Sisters of Today

Sister Josepha O'Connor

Profiled in September 2002 (updated April 2013)josepha_oconnor

In my early teenage years I met the Sisters of St. Joseph in Taihape. Before long something began to stir within me suggesting that their way of life was the one God had in mind for me. It was another five or six years before I made a move and in 1949 entered the Novitiate at Sacred Heart Convent, Wanganui.  After my Profession in 1956 my teaching ministry began in earnest and continued over the next thirty years.  These teaching years I hold dear.  I enjoyed parish life and the privilege of being part of the lives of so many children and their families.

In 1986, with my involvement in classroom teaching behind me, I began working in pastoral ministry in the lovely Hibiscus Coast parish of Orewa/ Whangaparaoa. Such a change from the heavily structured, demanding schoolday - I felt as free as a bird. I felt I could fly - or sail. The waters along either side of the peninsula were filled with yachts. Everyone sailed. There were so many beaches and bays. I had stepped into heaven and it lasted for five years!

Then came another call to ministry as chaplain at Nazareth Rest Home in Wanganui. These were special years, living in Wanganui again, the heartland of our Congregation, and being with the elderly residents of Nazareth, particularly our own Sisters. The love and care bestowed on the elderly was, and I know still is today, of the highest quality. These were heart-warming years and in stark contrast to where I next ministered…

…Prison…concrete, iron bars, coiled netting - and cold.

In 1994 I came to Wellington. For retirement, surely?  Not quite.  For the next eighteen years I worked in chaplaincy at Arohata Women's Prison.  Having for many years helped in forming the minds and hearts of children, I then found myself alongside people, many of whom had broken minds and hearts.  One can only stay beside them, walk with them, listen to them as they tried to heal and mend.  Dorothy Day, foundress of the Catholic Worker Movement, in her autobiography, says, "To serve the marginal, is to be formed by them" and that's how it was for me.  I was being formed anew by those amongst whom I walked.

In 2012, while living in Johnsonville, Wellington and after eighteen years of prison ministry I felt the call to return “home” to the roots of my religious life.  So gently disengaging, and farewelling Prison friends and Johnsonville friends, now, in 2013, I find myself back in Whanganui where it all began.  I have come full circle.  I am living in a little unit in Springvale.  My St Joseph our hearth-place, (which was my novitiate home) is only a stone’s throw away, accessible, vibrant, and welcoming. The only thing different from when I began is that I’m sixty years older.

The river still flows out to the sea.                                                                  
The lake is as beautiful as ever.                                                                      
The birds sing the same songs.                                                                         
And God has never stopped blessing us.


Sister Josepha helps women in prison with literacy education.

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