Fr Lampila, a priest of the Society of Mary, first established the Catholic Māori Mission in Jerusalem or Hiruhārama in 1854 but this went into decline after the 1864 battle of Motua.
Suzanne Aubert visited Jerusalem with two Sisters of St Joseph of Nazareth at the invitation of the Māori people in 1883 hoping to rejuvenate the mission.
The land on which St Joseph’s Church and the old convent sit belongs to Māori families, the original church having been destroyed by fire in 1888. Suzanne Aubert travelled around New Zealand with another Sister collecting money to rebuild it, believing that as a Pākehā had burnt it down, a Pākehā should rebuild it.
It was in this small settlement of houses, clustered around the Patiarero Marae, that the Sisters of Compassion came into being, formerly recognised by the Catholic Church in 1892. The church was dedicated a year later.
The Sisters have been part of the local community ever since and are privileged to have the status of “tangata whenua”. While this basically refers to those who are “native to the area”, it is rich in its full meaning.