They had four daughters and a son. Mary and Dorothy were the older sisters, and Jean was born a year after Josephine. The sisters were always very close. Their only brother, Bertie, was just a baby when their father died in 1931, and Bertie died when he was only 27.
During the early 1920s, the Government gave returned soldiers small undeveloped farmland in the back country so the Caultons moved to Ohinepania near Te Puke. When their father died, the family moved to Whakatane, and later to Auckland as it was difficult for Josephine’s mother to find work; it was very hard bringing up five children on a War-Widow’s pension.
Josephine loved school, and learned how to read very early although she was not allowed to go to school until she had an operation to rectify the eye lashes of her right eye from growing inwards. She was taught by the Sisters of Mercy at the Sacred Heart Primary School in Ponsonby; in the 1930s it was next door to the St. Vincent’s Home of Compassion. In 1941 she was given a free place at St. Mary’s College where she spent four very happy years.
Josephine always had a great interest in war stories and knew every battle that was ever fought in both the First and Second World Wars. When the American Marines arrived in New Zealand, the Caultons welcomed one of them into their home during his time off duty. This lad later left for the Solomon Islands where he was killed in action at Gaudacanal.
After leaving College, Josephine wanted to train as a teacher, but preference was being given to Returned Servicemen and women, so she got a position at the Grey Lynn Public Library. It was during this time that she began thinking seriously about life as a Religious. She really wanted to be teacher, but did not feel drawn to any of the teaching Religious Orders. Somehow the spirit and work of the Sisters of Compassion attracted her, and she gave up her desire to be a teacher.
Josephine entered the Sisters of Compassion, Island By, Wellington on 22 August 1946. She was given the name Sister Mary Denis and was Professed on 15 September 1949. During her second year of Novitiate, Sister Denis began studying for her Teachers Certificate through the Correspondence School, graduating in 1954. She was an excellent teacher, and had a good rapport with both students and parents alike. Over the years, Sister taught in the Whanganui River schools, and at our school at Island Bay. Sister Denis was one of the first teachers at St. Agnes School, Samabula, Suva, and at our own school at Island Bay. Her dream of being a teacher was at last fulfilled.
In 1969, Sister Denis went once more to teach at Ranana, but at the end of the year the Jerusalem School was closed and the children had to travel to the Ranana School which was then taken over by the Education Department. This meant that the Sisters of Compassion no longer taught at Ranana and Jerusalem, the schools they had taught at for many years. Only two Sisters were left at Jerusalem-Hiruhārama, and the style of the apostolate changed. They now took over the catechetical work in all the River schools and in the Whanganui area, preparing children for their First Communion and running camps and Retreats at Jerusalem-Hiruhārama.
To broaden her knowledge, Sister Denis went to Hunters Hill, Sydney, in 1977, for theological studies. By this time her services were broadening to encompass adults as well as children. While stationed in Timaru she supported the Māori women and encouraged them to learn Te Reo, even accompanying them to the Polytechnic for classes. On her return to Wellington in 1988, Sister continued working with the Māori in the Wellington-Porirua area, also working as Catholic Chaplain at Arohata Women’s Prison.
By this time Sister had reverted to her baptismal name, and in 1991 was appointed Coordinator at St. Raphael’s Home of Compassion, Carterton. This was a stressful time as the children had been main-streamed and arrangements had to be made to place the Home of Compassion on the market. During this time she became very involved in Parish Pastoral Care Education and Liturgy, as well as helping children with reading disabilities. After the Home was sold, the Sisters remained in Carterton living in a smaller house while continuing their involvement with parish work. During 2002, Sister was transferred to the Island Bay Community. Jean Mooney, her last remaining sister, pre-deceased her and since that time Sister Josephine’s health slowly deteriorated.
After living a very full life, Sister Josephine died on 29 December 2010. She is remembered for her extreme generosity in giving time and help wherever she could.
Born Entered Professed Died Place of Death Place of Burial
02.12.1926 22.08.1946 15.09.1949 29.12.2010 Wellington Karori Cemetery