History - New Zealand

15 Nov 2013

The Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny were invited by Bishop James Liston to make a foundation in the Diocese of Auckland. In response, Mother Ursula McCormack, superior of the Congregation in the Pacific Islands, came from Fiji to establish a community in Tauranga, in the Bay of Plenty. The foundation members of this first community were: Sr Philippe Curtis and Sr Daniel Griffin, who arrived on 24th September 1940, and Mother Ursula McCormack, Sr Madeleine Claffey, and Sr Marie Therese Hamill, who joined them six weeks later on 5th November.

With the opening of the house in Tauranga, Fiji and the Cook Islands were joined with New Zealand to form the New Zealand province, and Tauranga became the Provincial House, with Mother Ursula McCormack as the first Provincial Superior. In Tauranga, the sisters were involved mainly in education. The new parish school, however, was not ready until 1942, and during the interval, the sisters were involved in Religion Classes, Typing, and Music, which helped to supplement the stipend of forty pounds a year.

In March 1948, at the request of the New Zealand Bishops, five sisters arrived from Ireland to supply the domestic staff of Holy Name Seminary, Christchurch, a work very dear to the Bishops of New Zealand.  At the beginning of 1949 another group of Cluny Sisters came to do the same work at the Major Seminary in Mosgiel, replacing the Sisters of Our Lady of Compassion, who had agreed to fill this need for a time, but who did not wish to continue as the work it was not really in accord with their particular charism. Our sisters continued to work in the seminaries for nearly forty years, by which time the two seminaries had been combined in Mosgiel. Due to lack of personnel, this work was handed over to lay staff at the end of 1986.

In September 1948, a property was purchased in Remuera, Auckland, to serve as a Novitiate, the house being given the name ‘Maryknoll’. In 1952 an adjoining property in Victoria Avenue was purchased, and the novitiate was transferred there. Maryknoll then became the Provincial House. In 1954. At the request of some parents, a small kindergarten was opened. This work has survived the years and is still flourishing. A school was opened shortly afterwards and about twenty years later was closed, when Catholic Schools were integrated into the state system. The school building was then used as a kindergarten. Also in the 1950s a further adjoining property was bought, and served as a hostel for students and working girls for about twenty years before it was rented to the Franciscan Fathers for their Postulate

In 1957, the sisters were asked to staff the parish primary school in Riccarton, Christchurch, replacing the Sisters of Mercy, who were withdrawing.  The congregation remained involved in full-time teaching in the school until 1982. The sisters remained active in the Riccarton parish however, and retained a small part-time involvement in the school until the sisters grew less in number and it seemed wiser to close this community in 2003.  The Sisters were posted to other existing communities in New Zealand.

In the early sixties, Tauranga branched out into a neighbouring Maori parish school, Te Puna, but after about twenty years the Sisters withdrew in favor of the Marist Brothers who in turn relinquished this apostolate, as the rural population had been drifting to the city over a period of some years.

The 1970s and 1980s brought a number of changes to Auckland.  The rapidly emerging needs of the Pacific Islanders in New Zealand prompted our sisters to become involved in parish work in Mangere East.  A community was set up in 1977, and the sisters became involved in pastoral care and Religious Education.  The growing number of Cook Islanders coming to work in New Zealand necessitated closer working with them, and in 1985 two Cook Island Sisters took up residence at the Turou Cook Island centre in Grey Lynn. From there they travelled to different centres in the city to minister to their own people.  This apostolate continued from Mangere, where the sisters shifted in 1996, having been appointed chaplains to the Catholic Cook Island community, on the retirement of Fr T Broekman. In 2002 this apostolate was handed over to the laity and the Sisters became fully involved in Parish Work.

There were also changes in Victoria Avenue.  In 1979, the novitiate was transferred to Suva, Fiji, and the novitiate house was sold.  In 1984 the Provincialate was transferred to the Mangere East community, and in October 1986 a separate Provincialate was established, with three Sisters, at Greenbank Drive, St Johns.  This house proved not very satisfactory, however, and it was sold and the Provincialate moved to 16 Archdall Street, Meadowbank, in March 1989.

Meanwhile, further changes had taken place in Victoria Avenue.  In 1986 renovations were begun on the former hostel, which by this time had been vacated by the Franciscans, who had moved to their own house.  Between the time the Franciscans moved out, and the renovations were started, it was occupied by a Vietnamese refugee family.   In 1987 the sisters moved out of Maryknoll, which was sold, into the newly renovated house, which became the new ‘Maryknoll’. In 2011 the Provincial House in Meadowbank was sold and Maryknoll became the Provincial House until 2013 when it was relocated to Tauranga, our Foundation House in New Zealand.

In November 1990 a celebration was held in Tauranga to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Cluny Sisters in New Zealand and in February 2016 the 75th anniversary was celebrated. The actual date of the anniversary had been September 2015 and at that time the parish had celebrated the anniversary of the first Mass in the new convent.  Our history shows that during these seventy-five years there have been various changes of apostolate in response to changing needs.  Recent years have brought a great diversification of works, and involvement with a wide variety of people of different cultures and age groups.  This is all part of the living out of the charism of Blessed Anne Marie Javouhey, who was outstanding for her ready response to the diverse needs of her own time.