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Page 1.


In 1877 Parliament passed the New Zealand Education Act which decreed that education should be free, secular and compulsory. Six years later in 1883 Father Halbwacks turned the largest room in the presbytery into a classroom. Catholic education had begun in the Wairarapa. Father McKenna was appointed parish priest of Masterton in January 1887. He had a school but no nuns.

In 1883, on his way to New Zealand, as a young Irish priest, he travelled out on the same ship, the “Chimborazo” as six Brigidine Sisters bound for Sydney. He had promised to keep in touch. In 1897 he was in a position to request a Brigidine foundation for his parish. Letters went back and forth to Australia and Ireland. Finally permission was given. He had taken the unprecedented step of asking that Mother Gertrude Banahan be the leader of the Foundation. This request had also been sanctioned by Bishop, Dr. Byrne.

  In the months that followed, Father McKenna purchased the site of the old Royal Hotel and building for the purpose of erecting the convent. Fund-raising for the new convent began in earnest. Donations, concerts and the greatest social event of the year “The Convent Ball”, took place on 5 October 1898, in the new Convent buildings.

Father Mckenna had heard that the nuns were to arrive in December, he asked for the very best Sisters to be sent. They were to be capable of conducting a first-class high school. Mother Gertrude was also to bring good teachers for the primary school that was, at present, in good working order under lay teachers.

Srs. Patrick, Claver, Teresa, Gertrude, Brigid & Joseph.

Six Valiant Women. Four Sisters came from the Cooma community –
Sisters Gertrude Banahan, Brigid Desmond, Joseph Flahavan and Patrick Phelan. Coonamble, the first Southern Hemisphere foundation, loaned two Sisters Teresa O’ Flynn and Claver Cooke. Common characteristics were evident in the six Sisters , their faith and prayerfulness maintained a spirit that did not count the cost of sacrifice. Generosity with time and talent, courage and perseverance, all these traits were essential for the success of a new foundation.

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Page 2.

The “Monowai” arrived in Wellington from Sydney on Wednesday 14th December 1898. Archbishop Redwood, Father Devoy and Father McKenna were waiting on the wharf when the ship berthed.

The travellers were taken to the Mercy Sisters Convent in Hill Street. Early on the morning of Friday 16th December they boarded the train for Masterton, Father John McKenna accompanied them, they received a great welcome at the station and at the convent, where many parishioners had gathered.

Their mission in Masterton had begun, and a promise made in 1883 by a young Irish priest, Father John McKenna, on the “Chimborazo” had been fulfilled.

The community of six Sisters at St. Bride’s Convent were able to offer a religious and literary education to young women second to none. English, French, Latin and Italian languages. Writing, Arithmetic, Book Keeping, Geometry, Algebra, Geography and use of the Globes, Geology, Botany, Physics, Astronomy, History, Shorthand, Music, Instrumental and Theoretical Singing, Drawing, Painting
(Oils & Water Color). Wax Modelling, Plain and Ornamental Needlework and Calisthenics.

Lessons in Practical Cooking were given to Advanced Classes.


St. Patrick’s school, manually shifted across the road and relocated near the Convent, was opened on 24 January 1899. St. Bride’s opened on 2 February 1899. Thus began the story of the first Catholic College in the Wairarapa. That same year the schools were examined by Government Inspectors and earned the highest commendation.

The school rolls grew and extensions were made to the convent to accommodate a novitiate for the training of young women who wished train as Brigidine Sisters. By January 1905 the number of Sisters and Novices had swelled to thirteen. The much planned for new chapel was blessed and opened on Sunday 10 January 1909.

St. Bride's Convent & Grounds.

By 1916 there were 20 Brigidine Sisters in New Zealand. St. Bride’s community, with help from Ireland and Australia, established two new foundations, Pahiatua 1906, Foxton 1911 and a third on the way, Carterton 1917.
The war had ended. In 1918 an influenza epidemic spread across the country. At St. Bride’s, Classrooms were turned into wards for those convalescing from the “Black Flu”. The Sisters cared for the sick in every way possible. In 1921 the east wing to accommodate more boarders was completed. The “Big Bazaar” of 1923 enabled the Sisters to finish further extensions and the opening of the Academy Hall completed the plans; at last St. Bride’s stood in its entirety.

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Page 3.
The next venture was the purchase of a marble Altar for St. Bride’s chapel. Mother Gertrude Banahan had earlier established a special fund for the Altar.

Marble Alter.

