by PETER GRACE
New Zealand Bishop John Patrick Kavanagh succeeded in an important quest in France in 1952 because he was well prepared.
At an anniversary Mass for the Little Sisters of the Assumption at St John the Evangelist Church in Otara on September 5, Emeritus Bishop Denis Browne told of the bishop of Dunedin diocese going to France in 1952 to ask the Little Sisters to come and work in his diocese.
“He was told by the mother general that it would be very difficult to do so for somewhere so far away,” Bishop
Browne said. “But he had done his homework.”
Bishop Kavanagh repeated what one of the order’s founders, Fr Etienne Pernet, had said; that they would be prepared to go to the ends of the world.
“And this is the diocese furthest away, furthest away from Rome,” said the bishop.
The Irish provincial at the time said, “Fr it is very difficult, but we will try”.
So, in 1955, the Sisters arrived in Dunedin, where they soon began visiting families, and people in their homes.
The anniversary Mass celebrated 60 years since that arrival, and 150 years since the establishment of the congregation in France. There were four bishops — Bishops Dunn, Auckland, Lowe, Hamilton, and Emeritus Bishops Browne, Hamilton, and O’Connell, Rarotonga — and five other clerics on the altar.
Before Mass began, the head of the congregation, Sr Marie Francoise Phelippeou, speaking in French, told of her joy of being there with everyone — perhaps 600 — to celebrate the two anniversaries.
“In the name of all the sisters in the world, we thank our God and each one of you… and we ask God that he may always work and we may always work for the growth of the people of God,” she said.
When the Sisters began in Dunedin, the city council allowed them to travel free on public transport, Bishop Browne said.
The Sisters gave huge support to families, and must have been very successful, because before long the Bishop of Wellington was asking them to establish a presence in the Hutt Valley.
“Some people very kindly donated scooters, so the Sisters in Lower Hutt became known as the Scooter Sisters.”
Near the end of Archbishop James Liston’s time in Auckland, they were invited to that diocese, then Bishop Peter Cullinane asked them to come to Palmerston North diocese, said Bishop Browne.
“They went to the parish of Bulls, and were later invited to the diocese of Hamilton.”
Bishop Browne said the readings the Sisters had chosen for the Mass are readingsthat inspire us. “[C]lothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience….” Live kindly and walk humbly with your God.
“That could be a really good description of the Little Sisters of the Assumption over their 150 years,” he said.
Bishop Browne thanked the Sisters for how they had lived their lives and been an inspiration to so many people. “And so many people [being] here today are a sign of the affection and love in which you are regarded.”
The celebrations concluded with a catered lunch in the parish hall for about 300 people, with entertainment provided by various self-selected parish families, students and guests.