April 20, 2017
‘A far-away country over-run by savage tribes of Maoris’ is what the four young Sisters setting out to make the first Josephite foundation in New Zealand believed they were coming to.
Despite the rather frightening picture of their destination, Sr Hyacinth Quinlan recorded that the group ‘came down gaily from Bathurst to Sydney’ accompanied by Father Woods. There the four Sisters embarked on the Wakatipu and, at 4.00pm on 14 April 1880, began their journey to New Zealand. They arrived in Wellington at 7.45am on Tuesday 20 April and were met by the Administrator of the diocese, Fr Yardin SM. The group selected by Father Julian Tenison Woods himself were twenty seven year-old, eight years professed Sister Hyacinth Quinlan as leader of the community, nineteen year-old Sister Clare Rubie and Sister Teresa Schmidt aged thirty one, both professed less than a month, with Sister Joseph Kinsella, aged twenty, professed three months.
Late on 22 April, they set sail on the Wakatu accompanied by Fathers Yardin and Ginaty, reaching Whanganui on the morning of 24 April. Little did they know that, rather than the primitive surroundings of their Australian foundations, the mission they were coming to was well-established with a new, astonishingly large convent and school next to St Mary’s Church, providing accommodation for Sisters, boarders, orphans, and three prospective candidates for religious life who moved into the convent the same day as the Sisters. Adding to the demands that all this involved was the fact that, Hyacinth being the only one of the group finally professed, the other three had to spend several years completing their formation.
Dean Charles Kirk, a priest of indomitable will and energy, had seen the Sisters of St Joseph at work in Sydney, and was relentless in his efforts to see them established in his own Whanganui parish. Unfortunately, some of his plans conflicted with the founding spirit of the Congregation and his requirement that the Sisters run a select school, take boarders, teach music, embroidery and other accomplishments added to the immense pressure on the founding group. As one of them wrote in her memoirs: ‘Ah! Those early days! The enormity of the work all so new to them left humanly speaking heavy hearts with four women determined to carry on. Trust in God alone was needed. No one could understand the difficulties to be overcome.’
Just a year after the Sisters’ arrival there were 36 pupils at the Sacred Heart Select School, 150 at St Joseph’s Parish School and, within two years, 22 boarders. By 1883, when Archbishop Redwood asked the Sisters to help re-establish the Maori Mission at Hiruharama (Jerusalem) on the Whanganui River, 5 women had joined the Congregation.
The first 25 years saw the number of Sisters increase to 70 with 7 new foundations in the lower North Island. Thus the group which came to be known as Black Josephites steadily consolidated its place within the New Zealand Church and society with a ministry that persevered and flourished in spite of the challenges it faced.
John Bosco Kendall rsj