On Sunday 15 August 1926 this marble Altar from Italy replaced the borer-ridden wooden one in the Chapel. Great was the rejoicing. Today the marble altar stands in St. Patrick’s Parish Church, Masterton and is a fitting memorial to Mother Gertrude Banahan who brought the small band of six pioneer Brigidine Sister to Mastertion in December 1898.

1928 saw a new St. Patrick’s four-classroom brick building erected on Trust Lands Trust land, near the convent, just south of the old St. Patrick’s school.


It was blessed and opened on 29 January 1929. Mother Gertrude Banahan died in Pahiatua on 17 March 1932. (See “The First Shoot” for fuller details).

Monsignor Mckenna’s health began to fail in early 1930. The nuns, with special permission, visited him frequently during his illness. On the evening of Palm Sunday 13 April 1930, their father, friend and councillor for forty seven years, had left them. He stood beside them in sorrow and in death, in sickness and joy. “As long as I have a shirt on my back I will see that you never want.” And we have never wanted, thanks be to God.

Fr.John McKenna.

The Golden Jubilee of St. Bride’s was commemorated on 16 December 1948. St. Bride’s had reached the halfway point in the journey to their centenary. Every Brigidine in New Zealand was present that day. High Mass, a garden party and outdoor Benediction marked the day.

Growth continued, and in 1954 swimming baths greatly enhanced the College grounds, it improved the athletic skills of the girls no end. Sister Patrick Phelan a good and faithful servant and one of the pioneers, died in Johnsonville on 14 June 1952. She was a powerhouse of prayers and spent long hours in the chapel “telling the beads.” Her sense of humour is still remembered to this day.

Mother Joseph Flahavan, the last of the pioneers died on 22 July 1954 aged eighty-seven. Of her fifty-six years in New Zealand, forty-nine of them were spent at St. Bride’s. May they and the souls of the other four pioneer women, Sisters Gertrude Banahan, Brigid Desmond, Teresa O’ Flynn and Claver Cook rest eternally in peace.

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Page 4.

Mother Joseph.

The much longed for replacement of the old St. Bride’s College finally began to take shape. Twenty-two years of patient planning were nearly at an end. The College was blessed and opened by Cardinal McKeefry on 20 September 1970. The new St. Bride’s College stood proudly on a six-acre site across the road from the old school.

New St. Bride's College.

On 16 December 1973, St. Bride’s Convent was seventy-five years old. The celebration marked the contribution the Sisters had made to Catholic education in the community and in the Region. But the winds of change were already sweeping over St. Bride’s.

That same year St. Patrick’s school was in dire need of more classrooms. It was suggested that St. Bride’s and St. Joseph’s Colleges combine on one site. It was an extremely difficult time for all people concerned.


In June 1975 a decision was made to close the boarding school. A phasing out period of three years was to take place. On 9 December 1977, after the final Mass, the last boarder walked out through the convent gate.
The years of planning and the erection of a new St. Bride’s College were short lived, the wide open spaces and a College under one roof were enjoyed for only seven years.

1977 was a painful year of letting go. The Brigidine Sisters acceded to the Marist Brothers conditions for amalgamation. St. Bride’s would move over to St. Joseph’s College site. St. Bride’s was sold and it became St. Patrick’s Parish school. A full circle had been turned! Nunc dimittus. Farewell St. Bride’s, farewell.

Chanel College & Grounds.

The new Chanel College opened its doors in February 1978. Inevitably, the closure of the boarding school and the amalgamation of the two Catholic Colleges affected the convent situation. The large wooden structure had become a huge fire risk and the upkeep of the buildings and grounds were beyond the handful of Sisters.

More farewells were ahead of the Sisters, this time the Convent itself. The decision to sell the Convent and grounds to the Post Office caused a great public outcry. The buildings were to be demolished and the land cleared. There was no alternative. They did not want to leave Masterton, the best course of action was clear – the Community would build on property made available to the Sisters across the road.

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Page 5.
The last Reunion of St. Bride’s Old Girls at their Alma Mater, was held over Queen’s Birthday weekend 1984. The Mass, celebrated by Monsignor Moore was charged with emotion and many were the tears that flowed that day.

St. Bride's Chapel.

Construction began on the site in August 1984 and the final Mass was celebrated in the chapel on 2 February 1985. A long chapter of Brigidine history was closed. The official blessing and opening of the new St. Bride’s convent took place on 17 February 1985 and the Sisters moved in early in March.

New St. Bride's Convent.

