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Sisters of Today

Sister Maree Hickey

Connections with your birthplace are often complex and no doubt change as the years advance.Maree Hickey

I was born in Kaponga, Taranaki, the fifth of seven children.  We lived on a dairy farm in Opunake with significant outdoor attractions which offered wonderful opportunities and adventures – a river flowed through the property, numerous coastal bays and beaches, and Mt Taranaki.  Some of my earliest memories are of being with my father at some of the favourite haunts.

My mother was Irish and my father was a New Zealander.  Mum was orphaned in Dublin and came to New Zealand with two aunts who had family in Manaia, South Taranaki.  There she attended the Catholic school – the first contact with the Sisters of St Joseph.  She was to go on to Sacred Heart College Whanganui for her very successful secondary schooling.  Dad died very young and suddenly.  Nurtured by Mum’s encouragement, the seed was planted to make and take opportunities that fed my curiosity about human life and the natural world – a sense of wonder and excitement that has never left me.

My school reports repeatedly stated that practical involvement and experiences in life were more my style of learning.  I struggled through classroom hours often just managing halfway marks.  Out of school opportunities held my interest and were areas I excelled in.  Music and singing were very rewarding as were the cooking opportunities.

I was often in awe of the Sisters of the Mission in Opunake – semi- enclosed in those days which was intriguing for me – life in a small coastal town had its own isolation.  These women were rarely seen away from their convent or church.

I was flabbergasted and intrigued when I first met Sisters of St Joseph at Sacred Heart College.  As a boarder student I was to be in their care 24/7.  Their commitment to the whole of college life was unquestionable – dedicated living in a large community that had to have significant support from each sisters – a resolute institution that raised more question about life and living.

I joined the novitiate community in 1962 for what I thought would be a ‘give this a go – could go either way’ approach.  Day two dawned and off to school.  I was impressed with the whole professional scene and organization, and thought that I might find my place at some level.  With other novices I was enrolled in the Wellington Correspondence School to begin studies for Trained Teachers’ Certificate.  

The Vatican Council had been in full progress during 1962.  Novitiate training and religious life were heading for a time of significant fluxion.  Changes were constantly being spoken of and wondered about  - times of Chapter were anxiously/eagerly awaited and changes slowly introduced and changes slowly introduced.  I was thankful to have experienced religious life at this time, and could appreciate the challenges experienced within the whole community.

Living in small communities was testing. I was young - living with women years my senior.  I quickly learned how best to present alternatives or just live with ‘least said, best said, and move on’!  Teaching was full on and rewarding – most days I taught music after school.  Home visits to school families and the elderly gave me an insight into life that was often difficult.  Friends were easy to make – I had few inhibitions in being involved in whatever needed support or advocacy.  I was accepted for training in outdoor education, which opened the way to study and train with the Massage Institute of NZ and Red Cross/St John’s Life Support.

As ministries changed and Sisters moved into pastoral care and other areas of education I won a position at Kelburn Normal School Wellington.  I joined three other Sisters and together we explored the areas of Wellington that were most affected by migration and cutbacks to local services.  After much consultation we settled in Strathmore Park – an eastern suburb with high needs.  I would continue school teaching while the others would minister in a wide range.  Within two years our paths were to go in very different directions.  I continued at Kelburn but finding suitable long term rent was difficult.  After several moves within eighteen months or so – I found a suitable home and property in the northern suburbs, ten minutes from Kelburn Normal School.  I transferred all massage work to home, continued at Kelburn School, began home-catering, and offered short term home stays to women referred from agencies I had contact with.  

Thanks to the support with IT from a Ministry of Education secretary I was able to accept nomination to work with the curriculum writers for the lower and middle primary school literacy support manuals.  This was a nation-wide contract involving work with teachers from all deciles.  My life-long belief that teaching and learning must have postitive outcomes, with life-long values for all abilities, were re-inforced.

Full time teaching ended six years ago.  Mentoring of beginning teachers and support with special education projects are my main contacts these days.  I’m involved with a few groups as a volunteer/ organizer/manager.  I enjoy my vege garden, and care for the section, and continue several hobby interests.

As I reflect on our te rakau korero symbol, I’m thankful for the support I’ve received to live fully.  A sense of wholeheartedness and celebratory strengths among RSJ’s have always encouraged me .  Have a look at our Te Rakau Korero – the uncarved end calls to us all for a future full of hope, justice and peace.  I’m blessed to be part of this.

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