The First NunsFoundresses of Christchurch Carmel

The band of six sisters chosen to bring the Carmelite Order to New Zealand was headed by the Prioress, Mother Anne of Jesus (Rae); she was accompanied by the Sub-prioress, Sister Margaret Mary (McCosker), Sister Mary of St Raphael (Tobin), Sister Agnes of Jesus (Rae), Sister Mary of St Elie (Keogh) and Sister Clare of the Passion (Dryden). An extern sister who also came with them returned to Australia a few months later.

Arrival in Christchurch

The founding sisters sailed from Sydney on the S.S. “Makura” on 16 February, 1933, arriving in Wellington on 20 February. For sisters who had been living the enclosed life for years the sea journey was something of an adventure, and the early chronicles recount numerous amusing incidents when the kindly stewards had to be called to the rescue!

Fr P CooneyFather P. Cooney, parish priest of Lyttleton, was on the Wellington wharf to welcome the sisters on Bishop Brodie’s behalf and to accompany them to Christchurch. After a day spent with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart at Island Bay Convent they crossed to Christchurch that night by the inter-island steamer, the “Rangatira”. A delighted Bishop Brodie, accompanied by Bishop Liston of Auckland who had come all the way down expressly for the occasion, awaited the sisters when they stepped ashore at Lyttleton. The Bishops and sisters then divided into two cars and motored across the Port Hills into Christchurch. It was a beautiful summer morning. From the crest of the hills the tired but happy travellers gazed down on the city spread out below them, flanked by the seemingly endless Canterbury Plains, with the majestic Southern Alps forming a magnificent backdrop. Years later the scene was described by the sisters as the most beautiful part of their journey.

For several weeks they were the guests of the Good Shepherd Sisters at what was then known as Mt Magdala (today the property of St John of God Brothers and known as ‘Marylands’), where they met almost all the priests of the diocese and many of the people, all most eager to give the sisters a warm and generous welcome. It is true to say that from the first days of their arrival the sisters won the affection of the people, who have never ceased to show their appreciation of the value of their lives of unceasing prayer, not only by their generous support but by assistance rendered in countless ways. For their part the sisters have always been full of admiration at the faith they have encountered in the people - non-Catholic as well as Catholic - who for seventy-five years have come to ask their prayers.

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