The new “sapling” flourished and prepared the way for a magnificent Centenary celebration held over the weekend of 16-18 October 1998. Hundreds came from near and far to remember, to pray and to celebrate what the pioneer Sisters had begun one hundred years ago. Their faith, courage,


sacrifice and fidelity still influence New Zealand society today, through the work of later generations of Sisters and pupils who have caught the spirit of St. Brigid.

A special Mass in the Parish church, on 16 December 1998, with many Old Girls present, marked the official one hundred years Foundation Day celebration. Tributes were paid to the pioneer Sisters – Gertrude, Brigid, Joseph, Patrick, Teresa and Claver. To the later generations of Brigidines who, down through the years, continued the live a life of prayer and maintained the high standard of Catholic education set by the foundation Sisters. To the St. Bride’s Old Girls for their support, friendship and love in times of sadness and joy and who today, keep the spirit of Brigid alive in many parts of the world.

The Celtic cross, taken from the top of the old convent, stands as a memorial to the one hundred years of service given to Catholic Education by Brigidine Sisters throughout New Zealand. It stands opposite the entrance doors of St. Patrick’s parish church in Masterton.

Centenary Memorial 1998.

Ad Multos Annos.
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Page 6.


Pahiatua 1906

“Father Tom”, the younger of the two Mckenna priest brothers, was the first parish priest of Pahiatua. Early in 1905 he asked the St. Bride’s community for Sisters to staff the school which he planned to open the following year. The necessary permission was given and four Sisters arrived by train on 29 January 1906. Sisters Brigid Desmond and Margaret Mary Hourigan came from Masterton; Sisters de Sales Maher and Alphonsus Burke had arrived from New South Wales. As no convent was available Father Tom moved into a small cottage in Tyndall Street and the presbytery became the Sisters’ home for six years.

Anglican Church-room First Day pupils.

Sister Brigid was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis and over time her condition worsened. A serious bone condition was diagnosed in June 1910, she was admitted to the Auckland hospital, where she had a leg amputated. In September she returned to Pahiatua and resumed teaching.


Each day the senior boys pushed Sister Brigid in her springless wheelchair over the rough road to school. She never complained. Death came to her as a friend on 14 May 1914, she was fifty-two years old. She had been one of the six pioneers to Masterton. A patient and well remembered teacher and friend. R.I.P.

In 1912 the erection of the convent began. A large gathering attended the official opening ceremony on Sunday 8 December – there was great rejoicing. Sister Brigid Desmond’s health
continued to deteriorate and on 14 May 1914 she died, aged 52, she was the first Brigidine to be buried in the Mangatainoka cemetery. She was a founding member, a teacher and a woman who gave herself unreservedly to spreading the Word of God throughout the Wairarapa.

Pahiatua Convent.

It was not until 27 April 1919 that the temporary school in the mission room, belonging to the Anglican Church came to an end, and St. Anthony’s school was blessed and opened debt free.

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Page 7.

Fr Tom McKenna.

“Dean Tom” was a very special presence in Pahiatua and he made no secret of his love for his first parish. A man whose stature hid a gentle nature a quick sense of humour and a warm heart and very generous. News that he was to be transferred to New Plymouth in 1920 came as a blow to the Sisters, the parish and the wider community. When he died three years later on 8 July 1923 in accordance with his wishes he was brought back to Pahiatua and buried in the Mangatainoka cemetery.

Sister de Sales’ failing health did not prepare the community for her sudden death on 5 February 1929. When school reopened the previous day she spent some time teaching the infant class. After evening recreation she rang the bell for night prayer. The next morning Sister de Sales was found in bed, she had been dead for some hours. Blessed with a beautiful character and an amiable disposition, her whole aim in life was to do good to others and to lead souls to God.


St. Anthony's School.

St. Anthony’s school grew from strength to strength and on 29 January 1956, Our Lady of Lourdes, Junior school, in the next block, was blessed295 and opened. The appointment of a lay principal in 1974 presaged things to come. The shortage of Sisters was increasing, The last Brigidine teacher, Sister Monica Murphy, left St. Anthony’s staff in December 1985. In 1987 the senior classes transferred from the 1918 building to two new classrooms added to the “little school” in Wakeman Street. St. Anthony’s was again one. Sisters Madeleine and Ambrose remained in Pahiatua until the convent closed in January 1988.

For eighty-two years the Sisters were part of the life and catholic education of Pahiatua. The people of Pahiatua paid a great tribute to the Sisters – “The buildings, though blessed, are still but timber and nails. It is the women of the Brigidines who have given us such inspiration. From all walks of life they came to dedicate their lives to God and their fellow man.” Another chapter was closed.

