70 YEars since the Sisters came to Taita:
Celebrated 21 February 2021
Presentation Sisters, 70th Anniversary in New Zealand
Homily given by Cardinal John Dew at celebration Mass
There is a wonderful story in a book called Traveling Mercies, it is the story of a little girl who gets lost.
A police officer stops to help her and asks if she knows where she lives. Through tears she says she does not remember her way home. He offers to drive her around town hoping that she will spot her house. While slowly rolling down one street the girl exclaims, “Stop! Let me out. That’s my church. I know my way home from there.”
It’s a lovely story and reminds us that sometimes we all get lost, not around the streets of Taita,
but on our way to God. I’s very easy for life to get turned around, flipped upside down such that we lose our way. During Lent acknowledge just how distracted we can become, we forget life’s direction and lose our way to God. Sometimes we need others to guide us, to point the way, and we need God’s grace.
Thankfully, like that little girl whose church guides her home, we too have a compass that always points us in the right direction. Jesus points the way for us. But sometimes we need others. In 1951 five Presentation Sisters arrived in here in Taita from Tuam, County Galway, Ireland. Why did they come? Their whole purpose was and is to help guide others home to God. They brought Hope and they still do in many varied forms of service and education at all levels, medical and social work, catechetics, community development, pastoral and ecumenical work.
In the Reading from the Book of Genesis we heard about God sending a rainbow to Noah after the great flood as a sign that people could go out and live without fear of another calamitous drowning. Rainbows are symbols of hope in many cultures. In Christian culture, a rainbow promises better times to come – and are frequently represented in Western art and culture, as a sign of hope and promise of better times to come.
When the first Presentation sisters came, New Zealand was recovering from World War Two. It was a time of growth, the beginning of the baby boom, immigrants were starting to come into New Zealand. In areas like Taita there was a struggle to accommodate this growth in population. The population was slowly moving up the Hutt Valley and there was a strain on existing schools, health and housing. Those first Presentation Sisters came bringing hope, they were mostly teachers who received no salary or reimbursement. Some taught music, speech and singing, in order to get a little more money. this supplemented for them the little income from the schools. The Sisters were very generously supported by local people who saw their efforts and their enthusiasm.
They had many challenges for them, there was no convent, no school and a primitive church constructed from an old army hut (also used as a hall). For eighteen months the Mercy and Mission Sisters offered hospitality to these Irish Sisters, until the convent, school, parish church and presbytery were built. Until the school was built the younger children were taught in the church while the older pupils were taken by train each day to St Bernard's College in where space was available.
The group that arrived in here and the next two groups of Sisters who travelled from Ireland would have clearly known one of Nano Nagle’s sayings, “If I could be of service in saving souls in any part of the globe I would willingly do all in my power.” That’s why they came, they came as followers of Jesus and so that they could spread the Good News of God’s love to all humanity, they came to be signs of hope, and always have been. They came to help lead people find their way home to God.
When I was thinking of this 70th anniversary I began to think this would be easy to preach about, I thought, if 25 years is Silver, and 50 years is Gold, 60 is Diamond, and I thought 70 is Emerald. I had all these thoughts of Sisters coming from Ireland, The Emerald Isle 70 years ago. However when I looked it up I discovered that 70 is not Emerald, it is Platinum!
So, Sisters, congratulations on your Platinum Anniversary.
When I thought more about I thought well Platinum is even better, Platinum is described as precious, strong, enduring and it doesn’t tarnish. For 70 years the Archdiocese of Wellington and other parts of Aotearoa New Zealand have seen the strong, enduring, untarnishing presence of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Tradition tells us that Nano Nagle carried a lantern as she moved through the darkness in the streets and lanes of Cork in search of children desiring an education and the local poor in desperate need of food, comfort, medical attention and shelter. Sisters we thank you for bringing the Presentation Lantern to New Zealand, with that you brought hope, when there was darkness in people’s lives you lit the way home for them. Just as the Lantern became a symbol of Nano’s love for the poor: a symbol of God's love, touching and transforming the harshness of their lives and offering hope so today- and here for 70 years that lantern has become the symbol of the mission of the Presentation Sisters around the world.
You have needed been for us a silver, ruby, golden, emerald, diamond and platinum presence to and for us.
