Much loved singing teacher, Sister Mary Winefride Blake RSM QSM, has been awarded one of the highest papal honours ever given to religious and lay people.
Sr Winefride, who celebrated her Diamond Jubilee earlier this year, last week received a medal and certificate of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (for the church and pontiff) in recognition of her long and meritorious service to Catholic education and to the wider community, especially in the field of music.
Sr Winefride has taught singing in Wellington for more than 65 years. She had learnt singing before she entered the novitiate in 1933.
Sister has used her own, beautiful vocal ability to assist the formation of men and women singers of a very high standard. Her pupils have gained fellowships, associates and licentiate diplomas from Trinity College of Music, London, and been successful in both national and international competitions such as the Mobil and Sun Aria contests. Her own appreciation of religious music and especially Gregorian Chant and the Latin-sung Mass has, in turn, encouraged a similar love of religious music in her students.
Many of these have subsequently contributed their own talents to religious music and sacred choirs, or as directors of religious music, in the parishes of the archdiocese as well as Australia and Sweden, for example.
She founded and conducted the St Mary’s Schola which became a major source of young voices for church choirs in the region. Under her guidance, pupils achieved a standard and quality of singing unsurpassed by similar local choral groups. Her pupils made three recordings of both sacred and classical arias during this time.
She taught singing at St Mary’s College, where she herself was educated, for 25 years. She has been a Cathedral Parish parishioner since joining the novitiate, adjacent to the Cathedral, in 1933.
In 1981 her ministry to the arts and religious culture was recognised with a Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) for community service. This was a tribute to her contribution to the culture of Wellington especially her production of public choral concerts in Wellington (on Radio New Zealand and on New Zealand Television programmes) and for fundraising concerts. Recognition was also given for providing sacred music at funerals, literally hundreds of weddings and many liturgical celebrations.
Sister Winefride still has a number of private pupils. The church in Wellington in general and the Cathedral Parish of the Sacred Heart in particular, owe Sister a great debt of gratitude for her dedication and unwavering commitment to the liturgical, choral and spiritual life of the Archdiocese of Wellington over so many years. Her generous nature, appealing and warm personality as well as her spiritual gifts have enriched and encouraged us all.