by PETER GRACE
HIRUHARAMA — A New Zealand film released on August 23 focuses on three Sisters of Compassion and the local community at Jerusalem (Hiruharama) on the Whanganui River.
How Far is Heaven? was filmed over 12 months during 2010-2011.
Hiruharama is on a back road almost 70 kilometres out of Wanganui. Mother Suzanne Aubert, the founder of the Sisters of Compassion, established her order in Jerusalem in 1892.
During the filming, the religious living in Jerusalem were Sr Anna Maria Shortall (94, and a resident for 22 years), Sr Sue Cosgrove (who had lived in Jerusalem for 10 years) and Sr Margaret Mary Murphy (the newest arrival to Jerusalem at one year).

The three sisters who were at Jerusalem when the film was made: Anna Maria Shortall, Sue Cosgrove and Margaret Mary Murphy.

Sr Sue told NZ Catholic that the film-makers, Miriam Smith and Christopher Pryor from Auckland, took a lot of care.
“They didn’t intrude in any way . . . they talked at length with the parents. Nobody was filmed without consent. . . . I think they did a really good job. It’s as we are,” she said.
On the other hand, though, when she saw the rough cut she was distressed with the language. However, some was cut out in editing.
The film focuses on the three sisters and the children of the community. Asked where the parents were, Sr Sue said they were there. There is not a child who is not greatly loved, she said.
“I think what [the film-makers] thought was when you get too many characters together, it just takes away from the whole.”
Children are very much involved in everything, although some are not strong in reading or writing: “There’s not a child there who can’t survive in the bush for a week,” she said.
They were coming down to Wellington on August 11 for a preview, she said. “The kids will have beautiful new clothes . . . and there’s always a great sense of occasion. They are a sense-of-occasion people.”
Every child is eventually baptised Catholic.
Because of Sr Anna Maria’s age and a reshuffling of roles, none of those three sisters are now in Jerusalem. Sr Sue moved to Wellington in June last year, because she had become part of the order’s leadership team.
When she made the move, the Jerusalem community accompanied her, and it was an amazing experience.
In the film, one of the Maori men talks in a simple but profound way about the meaning of tangata whenua. He also acknowledges that the Sisters of Compassion, because of their history in the community, have that kind of belonging in the place.
Sr Sue said that in the community in Wellington they have a picture of Suzanne Aubert in Jerusalem holding a child.
“I do find myself thinking, ‘Well, that’s home, and that will always be home for me’,” she said.
Sr Sue said there are two Sisters of Compassion living in Jerusalem now.
• The Sisters of Compassion were originally the teachers and nurses to the Jerusalem community. The convent building was used as an orphanage and school.
The sisters also founded the school in Ranana (the transliteration of “London”), the next village down the road, where the Whanganui river school remains today.

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