by SUE SECONI
Wanganui — It was with much sadness for the Catholic community, the city and the Sisters of Compassion that the order’s leadership team decided to close the Aubert Home of Compassion in Wanganui.
Speaking at a media conference after breaking the news to the hospital board, staff and families of the residents on March 5, board of directors chairperson Christine Jones said that there was no alternative, given engineering reports that stated that 67 per cent of the buildings were well below the minimum earthquake standard required by law.
The rest home, chapel, laundry, kitchen and villa buildings that make up the complex wouldn’t withstand even a moderate earthquake.
“Closing the Home of Compassion was the only prudent and responsible decision that could be taken. The safety of the patients and staff is absolutely paramount,” said congregational leader Sr Margaret Anne Mills, whose order, the Sisters of Compassion, owns the site in Virginia Rd on suburban St John’s Hill.
She said that the option of repairing the buildings and bringing them up to required standards was considered, but was uneconomic. “In any case, this option would still require the residents to move out in the interim,” Sr Margaret Anne said.
Support for the 80 staff who have created such a caring environment in the home has been put in place in the form of counselling and other assistance.
“Our staff have been assured that all terms of their employment contracts will be honoured,” Ms Jones explained.
The home has started working closely with the district health board to assist the 69 residents and their families to find other places of care.
Resident priest Fr Bob Lee, SM, sadly celebrated the last Mass on March 6. The chapel, which drew Catholics from the entire city to daily Mass and Sunday afternoon Adoration, will never be used again.
The sisters, Catholic parishes and people of Wanganui, have enjoyed a long friendship since the sisters first came in 1931, establishing the first home in central Guyton St. (The home relocated in 1964 to its current site after a massive building project.)
While the news of the closure has come as a shock and a surprise, many people are supportive and trusting in God’s providence.
“The Sisters of Compassion are deeply aware of our ties and legacy with Wanganui,” Sr Margaret Anne said. “And, as such, the proceeds of the sale of the land and buildings will stay in Wanganui to assist the elderly.”
This is all under discussion with the directors of the Aubert Home of Compassion and will happen in consultation with the wider community, enabling the charisms and essences of Suzanne Aubert to be still expressed and experienced in the city, but in a different way.
Writing in parish newsletters, Bishop Charles Drennan expressed his sadness at the closure.
“The closure is a moment of deep sadness for us all: the residents and staff and their families, the sisters, the people of Wanganui and the diocese as a whole. Let us pray for peace and composure for the residents and staff, and let us ask God, through the intercession of Suzanne Aubert, to continue to bless our communities with vocations to the Compassion Sisters, whose humble and dedicated service is a source of encouragement for us all,” Bishop Drennan wrote.