Convent Gates Pahiatua.

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Page 8.


In 1909 Father Kelly, a former curate in Masterton, was appointed in charge of the new established parish of Foxton. In October 1910 the Sisters responded to a request from him for a Brigidine Community to teach in a school not yet erected.

The foundations Sisters, Sisters Raphael Doyle, Paul Truman and Benignus Lynskey came from St. Bride’s Masterton. They arrived on 26 January 1911. The Convent was not finished until 13 February, so the Sisters stayed in the Presbytery until then.

Original Convent Foxton.

St. Mary’s school began in the church on 2 February 1911, that day fifty-five pupils were enrolled. An advertisement in the “Manawatu Herald” included this information :

…The ordinary curriculum of the State schools will be followed almost entirely and in addition shorthand, book-keeping, French, Latin, fancy-work etc. will be taught.
Music will also receive attention, pupils being prepared for the Trinity College and Royal Academy examinations. The religion of children of all other denominations will not be interfered with in any way …..

  Classes commenced despite the lack of furniture. When the desks were procured they had to be moved out on Friday afternoons and the church pews brought in. Activity on Monday mornings was completed in reverse order.

Work did not begin on the new school until
Wednesday 26 July 1911. The new school was finished on 1 September 1911. Foxton is a small town and for many years was the centre of a thriving flax industry. Closeness to the sea did not preserve the people from the scourge of the 1918 Black ‘flu epidemic. The school was used as a hospital and the nuns, with the aid of Mrs Hynes and Miss Woodroffe, nursed twenty-six patients, three of whom died. The Sisters escaped the illness themselves.

Back of Convent.

In 1917 major additions to the convent, provided for two music rooms on the ground floor and a chapel above them. The cost of these extensions was quite a burden for the small community. A balcony was added later and final extensions were carried out in 1928 – two bedrooms, a kitchen, pantry, washhouse and other facilities completed the final stages of the convent. For many years a small number of Primary boarders were accommodated at the Convent.

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Page 9.

Later that year it became apparent that the school urgently needed upgrading. The cold, damp senior room was removed from the shady side of the school and placed on a line with the rest of the building. During the first fifty years more than 1000 pupils passed through the doors of the school.

Convent with extensions.

The two-storey Convent building often registered earth tremors, the Convent was built on top of a sand hill. Defective foundations contributed to the major damage done by the earthquake of 5 March 1934. Statues were broken, furniture destroyed and the chimneys collapsed completely. Cooking was done outdoors for a month, with meals sometimes being supplied by parishioners. The Sisters lived in the presbytery until early July. The relieving parish priest, lived in the convent.

The Silver Jubilee of the Convent and School at first went unmarked, but the Sisters were aware that 26 January 1936 was a special anniversary. When Father Evans heard of it he decided it should be celebrated. On 22 July 1936 it was celebrated and many tributes were paid to the Sisters for their service in the school and parish. The weekend celebrations for the Golden Jubilee in 1961 related more to the school.

1936 was memorable for another reason. Father Evans promised that the Sisters would be paid a salary of 90 a year.

Sister Canice Cooke, sister to M Claver Cooke New Zealand foundress and later Provincial, spent thirty-two of her forty-seven years as a Brigidine in Foxton. She wanted to be a teacher, but Sister Canice’s eyesight was not good. Therefore she elected to become a lay Sister so that she could still become a Brigidine. Pupils, parents and parishioners loved this regal, highly intelligent and humble lady. In the last months of 1954 it was evident that she was terminally ill. She died peacefully on 17 February 1955 and was mourned by many.

Sr. Canice Cooke.

The opening of a new St. Joseph’s school in Shannon in 1956 increased the community by two. For the first time the Sisters were driving themselves to school. In 1977 St. Joseph’s, because of Government changes, lost Forms 1 & 11 to the State School. At a general meeting of Sisters in 1980 the decision to close the Convent at the end of the year was made. The size of the Convent for a small group of Sisters, the cost of heating and maintaining it, plus the difficulty of the steep stairs were factors that contributed to its closure.

In 1981 the announcement that the Sisters would withdraw from the schools in December was met with dismay. The Sisters had served the Lord and the children of the small farming district of Foxton and Shannon with love, commitment and self-sacrifice for seventy years. (twenty-six of those years were shared with Shannon). A new St. Mary’s School with all “mod cons” now stands in front of the old site.

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Page 10.

