of us united in our mission to protect good people from evil.”

Harris says he’s surprised to have made a strongly religious film.

“I guess eventually all the childhood chickens come home to roost. God bless you Sister Josephine.”


Jenkins is scrambling to get enough money to ensure the film fufils its potential.

A Boosted crowdfunding campaign is running to support the film so as to cover the costs of sound design and music.

“It will also go towards costs involved in submitting the film to international film festivals” Jenkins says.


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