Foundresses’ Day

This year, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Irish Dominican nuns to New Zealand – from which our little Congregation takes its origin.

It was 7:30am, 18th February 1871, when the pioneering Dominicans arrived at Port Chalmers with the Reverend Doctor Moran, the newly appointed Bishop of Dunedin, who had travelled with the Sisters from Ireland. They were met at the docks by many of the Dunedin Catholics, and travelled in a cavalcade of carriages to the little church that was the seat of the Bishop’s see – St Joseph’s Cathedral – where Fr Delphin Moreau, S.M., up till then the pastor of the flock there in the South Island, met the ship-weary travelers. A Te Deum was sung, and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament given.

Seven of the founding Sisters (the original group was 10) pose for a photograph in this 1895 picture. Mother Gabriel, the superior of the group, is on the extreme right.
The founding Mothers of this Congregation – Mother Mary Catherine, O.P., Mother Mary Madeleine, O.P. (Mother Prioress General), Mother Mary Micaela, O.P. (Mother Foundress), and Mother Mary Rose, O.P.

A Te Deum was sung yesterday too, in the little church of St Anthony’s here at Wanganui, on the North Island, as we gave grateful thanks to God and His Providence for having kept traditional Dominican life and its monastic customs alive here in the Antipodes, after a 150 years fraught both with joy and vicissitudes.

Mass was offered, not only for the little band of Sisters here, but for all of benefactors, our pupils – past, present and future – and also for the foundresses, who had valiantly built up a whole network of schools here for the daughters of Catholic immigrants in 19th Century New Zealand.

A Mass of Thanksgiving was sung in St Anthony’s Church in Wanganui. The celebrant was Fr Albert, O.P.
The Sisters sang the Propers of the Votive Mass of Thanksgiving, while the girls contributed their voices to the Kyriale and other hymns.
As it is now Septuagesima, the tract is sung by the chantresses alone, without the rest of the choir.

There is much to be thankful for, especially with the changes that time has wrought not only on the social fabric of New Zealand, but also on the Church at large and consecrated and Religious life in particular.

Despite the push for “aggiornamento” and the ravages borne by the liturgy and monastic life, we are truly grateful that our “little lifeboat” is able to stay afloat, and pray that the sacrifices of the years will enable traditional Dominican life to flourish once more, not just in our Convent, but also that the flame of Truth will burn undimmed in the hearts and souls of our pupils.

Click on the image above to listen to the sermon preached by Father for the anniversary.

As part of our celebrations of this momentous milestone in the history of the Order, a special trip up the Wanganui River was arranged for, on the paddle-steamer Waimarie.

The girls were encouraged to get creative and come dressed for the boat trip in 19th century costume, complete with gloves and hats.

The paddle-steamer Waimarie is the only operating coal-fired steamer in New Zealand.
Lucja and Juliana, our faithful friends and helpers, were there to join us on the riverboat.
We made a stop up the river, where Mother Micaela gave us a talk on the arrival of the Sisters.
Mother Micaela and Mother Catherine enjoying a light moment in the midst of our on-board entertainment (music provided by Sr Anna and one of her music students).
Elegant dress was the order of the day. Our pupils did very well, reproducing 19th Century ladies’ fashion!
The young ladies with their hats must have been quite a sight to passersby.
We prayed a rosary on the way back to Wanganui’s Taupo Quay, and spent the rest of the journey singing hymns and songs that would have been familiar to the Irish and New Zealand Catholics.
A typical journey upriver consumes up to 500kg of coal, shoveled in by hand in the engine room.

The Sisters with the pupils of St Dominic’s College and Fr Albert, 18th February 2021.

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