by MICHAEL OTTO
AUCKLAND — The graves of the Outhwaite family — who were generous benefactors of the Catholic Church in Auckland, and of Mother Suzanne Aubert — lie in a state of sad disrepair on the shores of the Manukau Harbour.
When the last of the family, Isa Outhwaite, died in 1925, she left land to the bishop of Auckland at the time, Bishop Henry Cleary, which eventually became the site of St Peter’s College.
Among the beneficiaries of her will were the Sisters of Compassion (£500), St Joseph’s School, Grey Lynn (£250), St Mary’s Orphanage, Howick (£250), the Little Sisters of the Poor (£1000), Mater Misericordiae Hospital (£1500), Bishop Cleary (£500 to be used for benefit of female prisoners discharged from Mt Eden Gaol), and the residue of her estate to Bishop Cleary for Catholic education in Auckland.
Miss Outhwaite, who was an official prison visitor and welfare worker at Mt Eden Gaol, left land in Grafton that is now the site of the modern Outhwaite Park and also left the Hen Island (Taranga) of the Hen and Chicken group near Whangarei to the Crown to be used as a bird sanctuary.
Miss Outhwaite’s father, Thomas, was the first registrar of the Supreme Court in New Zealand, arriving from England in 1841. The family, especially Isa and Louise, Isa’s mother, were close friends of Mother Suzanne Aubert, the founder of the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion. Like Mother Aubert, Louise was born and raised in France.
The Outhwaites supported French clergy in Auckland diocese’s early years and
provided Mother Aubert with accommodation and financial support before she left for Hawke’s Bay in 1871, also paying for her piano to be shipped there. First Louise then her daughter Isa corresponded with Mother Aubert for many years and it was Isa who mainly
funded her six years in Rome when she sought recognition from Pope Benedict XV for her order.
But Isa’s grave and those of Louise, her brothers William and Charles and sister Victorine at Waikaraka Cemetery, have suffered from the effects of wind and weather over the years. Now the concrete base above their final resting place is cracked and broken.
But the Outhwaites have a champion in Jenny Doherty of Hillsborough, who wants to see the graves’ concrete base repaired.
Ms Doherty, a nurse at the coronary care unit at Middlemore Hospital, first learned of the Outhwaites when she read Jessie Munro’s The Story of Suzanne Aubert.
Wondering where the Outhwaites were buried, Ms Doherty made inquiries at the Auckland diocesan archives and discovered the location of the graves.
“I found it and saw it in disrepair and thought I can’t leave it like this,” she said.
Since Isa and her brothers and sister had no children, there is no continuing family to care for the graves. The Auckland Council cares for the grounds, but the care of the plots is up to family and friends. One of the cemetery workers has generously done some cleaning at the site.
Ms Doherty discovered a council permit was needed for grave repairs and the work would require a stonemason. She obtained a quote, which came to about $5000. Then Ms Doherty approached Auckland diocese general manager Kerry Coleman about it, and he visited the graves with her early this year.
Mr Coleman told NZ Catholic he agreed in principle that the state of the graves should be addressed.
“I think the diocese probably needs to take the initiative here and spend some money on upgrading,” Mr Coleman said.
“We owe it to the Outhwaites because of their generosity,” he said.
During her research, Ms Doherty found a copy of Isa Outhwaite’s will at Archives New Zealand in Mangere.
“I didn’t realise all the support they had given,” she said.
Ms Doherty is a close friend of producer Carmel Jennings who, with her husband Ross, is planning a TV mini-series on Mother Aubert (NZ Catholic, July 3).
Ms Doherty thinks Suzanne Aubert is pushing her along to do something about the graves.
“It was the Outhwaites who helped Suzanne Aubert in life and now, through Suzanne Aubert’s story, she is helping them.”