Her father was a manager in the mines, and with his family he settled at Granity on the West Coast. It was there that Kathleen received her education with the Sisters of Mercy, and where her faith and vocation to Religious life was nurtured.
On May 21 1922, Kathleen entered the Sisters of Compassion, and on beginning her Novitiate she received her religious name Sister Mary Melchior. She would have been instructed during her novitiate years by Mother Aubert. Sister Melchior was professed on 21 November 1924, and soon afterwards began her nursing training. She received her certificate in 1928.
In December 1932, Sister was transferred from Island Bay to Jerusalem-Hiruhārama and Ranana, where she was the District Nurse for the people on the Whanganui River. This was during the years before the Public Health Nurse was appointed. It was the custom in mission centres to always have a nurse who ran the dispensary, and attended to the sick in their own homes. The doctor was forty miles away in Wanganui City and transport was difficult. People depended on the sisters, and day and night there would be a knock at the dispensary door to go and see someone who was sick. They always brought a horse to take Sister to her destination, and to bring her back again.
With the increase in the school roll at Ranana, Sister was asked to teach the junior classes, as she was also a very talented teacher. During her stay up the river, Sister Melchior was Econome (Treasurer) until 1942. Later she combined this position with that of either Sister-in-Charge or Second-in-Charge.
Sister Melchior often used to speak about her family, and loved making connections which would join others into the family. She had a cousin in the St Joseph of Nazareth Sisters in Whanganui, Sister Enda, who had been Frances Brown, of Granity.
Mother Melchior was elected Superior General in 1957 and served the Congregation in this position for two terms until 1969. The position of Superior General enabled her to influence the direction of the Sisters of Compassion for twelve years. Mother meant a lot to people, making it her business to visit the relatives of the Sisters whenever she was in their area. She was a wonderful mimic, and a great story teller. Over the years she developed a love of the history of the Sisters of Compassion.
Mother Melchior was very mission minded. Bishop Rodgers drew her attention to some of the needs of the Pacific Island people. It was at his request that young women began to come to New Zealand from Tonga to work in the Homes of Compassion, some of whom entered Religious life and joined the Sisters of Compassion.
In 1960, two Sisters were sent to the Community in Fiji to establish a multi-racial school at Samabula; and in 1967 a community of Sisters was established in the far-west of New South Wales, Australia, to work with the Aboriginal people. This was to provide a pre-school, junior school, dispensary and home nursing service to the community.
During 1969, Mother Melchior was appointed Sister in Charge at Aubert Home in Whanganui. Six years later she was transferred to Silverstream where her continual interest in people filled her days. It was during her time there that she received the O.B.E. for services rendered to the Community.
Her health began to fail in 1984, and she was transferred to the Island Bay, St Anne’s Infirmary, where she continued to show great interest in those about her. Two weeks before her death, she had not been feeling well. On the Feast of Our Lady’s Birthday, 8 September 1987, Mother Melchior died in the presence of the Sisters.
The Māori people from the Whanganui River asked if she could be buried with their elders, an expression of their great respect for her. They spent the night in vigil at the Home, and throughout the night prayers and tributes were offered for Mother Melchior. Next day Māori had the privilege of carrying her coffin to the hearse, and were there at the Church to farewell her.
Born Entered Professed Died Place of Death Place of Burial
16.01.1900 21.05.1922 21.11.1924 08.09.1987 Island Bay Karori Cemetery