The Sisters who remained wished to stay in Foxton and continue their work in the Parish. On 17 January 1981, trucks, trailers and vans formed a removal brigade. By noon the Convent was empty and new ‘tenants’ occupied the vacated Presbyterian Manse. The convent was bought in April 1982. In 1987 it fell victim to fire. Sometime later, sections of the old convent, not burnt, were salvaged and added to the former manse

Part of old Convent added to the Manse.

In 1989 Sister Michael too was found to have cancer. Gifted with a sense of humour. She was a fine artist, avid reader, an astute business woman and leader of people. She began two new foundations one in Auckland and the second in Porirua. During her years of illness, Sister Joan and other Brigidines cared for Sister Michael at home, with assistance of the local doctor, oncology nurses and many friends. She was admitted to a private hospital only five days before her death on 2 August 1993. May Sisters Ambrose and Michael and all those who served the Lord in the Manawatu District, rest in peace.

Sr. Joan's unit.

Since September 1993 Sister Joan has lived on her own in Foxton. She carries on her apostolate from a small unit in Union Street. Her presence in the parish is valued greatly as each day she meets the needs of the people of Foxton and beyond. Through her, God scatters his seed, Sister Joan nurtures it and God gives the increase. St. Brigid is alive and well in the Manawatu.



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Page 11.


Negotiations began for the setting up of a convent and school in Carterton, Masterton’s nearest neighbour, on 5 April 1908. Nine years later obstacles to the proposed plan were removed and Father Michael O’ Beirne, brother to one of St. Bride’s Pioneers, Sister Michael O’ Beirne, began building. In 1916 a two-roomed brick school named St. Mary’s was erected on parish property on Howard Street.

St. Mary's School.

The owners of a large maternity hospital on the corner of High and Howard Streets were prepared to sell. It was an ideal location for a convent. The purchase price for the property of 1400 pounds had been settled. Up until 15 February 1917 the Sisters thought they had a convent, it was not meant to be. The lady of the house would not move out. It took the intervention of the law before the situation was solved.

In the meantime an appeal had gone out to New South Wales for extra Sisters to staff the school. Two arrived and stayed at St. Bride’s. While the accommodation problem was being solved, the Sisters lived in the presbytery until 2 April. The Sisters finally moved into their convent. Because none of the three resident Sisters were songsters, M. Joseph travelled from St. Bride’s each week to take the singing in the school. To help the Sisters financial situation, Father O’ Beirne succeeded in directing twenty-two music pupils to the Convent for tuition.

  Delays were the order of the day. Though the Sisters weren’t in residence, Father O” Beirne and an Australian priest, Father Doherty offered Mass in the Convent on 30 March. It took some time for a temporary chapel to be set up.

The little St. Mary’s school grew in numbers and the reputation of the Sisters’ teaching skills spread far and wide. Life passed with the usual succession of events. The “Black Flu” epidemic took its toll on Southern Wairarapa and with Carterton’s limited hospital facilities the Sisters were soon nursing patients in the school. The two local priests who ministered to the needs of the sick and dying contracted the disease and died on the same day. It was a heavy blow to the Wairarapa. The Sisters survived.

Because illness and the needs of the other Communities often made transfers necessary, many Sisters lived and taught in Carterton over the course of the years. Electric light was installed throughout the Convent in 1924. However it was not until 1929 that the Sisters had the luxury of a gas stove and copper, and a hot water cylinder. Gradually more alterations and minor extensions were added for the convenience of the Sisters and extern pupils.

New Convent.
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Page 12.
The Sisters received a salary of 70 a year. Of that 60 pounds paid the interest on the 1000 pound Bank overdraft. To supplement their income Sisters ran Sales of Work, Junior Balls and street appeals, all with the devoted assistance of parents and parishioners. Without their help the Sisters would not have survived.

The earthquake of 24 June 1942 left the small community devastated. “At 8.20pm we were startled by an earthquake, it lasted a few seconds and we were able to breathe again. Little did we know what was in store for us, at 11.18pm we were rudely wakened by awful rumbles and terrific shaking of the earth with each second the shaking grew in intensity. Before we visited the chapel we knew that nothing could stand up to that shake. We found everything all mixed up together on the floor.

The parish priest Fr. Devlin and his guest Fr. O’ Sullivan arrived over and went right through the house on a tour of inspection. Everywhere fresh disaster met our gaze, but our lives were spared and many a fervent prayer went up to the Lord. An inspection of the school was made at 12.30am to our horror we found that a chimney had come through the roof and smashed all before it. A wall dividing the Senior and Junior rooms had been dangerously cracked and all statues etc. were in pieces.

