Southern Founding Story

St Mary’s School 1882

Read extracts from the diary of a Sister of Mercy about her 10 week journey by ship from Ireland to Hokitika in 1878

Arrival on the West Coast

In the 1800s many people were arriving in Hokitika from around the world to look for gold in the Grey River.

There were a lot of families arriving from Ireland, and their parents wanted the children to attend a Catholic school. There was a small Catholic School in Hokitika – but there were so many children that the school needed more teachers. There were also many families who did not have much money, and needed some caring people to help them.

Rev Martin

The local Priest, Father Martin, had heard about the Sisters of Mercy who were teaching in schools and caring for poor families in Wellington. So he wrote a letter to them and asked if a community of Sisters of Mercy would come to Hokitika to help to teach all the young Catholic children and to help care for West Coast families.

Mother Mary Cecila from Wellington travelled by ship all the way back to Ireland to ask if some Sisters would come back with her to live on the West Coast of New Zealand. She visited a convent in Ennis, Ireland, and she found ten Sisters of Mercy who agreed to come and set up a new Sisters of Mercy community in Hokitika.

The Sisters were:

Pioneer Sisters

  • Mother Mary Clare Molony
  • Mother Mary Mechtildes Boland
  • Sister Mary Gabriel O’Kennedy
  • Sister Mary Juliana Ryan
  • Sister Mary Aloysius McGrath
  • Sister Mary Claver Ryan
  • Sister Mary Cecilia Sheehan
  • Sister Mary Angela O’Keefe
  • And two young postulants – Sister Kate Molony and Sister Katie Ryan

The Sisters faced a long journey by ship from Ireland to Hokitika. They left Ennis, Ireland, on a ship on 23 July 1878 and arrived to a warm welcome in Hokitika on 9 October 1878.

These brave and adventurous Sisters became known as ‘The Pioneer Sisters’.

Over time the Sisters set up new Foundations in Christchurch and Timaru. Wherever the Sisters lived, they worked hard within their communities; teaching children, visiting people who were sick or dying, visiting people in prison, and helping people to understand how much God loved them.