by SUE SECONI
WANGANUI — A staggering 370 combined years of religious life were celebrated by six Sisters of St Joseph Whanganui, on January 21, with Mass celebrated in St Mary’s Church.
All residing in Wanganui, Sr Justin Collins marked her “oak” 80, Sr Francesca Bourke “platinum” 70, Sr Von Witton and Sr Mary McKenna both “diamond” 60, and Sr Noeline Landrigan and Sr Catherine Shelton 50 golden years of professions.
In her opening address, Sr Anne Burke said that this was an occasion to honour them as individual women who chose to live the Gospel radically in community under the patronage of St Joseph.
“Their lives have been in the service of others, according to their skills and abilities, and to the needs that were apparent at the various stages of their lives,” she said.
Sr Justin’s early years were spent teaching, including speech, drama and music at the various Josephite schools. After spending a year in Tasmania, she returned to work for the papal nunciature in Wellington. Sr Justin is in rest home care and is a warm welcoming sign for new residents.
After a short spell teaching, Sr Francesca was called to congregational leadership, where she served for more than two decades. This extended to the wider Australia New Zealand Josephite Federation. Sr Fran, as she is affectionately known, became a parish pastoral worker in Hawke’s Bay and became well respected for her effective hospital and prison visits.
Sr Von not only taught in parish schools but, like most of the sisters, took on active roles in parish life as well. This eventually led her into becoming a fulltime parish worker in Central Hawke’s Bay. Following ministry and spirituality courses, Sr Von became a chaplain at Waipukurau Hospital.
The culinary skills of Sr Mary saw her responsible for a major part of her life catering for the boarders and sisters, Catholic conferences, and then catering manager at the then-Marcellin Hall community in Auckland. Returning to Wanganui, Sr Mary created beautiful handicrafts to sell at the newly established Josephite craft shop. Her courage in accepting her disabilities in later years continues to inspire others.
Sr Noeline spent 25 years as a teacher and principal. Her strong sense of justice found her studying at the
Turramurra Mission Institute in Sydney. She helped establish the Kotare Trust Centre of Research and Education
for social change. Her passion for ecological health and for the earth’s wellbeing is put into practice in Josephite
ecological projects and teaching.
While teaching at secondary and tertiary levels, Sr Catherine undertook university studies. Studying psychotheraphy took her overseas for several years. Coming home, she was called to leadership roles in the congregation and the Australia New Zealand Josephite Federation. Today Sr Catherine travels the country, responding to invitations to work with religious congregations, parishes and tertiary institutions.