Stephanie Kitching rsm
One hundred years of happy living is being celebrated by Sister Mary Winefride Blake, a Mercy Sister at Villa Joseph Upper Hutt on her birthday, 8 March.
A longtime Wellingtonian, Sister Winefride comes from a musical family who sang together regularly. She entered religious life in 1933 and is well known and loved by many people she has taught singing in the bel canto style of voice production since 1934 at St Mary’s Convent Thorndon. Among her pupils have been 1996 Mobil Song Quest winner Andrea Creighton, Suzanne Green, Val Sinclair and Rosaleen Hickmott. Even now, in retirement, she continues with a few pupils.
Probably the most memorable group Sister Winefride tutored was the St Mary’s College Schola. From 1953 until 1992 this group of 24 college girls, aged 14–17, were taught to sing in beautiful harmonies. Such was the demand for their singing that they were busy almost every Saturday singing at weddings. They also sang on church and state occasions, at public concerts, in competitions and with other groups. ‘If you were chosen for the Schola, you were privileged to be working with a top teacher and life was never dull,’ said one former Schola member.
Each year there was a final college concert in the Wellington Town Hall. Sister used to conduct the girls from behind a screen as in those days Sisters were not to be seen taking public credit. In 1961 there was a special Centennial Concert marking the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in Wellington. For this concert Wellington choir director, organist and composer, Maxwell Fernie, worked with Sister Winefride especially on the Centennial Ode. He composed the music for poet Eileen Duggan’s words. It was a stunning success from the five-year-olds who began it with their thready voices to the full school, including students from other Mercy colleges, pouring out the final verse.
In her 100 years, Sr Winefride has seen several popes, many governments and much change in society and Church. ‘I have always loved doing what I do, and I am sure that helps. Imagine going through a long life and not enjoying your work,’ she says.
Ad multo annos, Sister. May you be warmly remembered and richly blessed on your special day.