by PAT HICKEY

Many fond memories were shared and many remarkable achievements were noted at the 150th anniversary celebrations of St Joseph’s Māori Girl’s College at Taradale. Hundreds of old girls and friends of the college gathered from October 6-8 to celebrate the foundation of the school by the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions in 1867.

St Joseph’s Māori Girls’ College (then named The Providence) was one of the first schools established by the sisters. The school was originally petitioned by Māori Missioner Fr Reignier whose commitment to the education of Māori children was such that he is recorded as riding for days on horse-back to pick up children to be educated at the Catholic school.

In 1995 the ownership of the school was handed over in trust to iwi Māori with the establishment of a Trust Board. Two sisters remain living on the school grounds to maintain the connection with the founding order.

At the 150th anniversary celebrations, a highlight for many old girls was meeting up with former classmates they had not seen for many years — but the focus of the celebrations was on the contribution of the sisters and the successes of the college for a century and a half.

Several kaumata spoke at the powhiri of how Mother Euphrasie Barbier sent her sisters to the other side of the world to give Māori girls a spiritual basis and skills to cope with a different culture. She insisted they be taught to continue to speak their own language and retain their cultural ways. Others congratulated the college for being a powerhouse of Māori traditions and culture. Reference was made to illustrious old girls with Dame Whina Cooper being one of the best known. Te Ururoa Flavell concluded the powhiri with a rousing speech in praise of the college.

A programme of events included a special exhibition of historical college memorabilia in the library. A packed gymnasium heard Malcolm Mulholland give an amusing review of his history of the college, which will be published before Christmas.

Six hundred and eighty sat down to the anniversary dinner at the Pettigrew Arena. The college choir opened the occasion and a brilliant Master of Ceremonies ran a fast-moving programme in which he challenged old girls from the different decades to come onto the stage and perform action songs. The enthusiasm of the performers trying to outdo each other made for a hilarious evening.

The Sunday Mass in the gymnasium was celebrated by Bishop Charles Drennan who first welcomed the Mission Sisters from Rome, Paris and India who had come to emphasise the international support of the order for St Joseph’s. The 40-strong choir of senior students sang at the Mass and their twirling of the short poi was a first for many of the Pakeha present. A framed message and blessing from Pope Francis occupied an honoured place on the altar.

There was great support from the old girls to commemorate the jubilee by agreeing to give one dollar a month each to fund extensions to the college.

Nearly all the celebrations were in Te Reo Māori, proving to any sceptics that Te Reo is a living language well capable of comfortably handling the needs of the modern times.

Overall, the star of the jubilee was Dame Georgina Kingi, principal of the college for the past 30 years. In the New Year’s Honours this year, she was made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori and education.

Dame Georgina became a student at St Joseph’s in 1960. In 1969 she became a teacher there and in 1987 she became principal. The celebrations this year
were a hands-on affair for Dame Georgina. She sang solo and in part singing with the choir, she gave speeches, she marshalled the crowd and directed the pupils — all with wit and humour, drawing gales of laughter from the old girls and reviving memories from their school days.

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