“The furthest Lantern”
Reflection by Noreen
Our celebration of 70 years in Taita spoke of such courage and patience of our founding sisters. Arriving in a foreign land with no place to call home and no school either must have been daunting for them. Their first glance of their new home and school was an empty paddock covered in thistles, gorse, and briars. It is said when they saw the reality, they looked at each other and smiled.
They just took it in their stride with the welcome they received from the Mercy and Mission sisters who opened their hearts and homes to them. The Cardinal and Priests of Wellington gathered to welcome and support them and finally the people of Taita welcomed them with open hearts.
“Take down your Lantern and let your vision guide your feet”
It was heartwarming to see the fruit of our first Sister’s ministry among the people displayed in the coming together of past pupils from all parts of New Zealand where they are now living, to watch the way they connected and were so happy to be in each other’s company. A seed was planted deep within them. Many stories were shared and friendships reborn. The Sisters presence was very real in our midst and they were present with us from another realm enjoying what was said about them now.
Throughout the Movie which was premiered on the same day we got a real insight into how the pupils who are now adults treasured what they received during their years in school naming the Sisters who had influenced their lives. They proudly recalled how it helped them through the rough times in their lives. It also highlighted the transition to newness and evolution of Presentation that has taken place down the years in responding to current needs. The movie reminded me that we do not move away from childhood, but we move towards it in a new and emerging reality daily. We proudly stand on the shoulders of those who went before us and now our shoulders are there for those who come after us.
Ireland’s first Ambassador to Aotearoa Peter Ryan from Dublin and his wife Teresa and their daughter were present for the mass and movie. After the Premiere Peter shared how moved he was and that he was brought to tears – “I am convinced that the reason why Ireland is highly regarded in New Zealand today is because of the extraordinary contribution of Irish women and men to the people who have made their home here.”
Life is our spiritual guide, and I am very happy to continue in the footsteps of those who planted the seeds of our charism here iAotearoa New Zealand in 1951.
Today we say:
Our hearts burn with like desire
while here we seek
the dream of God alive today
in our small corners
of the yearning world.
Raphael Consedine pbvm
70 years of Presentation in New Zealand
Reflection Fran Nicolle
As I reflect on our wonderful celebration of 70 years of Presentation in New Zealand, my first feelings are of gratitude to the Presentation Sisters in Tuam for responding to the call of faraway Taita for Sisters to come to New Zealand. The first five Sisters who left their homeland, community and families were so much a part of my formative years and brought Nano alive for me. Their lives, the lives of all the sisters and the story of Nano stirred in my heart and called me to be a Presentation sister today.
We had our special Miracle when on Thursday the Prime Minister told us we would go to Covid Level 1 on Friday and this meant the full celebrations of our 70 years of Presentation in New Zealand could go ahead on Sunday 21 March. Thanking God plan P (Prayer) worked and alive with relief, joy and enthusiasm we quickly got it all sorted and ready to roll.
I was just three years old when the first 5 Presentation Sisters arrived in Taita and they played a large role in my growing up in Taita years. In those days, the people of Taita gathered around and supported the Sisters. 70 years on - the people of Taita today, the staff and children of St Michael’s School and many of the people whose lives the Sisters had touched through the 70 years came and made our celebration incredibly special.
My heart is full of thankfulness to Paul Davidson and Barbara Gibb for the amazing documentary movie “Furthest Lantern” which captured the past and the present so beautifully: To Bernard Gresham who spent so much time and energy and used his many connections to raise funds for making the movie, arranging the ticket selling, getting the Lighthouse to Premiere the movie etc.: our St Michaels Community, and school. We have been truly blessed- it was a wonderful celebration. You came and blessed us with your presence and worked hard in many ways to make this happen. There were so many special moments in the day. I reconnected with many people and friends from childhood days that I had not seen in years and made new connections. We have grown by 70 years since we first met the Presentation Sisters. As we celebrated Mass the changes over the years were reflected in our multicultural community adding richness - a big change from a mono cultural community to now Pacifica.
It was a time to remember, to reconnect and to thank God for the wonderful gifts we have received over the years. I feel in my heart that our Sisters, my parents, and brother, and all the past pupils and parishioners who are deceased and of course Nano enjoyed celebrating with us and continue to walk with us into the unknown future.