We set about in daylight to clean up the debris. For the rest of the week classes were held in the Convent as two room were pronounced unsafe”. The stress of the situation can well be imagined. The cramped conditions tried the patience and nerves of teachers and pupils alike. Fortunately the children were out in the playground when another quake occurred at 12.15pm on 2 December. Then the only classroom used in the school had to be abandoned and the children were taught on the verandah and lawns. The building process had to begin all over again. It was not until 19 March 1943 that St. Mary’s School stood fully restored.

  Sister Gerard Cotter was one of two Australian young women to enter in New Zealand in 1904. She endeared herself to all those who knew or came in contact with her, it was difficult to refuse Sister Gerard when she asked a favour. It was rarely for herself, but always for someone in need. Times were hard, but her wonderful sense of humour helped to lighten the load on many an occasion. She saw the best in everyone and everyone responded accordingly. Shortly before she died the Sisters were gathered about her bed in the Carterton Convent and to everyone’s amusement she said to the Sister holding her vow candle – “Give me that candle, I’m the one dying, not you.” She who loved and was dearly loved, died on 2 July 1951.

In 1952 the Sisters of Compassion arrived to extend their work for people suffering from disabilities. Both small groups enjoyed social contact and shared many opportunities for spiritual enrichment. This flowed over into the school where teachers and pupils supported those with disabilities in every way possible. The spirit of friendship between the two Congregations still remains strong.

First St. Teresa's School Featheston.

The idea of a Catholic school being opened in Featherston, twenty-three kilometres from Carterton, first surfaced in 1937. In 1953 Father Frank Walsh asked two Brigidine Sisters to staff a school in Featherston. The former District High School had become an auction mart. In this less than ideal situation a single room was rented and partitioned to provide two areas. Such was the birthplace of St. Teresa’s School on 2 February 1954. Forty-three children from five different schools in the area greeted the Sisters that morning.
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Page 13.

At first parents were rostered to drive the Sisters to and from school, to maintain a regular schedule was not easy. On 15 February at a parish meeting a decision was made to purchase a car for the use of the nuns. Permission from the Congregational Leader had to be sought for such an innovation. Permission was given and Sister Christopher became the first Brigidine Sister to possess a driver’s licence. “Bonnie”, an Austin 30, solved the transport problems.

The property purchased by the parish for a school in Featherston saw the commencement of that work towards the end of 1954, but it wasn’t until 18 March 1955 that teachers and sixty-four pupils transferred to the new St. Teresa’s. For twenty-one years the Brigidines made a valuable contribution to Catholic education in South Wairarapa. Sister Patricia Buckley was the last of the line when she left Featherston at the end of 1974. St. Teresa’s was then staffed entirely by lay teachers.

  Further decisions had to be made. With fewer Sisters to maintain all the school commitments and no young women coming on to take their places, it was inevitable that the Sisters would be withdrawn from Carterton. The closure of the Convent was announced in October 1974. Sisters Maura Phelan, Baptista Campion, Brigid Sheil, Patricia Buckley and Monica Murphy, finished the task tidying up and left Carterton in January 1975. Sister Brigid maintained a presence in St. Mary’s school until 1980. For five years she had made the journey from Masterton.

In May 1981 St. Mary’s school and parish held a farewell in honour of the Sisters. The occasion was an expression of gratitude for the sixty-four years of dedicated service the Sisters had given the people as teachers, confidantes, advisers and above all, as friends.
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Page 14.


On 3 May 1928 Father Griffin, parish priest of Johnsonville, invited the Brigidines to staff a new school in Johnsonville. He was a man of action and gave the Sisters just two weeks to make the decision. The opportunity to have a place near Wellington was an added incentive for the positive reply.

Four Sisters took up residence in a house in Brandon Street on 17 January 1929. A comment made by someone previously was an understatement and in no way prepared the Sisters for the reality. “There are some things that one might not wish to see in connection with it.” The forty-year-old house, riddled with borer, had been vacant for some months. At once the sisters set about cleaning a room where they could arrange temporary “shakedowns”. They were unaware till later that the room set aside as the chapel was that where the first of its two owners kept his Masonic emblems and regalia.

A new three –roomed school greeted the teachers and the 109 first-day pupils, in the first week of February 1929. By year’s end another 59 had enrolled. They came from a wide area –Glenside, Ngahauranga and Titahi Bay by bus, and from Khandallah, Ngaio, Plimmerton, Porirua and Tawa Flat by train.

