by MICHAEL OTTO
WELLINGTON — The many years of work among Wellington’s poor and forgotten by Sr Felix Breen, DOLC, has been acknowledged with a Local Heroes Award.
A Sister of Compassion for 76 years, Sr Felix, 97, said she is “very humbled” to receive the award, which was presented on March 20.
“You don’t know what other people are thinking of you,” Sr Felix told NZ Catholic.
She was nominated by a former fellow-worker at Wellingon’s soup kitchen, Eddie Mollier.
Local Heroes Awards are awarded to recognise New Zealanders who have made a difference in their communities.
Sr Felix worked at Wellington’s Buckle St soup kitchen from 1966 to 1972 and again from 1987 to 1999, when it was run from Sussex St.
“We had many a laugh in the soup kitchen with the real characters we met day by day.”
Media reports on Sr Felix’s award have noted how she returned to work at the soup kitchen one day after being punched by a “druggie”.
They also tell how people who visited the kitchen became fans of the way Sr Felix cooked tripe — with a sauce featuring flour, butter, onions and parsley.
Now living at the Home of Compassion in Upper Hutt, Sr Felix said her order’s founder, Mother Suzanne Aubert, and her early sisters started the soup kitchen in 1899.
“Along with nursing and education, [Mother Aubert] wished to respond to any need she could, to relieve the stress of those who were poor and disadvantaged.
“It was started to meet the need of the time. It continues meeting today’s need in different ways.
“The charism of the Sisters of Compassion is about sharing faith and compassion with those we meet.”
Raised in Central Otago, Sr Felix said the soup kitchen was visited by a “broad variety of people” in whom the sisters “see and serve Jesus”.
The scriptural teaching, “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me” (Matthew 25: 40), applies to all the Sisters of Compassion’s works, she said.
But working at the soup kitchen was by no means the only work Sr Felix did.
“Most of my life as a Sister of Compassion has been spent nursing, but I have cared for babies in Auckland and children in Broken Hill, Australia.
“I have also been stationed in Island Bay, Wagga Wagga (Australia), Silverstream and Wanganui.
Her vocation has seen her drive van rounds collecting food for her order’s homes and soup kitchen, as well as visiting older people in their homes.
“A visit can relieve loneliness and give an old or incapacitated person something to look forward to,” Sr Felix said.
One request to spend two weeks helping another sister who was visiting and nursing people in their homes lasted a little longer than originally planned.
“The two weeks grew to five years. Weekly, I was bathing 13 people. Of course, there were no showers in those days.”
When asked by NZ Catholic to nominate her favourite Scripture passage, Sr Felix said she likes “story of the Prodigal Son”.
“He was such a poor soul.”