Sr Margaret Anne Mills DOLC has been made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours this year for services to the community.
Sr Margaret Anne counts the honour as for the community. ‘You never do anything on your own,’ she says.
For the past several decades Sr Margaret Anne has been working with people on the margins of society – from the disabled children in Carterton to those in need who frequent the Compassion Centre’s Soup Kitchen to the immigrant children she taught at St Anne’s school in Newtown, to the Aboriginal children she spent six years with in a small town in Northern New South Wales.
She counts this time in outback Australia as exciting in terms of learning about living on the outer.
‘You’d hear about different courses for the teaching staff including the Aboriginal assistants and you’d get excited about learning something new together and you’d drive for miles to the next big town. Stopping off at a road house you’d notice things like you’d be served last or people would cross to the other side of the road. That was a new experience – a small taste of what it was like for them [the Aboriginal people].’
Back in Wellington in the late 1980s Sr Margaret Anne noticed that the soup kitchen was attracting young glue-sniffers as well as the usual, older guests. She used the day time between serving breakfast and dinner at night to get to know these young ones, to visit them and see where they lived, and to accompany them in their quest for a better life.
‘I think I went to every agency, got into different youth programmes, schizophrenia fellowship support groups, different mental health meetings.’
Also at the time, institutions like the Hanmer drug and rehabilitation centre in Canterbury, that were helping people with addiction to drugs and other substances, were being disestablished and people were left with nowhere to go to try to deal with their addiction.
‘So they’re coming to the soup kitchen because they could get a hot meal, they would see the same people, things happened at the same time every day, so in a sense it was like an institution so people felt comfortable there.’
Sr Margaret Anne still keeps in touch with some of her former guests. They bring their children to meet her and sometimes phone for help and support in a difficult situation. She accompanies former Compassion Centre guests to the court, or the hospital when she can.
These days, though, life is busy with administration of the Home of Compassion’s resources trying to follow as closely as possible the vision of founder Suzanne Aubert, to bring the compassion of Jesus Christ to the needy in society.