St Brigid's school



A new convent was needed urgently to house the growing community. The building, begun in February 1937, was officially opened on 1 August. Tenants occupied the old house till December 1950. No one foresaw that the wheel would turn full circle. (The Convent that had once housed 18 sisters was sold, and in 1995 six Sisters moved into a newly built house on the original site.)

New Convent

The growth in population in the wider area created new measures to meet the demand for Catholic schools. The Tawa parish, established in 1951, embraced an area that included Titahi Bay and Porirua. St. Francis Xavier’s opened in Porirua in 1953 in a prefabricated two-room building. Next to open was St. Pius X at Titahi Bay. The staffs lived in Johnsonville and travelled out to the schools each day. As the rolls increased and more teachers were required, accommodation reached saturation point – seventeen Sisters were living in a building intended for a maximum of nine. The time had come for the establishment of a new community in the Porirua Basin.

In February 1958 eight Sisters moved into 10 Main Road, Titahi Bay where space was still at a premium. They were true pioneers, fortunately endowed with common sense and a sense of humour. When all else failed, they laughed. In April there was a further move, this time to 25 Terrace Road. It was some distance to the schools and the parish priest, in his car, conveyed the overflow from the convent car. The spirit of the Sisters was severely tested by the situation! Only the prospect of a permanent convent made it tolerable for two years.

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Page 15.

On 1 November 1959 Archbishop McKeefry blessed and opened the new building in 167 Mungavin Avenue, Porirua East. Circumstances beyond the control of the Sisters were cause for much concern that proved to be fully justified when the move was made after school closed in December. The convent was unfinished and fresh problems became evident each day. Expenses escalated and there was no redress – the building company had gone into liquidation and the Sisters were left with the debt.

School rolls grew, and grew, and grew. The population explosion that took place in the dormitory suburbs of Porirua, Elsdon and Titahi Bay made an unprecedented impact on both Catholic and State education facilities. All schools faced teacher shortage and overcrowding and the Sisters appreciated the unfailing courtesy, assistance and co-operation of the State Principals and their staffs who shared the problems.

There was urgent need for a Catholic College to provide Secondary education for pupils within the extensive Porirua Basin. Viard College, a co-educational college, catered for Forms 1 - 7 students and was staffed by Brigidine Sisters and Assumptionist priests. It was the first such school in New Zealand.

  Circumstances demand responses in a changing world. Buildings were extended to accommodate the increasing rolls in all the schools and lay teachers were employed. As time went on the Sisters withdrew gradually from the teaching scene in the Basin. For the first time since 1953 the 1985 school year began with no Brigidine presence in the Catholic Primary schools in the area they had served so well.

Sister Anne Phibbs, the last Brigidine at Viard College, was one of the original staff. Her great contribution to Viard, and that of all the Brigidine Sisters who taught in the Porirua Basin, was acknowledged with gratitude at her farewell function.

Viard College, Auckland.

A building that had housed a community of 22 sisters was much too big for three. Common sense called for action and the convent was sold. When the move was made in January 1988, Viard staff and members of the First Fifteen rugby team carted the Sisters’ furniture and belongings to Ranui Heights. The spirit of the sisters is still present in “The Basin” today. At 12 Ernest Street, visitors are welcomed with true Brigidine hospitality

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Page 16.


In 1948 Bishop Liston invited the Brigidines to staff Mt. Carmel School in the parish of Meadowbank. Three Sisters moved into 42 Bassett Road, Remuera on 30 January 1952. This situation proved a serious financial disadvantage as the Sisters were not living in the parish in which they worked. A tram ride was sandwiched between the long walks at each end of the journey to school. The number of pupils for speech and music lessons was severely restricted. The fees for such lessons were essential to supplement the income of the convent.

Bishop Liston.

Father Bowling, parish priest of Orakei, asked for nuns to staff his school in 1956. Two years later three Sisters joined the community and opened St. Joseph’s School. Students from Loreto Hall, the New Zealand Catholic Training College, became a presence in both schools as “observers”.

In 1957 the division of parish property in Meadowbank provided for the erection of a convent building and the future expansion of the Sisters’ work. Though bulldozers moved on to the land on 7 March 1959 weather delayed the start of work until 6 April. At the end of August the Bassett Road house was put on the market in the hope that the Remuera location might raise interest in the place. Fervent recourse to prayer brought results – St. Brigid seems to have a special interest in property.
After the last Mass in the chapel on 13 November the sanctuary lamp was extinguished; it was an emotional moment. The Sisters had lived in the house for seven years. A new chapter in the life of the Brigidines in Auckland was about to begin. 21 November dawned, it was the day of the exodus from 42 Bassett Road. The packers arrived during breakfast and worked with such speed and efficiency that the vans were gone by 10.30. The Sisters ate dinner sitting on the kitchen floor. A final check was made; 3.30pm – it was time to leave.

