Suzanne Aubert would have smiled at the easy mingling of Māori, Pakeha and Tongans at a day in her honour at Pakipaki on 27 October 2007. And how surprised and delighted she would have been to hear the Māori Catholics of Pakipaki at the end of the day say to the Tongan Catholics of Flaxmere: ‘regard our marae as your marae too’ – a generous offer indeed.
Pakipaki is a small village south of Hastings and during the years that Suzanne Aubert lived in Hawke’s Bay (1871-1883) she was first a regular visitor and later lived there. She was fluent in the Māori language and at ease within Māori culture and she went to Pakipaki to nurse and dispense medicines, to catechise and teach. She was also the driving force behind the building of a Catholic church at Pakipaki (1880). It was therefore a fitting conclusion of the day that the final prayers and blessing took place in that very same church, still standing today though no longer used.
‘I have come for the Māori people.’ This quote from one of her letters was the focus of the Suzanne Aubert Day at Pakipaki. The day had started with a Memorial Mass in Pakipaki’s Catholic church. Fr Simon Story of Hastings was the celebrant and the Tongan community of Flaxmere provided the choir. After the formal welcome on the marae, it was time for kai and an informal session with speeches by Srs Rae Berry and Margaret Anne Mills (DOLC) who had travelled from Wellington.
Suzanne Aubert’s biographer, Jessie Munro, told the Pakipaki community of a recently discovered note that must have been written by one of their ancestors, asking Mother Meri to give the bearer of the note, a six-year-old boy, the right medicine for his illness. She also read several letters from Suzanne Aubert to the Marists in France, begging them to send other missionaries for the Māori people. Why they didn’t and what that meant to the people of Pakipaki became the starting point of a spirited conversation. The day was the third in an ongoing series of gatherings organised in Hawke’s Bay by a ginger group of locals keen to keep the memory of Suzanne Aubert alive.