At Labour weekend, St John the Evangelist Catholic School in Otara, Auckland, celebrated its 50th jubilee with two very important guests: Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Mother Sisters Clara Beards and Kathleen Lynch, teachers from the first years of the school.

Sr Clara was a foundation teacher and former principal of the school.

“Bishop Reginald Delargey (and Fr John Mackey) were looking for sisters to start a school. And he knew the Rosminians who lived next door to us in England. The Rosminians said, ‘why don’t you ask the FMDM sisters?’,” Sr Clara recalled.

Sr Incarnation, Sr John Fisher, Sr Redemptoris and Sr Clara came to Wellington on a ship from London and took the train to Auckland. They arrived on January 31, 1966.

“There was no school. There was a hall which had been a barn and they had turned the barn into the first church,” Sr Clara said. The school was in the process of being built at the time.

“So there were four of us, one in each corner teaching. We had no papers, no pencils,” she said. Sr Kathleen joined the other sisters a couple of years later.

“I also remember [Sr Clara] explaining they took turns in talking. When it was Clara’s turn to talk, the other two teachers would be silent in the classes. And when she finished giving her talk, the next one would talk,” she said.

Both sisters left New Zealand in the late 1980’s and haven’t been back since. They said the school had grown leaps and bounds since those early days.

St John’s board chair Manuel Beazley said students from every decade since the school’s foundation joined in the celebration.

“The jubilee celebration was a joyful expression of what the school has become and gratitude to the intrepid forebears of the Otara Catholic community who worked tirelessly to build the school. But more than just bricks and mortar, the school is about people,” he said.

“The jubilee was a great occasion for old friendships to be renewed and new friendships to be formed,” he added.

Mr Beazley also explained that instruction of the students actually started in 1966 but the school was officially opened on April 2, 1967. This was why they celebrated the jubilee this year.

Sr Kathleen said the school’s spirit is amazing. “Having developed so much and yet, the spirit has grown with the actual size of the school. We had the most beautiful time, “she said.

Statue of the Virgin Mary

The sisters, though, missed the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary breastfeeding the Child Jesus. This statue is now at the Pompallier Diocesan Centre.

Sr Clara explained the statue was a replica of the one the sisters have at Ladywell Convent in Surrey. It was gifted to the nuns by then-Papatoetoe resident Barbara Empin in the 70’s.

“In those days, we didn’t get paid anything. But every week, we’d find a box of groceries on our doorsteps. We didn’t know where it came from. We found out later it was from Barbara Empin,” said Sr Clara. “And then, she told us she wanted to give us a very nice donation.”

The statue was carved from marble in Italy and was shipped to their convent in Otara. Sr Kathleen said the statue represented their charism, which is spiritual motherhood.

“The original intention of the lady who donated it was to place it in a public place where people could be inspired and maybe, attracted to follow the Lord through the Mother of God,” she explained. The statue, however, was brought to the diocesan centre in the late 1980’s for safekeeping. It was around the time the FMDM closed their mission in Otara.

Last month, the sisters visited the statue at the centre where they were assured the statue is being seen by visitors to the diocese.

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