Sisters in Front of Convent
  Soon after 4 pm the community entered their new home. Bishop Liston officially opened the building on 29 November. A special joy for the Sisters was the tribute of loyal affection shown by many St. Bride’s Old Girls who attended. Mrs Miles (Lizzie O’Malley) rang to enquire if St. Bride’s colours had remained the same and arrived proudly displaying the blue and silver.

St Brigid

In 1968 an approach was made to Bishop Liston as to the possibility of withdrawing the Sisters from the Auckland Diocese. It was a hard decision. Valid factors influenced the request and reluctantly the Bishops accepted that twenty years of Brigidine dedication and service would end on 6 January 1972. Tributes were warm and sincere.

Bishop Delargey wrote: …. I am very sorry the Sisters are leaving the Diocese as my experiences of the Order in Ireland and Australian make me aware of something quite special in your spirit which must mean much for souls wherever you are present.

It is fitting that the last tribute should be that of Bishop Liston in a letter to Sister Cathering O”Shea:

It was my privilege to invite the Sisters to Auckland, my joy, shared by Religious communities and parishioners, to have looked on their true religious life and sound wise ways of teaching and training. Be assured, Sister and members of the Congregation, that the Diocese is profoundly grateful for the spiritual and educational enrichment it has received from the Community and hopes it shall be blessed in God’s good time with the return of the Sisters.

With blessings and my heart’s greetings to you and the Sisters.

Yours sincerely,
+James M Liston

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Page 17.


Schools & Colleges Pioneered & Staffed
by Brigidine Sisters

Masterton St.Patrick’s. Lay teachers 1883-1898 (15 years)
Brigidines, St Patrick’s, Jan. 1899 – Dec. 1992. (93 years)
St. Bride’s. Feb. 1899 – Dec. 1977. (78 years)
Chanel College (St. Bride’s & St. Joseph’s) 1978 –1987
Brigidine returned 1997 – 2001: 13 years

Pahiatua St. Anthony’s Primary Feb. 1906 – Dec. 1985. (80 years)

Foxton St. Mary’s. Feb. 1911 – Dec. 1981. (70 years)
Shannon St. Joseph’s. Feb. 1956 – Dec. 1981. (25 years)

Carterton St Mary’s. Feb. 1917 – Dec. 1980. (63 years)
Featherston St. Teresa’s. Feb. 1954 – Dec. 1980. (26 years)

Johnsonville St. Brigid’s. Feb. 1929 – Dec. 1989. (60 years)
Ngaio St. John’s. Feb. 1936 – Dec. 1951. (15 years)
Khandallah St. Benedict’s transferred from St. John’s
Feb. 1952 – Dec. 1977. (25 years)

Porirua Basin St. Francis Xavier, Feb. 1953 – Aug. 1960
Tawa New St. Francis Xavier Sept. 1960 – Dec. 1979: 26 years
Titahi Bay St. Pius X. May 1954 – Dec. 1976. (22 years)
Porirua East Holy Family. Feb. 1960 – 1985. (25 years)
Viard College Joint foundation with Assumption Fathers.
Feb. 1968 –Dec 1996. (28 years)

Auckland Meadowbank Mt. Carmel. Feb. 1952 – Dec. 1971. (19 years).
Orakei St. Joseph’s. Feb. 1958 – Dec. 1971. (13 year).

“What you are those after you will be, the fountain itself must be pure
in order to have the stream pure.” (Bishop Daniel Delany)

An educational kit for Primary Schools and Secondary Colleges is available. Cost NZ$10.00 including postage and handling (within NZ).
Write to: 160 Chapel Street, Masterton 5901, New Zealand.

The shield and the cross of Lozenges (diamonds) are from Bishop Delany's own Coat of Arms.
St Brigid's cross, originally made from rushes by Brigid herself, tells the story of Christ's life, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven.
Fire/Lamp. The fire was lit after Brigid's death around 520 and kept alight by her nuns until it was extinguished in Henry VIII's time. It was rekindled in Kildare in 1993 and is kept alight by Brigidine Sisters to this day.
The motto, Fortiter et Suaviter - "Strength and Gentleness" was Bishop Delany's own motto, he gave it to his first Brigidine's in 1807.
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