Dr Areti Metuamate, Chief Executive, Te Kupenga, Catholic Leadership Institute
There is something special about those who take up the call to religious life. I have much admiration and respect for people who dedicate their lives to God. For as long as I can remember I have known nuns as teachers, carers, and friends. Recently my wife Jessa and I spent a few weeks living amongst three Sisters of Mercy (Whaea Atawhai) while we waited for our furniture to arrive from Australia before we could move into our home on the Kāpiti Coast. Jessa was also heavily pregnant as awaited the birth of our son.
Sr Clare Vaughan kindly organised for us to stay in the Mercy Centre in Wellington on a floor with Sr Mary Agnes, Sr Philippa Dowling, and Sr Mary de Porres – three Sisters well into retirement age, who were very happy to have us. Given we did not know any of them we had no idea what to expect. We figured the last thing they needed was any disturbance from us. And we hoped baby did not arrive early because we did not think they would appreciate the sound of a screaming child on their floor.
We first met Sr Agnes. She was in our room when we arrived in the evening, sitting on a chair in the corner of the room, waiting to welcome us. There was a single bed in the room and a fold-out one too, but Sr Agnes said there was a much better mattress in another room down the hall and I was welcome to get that as she sadly couldn’t lift it – at 89 years of age, as I later learned, that was understandable. Sr Agnes made enquiries of Jessa and her pregnancy and made us feel very welcome. Standing before us was this diminutive, elderly figure, but with a sharp mind and big heart. We felt so at home with her.
Heading to work the next morning, I met Sr Philippa in the hallway. ‘Hello Sister, I’m Areti.’ ‘Hello! Yes, I figured that was you’, she responded promptly with a look in her eye as if to say, ‘Obviously. What other random man would be walking around in a nuns’ residence?’. ‘Thank you so much for having us stay, Sister’, I said. ‘It’s really good of us, isn’t it?’, was her reply with a cheeky smile. That was the first of many enjoyable conversations with this quick-witted nun with a dry sense of humour.
We met Sr de Porres last, and I was a bit nervous as I had heard she was a long-serving school principal who was known for being firm. Well, if she was firm at school, she was very warm and gentle with us. She came to our door when she realised we were in and welcomed us. It struck me, as I watched Sr de Porres speaking with Jessa – who was also a teacher – that she and the other two Sisters will have taught thousands of students over their long careers. I later learned that each of them had been in Mercy life for over 60 years.
There are many things I could write about our time living with the Sisters but one thing that sits with me is their commitment to prayer. Of course, one assumes nuns pray. But these nuns really pray, and they pray hard. In the small chapel next to our room someone would be there praying early in the morning, in the middle of the day, and even late at night. In one case I mentioned to one of them that my elderly nan was unwell, she said she would pray for her. The next day Jessa ran into two of them and they said they were praying for baby and for Jessa, for a healthy and happy birth.
Because I have a job with constant meetings, Zoom calls, and emails dominating my day, seeing the Sisters focus on prayer reminded me of the need to make time in my life to be still and silent for prayer. During the lockdown in recent weeks I have been able to do this more and I have the Sisters to thank for influencing me.
Now that we are settled in our home, with our two-month-old son Iluka, we have been reflecting on how blessed we were to spend time with the Sisters. Their generosity of spirit had a big impact on us, and they are also wonderful characters. One of them kept turning off the clothes drier when Jessa would put clothes in there on a perfectly sunny day – rather than hang them on the clothesline. I once saw Sr Phillipa inspecting the recycling bins downstairs – do not put garbage in the recycling bin. One afternoon we ran into her in the carpark and she noticed our car and joked she should have one like ours rather than have to drive around in a ‘poverty-mobile’. Sr de Porres is my email buddy and keeps in touch with us on behalf of the three of the Sisters, sharing baby photos with the other two and making observations about baby’s outfits. As people who grew up close to our grandparents/kaumatua, Jessa and I feel fortunate to have connected with these three special, giving, and prayerful women. I hope they know we are praying hard for them too.
E ngā wahine tapu, ngā Whaea Atawhai, tena koutou katoa. Kia tau te Rangimarie ki a koutou.