Sister Margaret Anne is confident the spirit of Suzanne Aubert will continue to keep an eye on the residents of the St Joseph’s Home of Compassion.

About 30 sisters from the Island Bay order last week gathered to formalise the handover of the Upper Hutt rest home to private provider Heritage Lifecare.

The home, known for taking in what were once called “incurables”, was forced into a change of hands late last year, due to a severe staff shortage.

Sister Margaret said the home had always been a special place and although saddened by the change of ownership, she was heartened by the new owners’ attitude.

“The spirit of Sister Aubert will live on.”

The order had a deep commitment to those it served, she said. It came form Sister Suzanne, who had a long history of helping the poor in Wellington, including setting up a soup kitchen in 1907, which still operates today.

A sister for 45 year, Sister Margaret Anne had been involved in the governance of the home since 1990.

Her path to joining the order was an unusual one. “I was a teacher and I was very interested in special needs education and I could not get any training.”

Visiting a special needs school in Carterton, run by a Catholic order, changed her life.

“The sisters were in their habits and the children were eating spaghetti, and it was total chaos.”

When the Sisters of Compassion offered to give her the training she wanted, Sister Margaret Anne had no hesitation in joining the order.

Being in an organisation with such a strong commitment to caring motivated her.

“It is in my lifeblood. [Sister Suzanne’s] essence, her spirituality becomes part of your life.”

These days the order struggles to attract young women but she said with so many more options that is not surprising.

“Today a woman can be a Prime Minister, women can do anything. Women today just have so many more options.”

After 53 years in the order, Sister Sue Cosgrove said she was still motivated by Suzanne Aubert and her desire to help the poor.

A registered nurse, she had spent many happy years at Silverstream.

“It was just the right thing for me to do.”

Heritage Lifecare chief executive Norah Barlow said it would have been a shame to see the home close.

“Losing this home and the vital aged care services it provides would have been a huge loss to the community.”

Lifecare had the resources to deal with the staff shortage that had threatened the future of the home.

When it became clear last year that the home had an uncertain future, the community rallied behind it and Barlow said that had impressed her.

“Now with the purchase, St Joseph’s will continue to serve the community. We will be working to ensure the kaupapa of the sisters continues.”

Home of Compassion chief executive Chris Gallavin​ said he was pleased that Lifecare agreed to keep the home open. It had an interesting history and it was clear it was an institution important to the people of Upper Hutt.

It was built in 1933 to deal with the overflow of “incurables” in St Joseph’s Home for Incurables in Buckle St, Wellington.

The order has 38 sisters with an average age in the 70s. The order is no longer recruiting but remains active and plans to significantly upgrade its soup kitchen and to keep honouring the commitment made by Sister Suzanne to the people of Wellington, he said.


Article and photos originally published by The Dominion Post, 07/03/2023