Celebration was in the air at St Michael’s, Taita, on Sunday 7 June as the parish welcomed two Presentation Sisters, Fran Nicolle and Ruth Coleman, into their community.
Srs Fran and Ruth were toddlers when the first wave of five Presentation Sisters arrived in New Zealand in 1951.
The first group came from Tuam in Ireland to teach in the school only to find themselves in an old army hut that served as church, hall and classroom.
The convent they had been promised was a gorse-covered field so they were grateful to the Mission Sisters in Lower Hutt who provided hospitality for the first 10 months.
From 1951 the people of St Michael’s did everything they could to make the sisters welcome and organised working bees to build the convent. A real school followed in 1953.
After Vatican II and the Catholic Schools Integration Act there was a new understanding of the role of laity in the Church. An increasing number of lay people taught in Catholic Schools releasing the sisters to minister in other areas. In 1995 after 44 years in Taita the convent was sold but the sisters maintained contact with many in the faith community. Eighteen years later it seems life has come full circle with the return of the sisters.
Some things have changed. The sisters have a house to move into. They did not come from a world away in Ireland but from within the community – Fran was brought up in Taita and Ruth hails from Naenae.
Some things have not changed. There is still the warm welcome. Parishioners rolled up their sleeves with baking and sandwich-making on the day of the big move. Strong male parishioners safely delivered and helped set up the household.
Both sisters work in education in Catholic colleges, Fran at Bishop Viard and Ruth at St Bernard’s.
Forty years ago Ruth and Fran entered religious life together.
Celebrating the Presentation Sisters’ return to Taita was the first New Zealander to enter the Presentation community, Sr Mary Tait, who was raised in Taita.
The return of the Presentation Sisters to Taita is especially exciting for the chairperson of the pastoral council whose task it was to formally welcome the sisters on behalf of the parish.
Jim Nicolle is Fran’s younger brother. He has memories of his father, Tom, helping build the convent and Leonie, his mother, baking for the early sisters.
Nano Nagle, who founded the Presentation Sisters in Ireland in 1775, would be delighted with the way the charism has blossomed in far off New Zealand.