Sisters of Today

Sister Mary O'Kane

Profiled in February 2005 (updated March 2013)Mary_OKane

I was born on 2 June, 1928 in Coleraine, County Derry, Ireland, the fifth of ten children - 4 girls and 6 boys.  My parents were Henry James and Ellen Mary O’Kane, nee Doherty.  On arrival in New Zealand the family settled in Hastings, Hawkes Bay, where I was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph.

When I left school I worked for a time in the office at Dalgetys, but I felt drawn to religious life as a Sister of St Joseph.  So with the blessing of my parents, I made arrangements with Reverend Mother Baptist and entered the Novitiate at Sacred Heart Convent in Wanganui.  I was 20 years of age.

In 1949 during my training, a property was purchased by the Sisters at 14 Hillside Terrace - former home of the Peat family.  This became our formation centre, and with our novice mistress, Sister Cletus, we moved there from Sacred Heart Convent.  I was professed on 8 December, 1950, and took the name of Eugene, Patron Saint of Derry.  In those days we each took a title, mine being ‘Our Lady Help of Christians’, as that was the feast day on which I entered the novitiate.  The significance of taking a title was to foster a particular devotion.

For the next 25 years I taught junior classes in some of our schools - Holy Infancy, St Monica’s and St Anne’s, all in Whanganui, and also Levin, Plimmerton, Waipawa and Ohakune.  They were very happy and busy years as I was not only principal but also local superior in many cases.  I found the close encounter with not only the children I taught but also their parents to be a great privilege and also life-giving for me.

In 1973 I returned to Sacred Heart, Wanganui, to become boarders’ mistress, a position I held for nine years.  I regarded this ministry as being very important and a great responsibility to be entrusted by parents with the welfare of their daughters while in their formative years.  Many of these girls and their parents still keep in contact with me and I find this very rewarding.

A change of ministry for me then took me to Waipukurau and Hastings to become a pastoral worker where I spent a great part of my time visiting people in their homes not only locally but in the rural areas as well.

In 1988 I travelled to Sydney in Australia for a spiritual renewal at Baulkham Hills, after which I completed a three months’ course in Clinical Pastoral Education at the Royal Northshore Hospital in Sydney.  During this time I lived with the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart at Mount Street, North Sydney.  This study in particular was most beneficial for me in my next ministry on my return home.  Sister Marie Skidmore, our Congregational leader at that time asked me be part of a group to set up a place of hospitality in our convent at Mairangi Bay in Auckland, which had formerly housed the Sisters who had staffed St John the Baptist school next door.

‘Quiet Waters’ became a haven for carers of chronically ill people, tired and stressed young mothers, many of them solo, and the elderly requiring a place to recuperate after surgery or illness.  It was also a place for quiet, reflective days for both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  This ministry continued until 1996, until Sister Marie Hawkins and I could no longer continue due to deteriorating health.  As there were no Sisters available to carry on, the house and property were sold.

I moved back to Whanganui to live in semi-retirement, and in April 2006 I moved into Quinlan Court as a resident.

As I look back and reflect on my religious life I thank God for his goodness to me and the wonderful gift of vocation bestowed on me to become a Sister of St Joseph

Gallery / Whakaahua

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