Her heart was inspired to follow the call to be a missionary, but she was only twelve years old at the time, having been born on 14 March, 1877. As soon as she could, she left home for Jerusalem-Hiruhārama on 9 October, 1893, aged 16. She began her Novitiate training in June the following year, and was given the name of Sister Mary Veronica.
Before leaving her mother on the West Coast, Margaret had often corresponded with Mother Aubert and her sister in Jerusalem-Hiruhārama . The following letter was written by Mother Aubert to Mrs. Hartnett and is dated 30 September, 1893, from Palmerston North:
Dear Mrs. Hartnett,
I am on my way to Wellington via Napier, and I hurriedly write this between two trains, so excuse me. I had to go sooner than I expected, and I thought of hurrying Margaret as I could meet her at Wellington at the arrival of the steamer.
I expect by the same opportunity Miss Charlotte Hinnegan from Maori Gully near Greymouth. The two dear girls could come together. I do not know when I could meet them afterwards, and that is the reason of my hurrying them on. I expect to leave Wellington by the morning train on the 14th October. If there was any appearance of delay I would telegraph you in a week or so.
Sisters Claver, Prisca and Dolores are well, and expect Margaret impatiently. Never mind about her examinations under the present circumstances. Give her my best love and accept the same for yourself and believe me, dear Mrs. Hartnett,
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Sister Mary Joseph Aubert.
The “two dear girls” never forgot their arrival at Jerusalem-Hiruhārama ! Margaret was less favourably impressed with the place than Charlotte. Her idea of a Convent was so different, that the actual place shocked her. The building had not long been in use. There was no Chapel or Oratory of any kind, because Father considered the Church was near enough! Anyway there wouldn’t have been much room as the place wasn’t enlarged until a couple of years later. The kitchen also served as a Community Room and Refectory. When prayers were said, it also served as an Oratory. The young woman looked in vain for pictures or other aids to devotion. There was a crucifix on the mantelpiece, and a very small statue of St. Joseph.
That first evening at Night Prayers, Margaret was really wondering where she had come to! Mother Aubert never needed extrinsic aids to devotion – the naked Cross was her delight. But young aspirants to the Religious life looked for ornaments as well. Those were the days of ‘sage and pennyroyal tea’ and little or no bread. There was a very fine baker’s oven built some years earlier. A hundredweight of flour was baked at one time in this, sometimes every five days, sometimes more often, as it was necessary when there were extra workers at the farm.
In Lent, the Sisters were served with two ounces in the evening – never enough for their appetites at other times! The bread was always carefully weighed. Father Soulas presided at the head of the table with the Community. As he was delicate, he was served with choice food, or especially cooked for him. When there were two priests, they had their meals in the parlour which became the dispensary and was for a time the Post Office.
Sister Veronica spent seven years at Jerusalem-Hiruhārama with Mother Aubert from 1893 – 1900, and as well as teaching in the school was the District Nurse for both Māori and European alike, and with great success.
When Mother Aubert went to Wellington, Sister Veronica continued in charge of the school at Jerusalem-Hiruhārama , and was there when it was first inspected by a Government Inspector in June, 1918. Previously, in November, 1915, she had been appointed General Treasurer, but as her presence was required at Jerusalem-Hiruhārama where there was no one to replace her, she was unable to carry out the duties of her office.
In 1900, Sister Veronica was transferred to Buckle Street where she spent the next seven years, all under the Superiorship of Mother Aubert. Then, at the end of 1909 or at the beginning of 1910, she returned to Jerusalem-Hiruhārama where she was stationed for the next thirty years. In 1942, she was transferred to Buckle Street, and at the 1945 General Chapter was elected Superior General in succession to Mother M. Cecilia, and remained in Office until 23 April, 1951.
A companion of the River days, Sister M. Isidore became her First Assistant, and they led the Congregation for the next six years. Sister Veronica kept many of the letters written to her by Mother Aubert, and these can be read in another booklet.
In June, 1953, Mother Veronica suffered from what they thought was heart trouble, but was eventually diagnosed as pernicious anaemia. Dr. Charles Burns and Dr. Elsie Gibbons treated her with the latest methods, but to no purpose. She gradually became weaker, but was perfectly content in the knowledge that she was dying. She enjoyed a joke right up to the end. Father Denis Scully SM was with her to give her the Last Absolution, and two Sisters took turns to stay watch with her day and night. On 15 October, 1953, Sister died gently without a struggle. Father Wall, the Māori Missioner, came just at that moment, and he also said prayers and gave the Last Absolution again.
In spite of short notice, a large group of Māori people from the Whanganui River, Otaki and elsewhere, came for the funeral. Rure Menehere Keremeneta had come from Jerusalem-Hiruhārama ten days before, and had spent most of the time saying the Rosary for Mother Veronica in the Chapel. He gave an eloquent Maori farewell to her at the graveside:
Farewell, to our loved Mother!
Go to Our Lady in Heaven!
Go to Our Lord, her Son, and to Our Father in Heaven!
Go to all the Sisters in Heaven.
A great woman on earth, working among the Māori,
For all your children and all denominations under the sun.
We are left here to mourn your loss.
We know you were a mother to all of us.
We greet all the priests and Sisters standing by the grave
To say the last farewell to you.
So, Haere ra, haere ra, to you our Mother.
Born Entered Professed Died Place of Death Place of Burial
14.03.1877 09.10.1893 08.09.1896 15.10.1953 Island Bay Karori Cemetery