Mercy sister Mary Winefride Blake died on 30 July in Hutt Hospital. She was aged 101.
Winefride grew up in a musical household and spent much of her life teaching singing and choral music at St Mary’s College in Thorndon. She was still involved in teaching as recently as July. Her father sang and her grandmother and aunts were musical. She was trained as a singer before she entered St Mary’s Convent in 1933 and was professed as a Sister of Mercy in 1936.
Sr Winefride considered her career highlight to be founding St Mary’s Schola – an entry choir for young singers into church and other regional choirs. She also trained many individual singers. Some went on to become notable performers in New Zealand and internationally such as Andrea Creighton, Suzanne Green, Val Sinclair and Rosaleen Hickmott.
‘RIP Sister Mary Winefride,’ Creighton wrote on Facebook. ‘Thank you for your love, your guidance and your belief in me. God bless you xx.’
Sr Winefride’s contribution to the arts and religious culture was recognised with a Queen’s Service Medal in 1981. She was recognised especially for her production of public concerts and her contribution to Radio New Zealand and Television New Zealand programmes.
In 2007, Sr Winefride received a papal medal – Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (for Church and Pope) from Pope Benedict XVI for her services to music and religious culture. It was followed by recognition from one of New Zealand’s highest awards when she was made an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit (ONZM).
Requiem Mass for Sr Winefride was celebrated at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hill St, Thorndon, Wellington, on Tuesday 4 August. A full congregation of family members included her sister Sr M Antonia, her brother Leo and other family members, sisters, friends and past students. Her music was a presence throughout.
Sr M de Porres RSM paid tribute to her sister in her eulogy.
All of you will have your own memories of this remarkable Sister of Mercy who has become a real legend in our country’s music and Church affairs. It is not just because of her life-long accomplishments that we honour her but far more because of the person she was and always will be to us.
One of nine children, singing was very much an important part of her family life. Her father, grandmother and aunts (three of whom also became Sisters of Mercy) had fine voices.
Winefride’s early years were spent in Lower Hutt where she attended Ss Peter and Paul School and Sacred Heart College and on her family’s move to Wadestown, she completed her education at St Mary’s College in Thorndon.
From a young age, Winefride had singing lessons from Sr M Cecelia, another renowned singer and teacher, at the Star of the Sea Convent in Seatoun.
Called to serve the Lord in a life of prayer and service, she entered St Mary’s Novitiate here in Thorndon in 1933. She professed her vows in January 1936 and chose as her motto AMDG – for the honour and glory of God.
Winefride’s voice has given inspiration and joy to so many over the years. Her early years were spent in the classroom where she taught singing, French, Latin and English.
But she was soon involved in teaching singing full-time. She taught choral work and gave lessons to private pupils. Many of her pupils have gone on to achieve national and international acclaim – and how proud she was of you all.
Winefride continued to extend her knowledge of singing and voice production from such well-known musicians as Dorothy Davies, Maxwell Fernie, Professor Douglas Mews, and Todd McCaw – who encouraged her to hold her annual concerts in the Wellington Town hall to much acclaim.
Winefride’s voice has given inspiration and joy to many over the years. And being so much in the public eye she has been rightly acknowledged for her great contributions to the arts in our land.
This and so much more could be said of what Winefride accomplished. But what of the person we knew? She was a woman of great prayer and great faith – always up early and in the chapel about 6am to her very last days. When not teaching, she was in her apron doing various chores, seeing to the flowers in the chapel, dusting and mopping, helping in the kitchen.
She was never too busy to stop and have a few words and a smile. She was well read, a good conversationalist, gracious, gentle yet strong, hospitable, caring, loyal to her many friends and pupils with whom she corresponded regularly and faithful to St Mary’s Old Girl’s Association.
When so-called relaxing she had her knitting needles working on rugs, scarves, and hats, and many of you were the recipients as you assisted her to raise money for the missions and, more latterly, Christchurch’s earthquake victims. The words of the Proverbs apply, ‘She is always busy with wool and twine, she does her work with eager hands’.
Yes, as a true daughter of Catherine McAuley, countless needy people and causes owe her so much.
So now it is time for you to rest in the Lord, dear Winefride, and thank you for the privilege of knowing and loving you. ‘May choirs of Angels come to greet you and lead you home to Paradise.’
May you rest in peace.