On arriving at the Sisters of Compassion, Ilene had left behind a small tailoring business in Masterton, and brought with her three sewing machines, an iron, and a piano which she thought might be of use to the Home.
For many years Sister Benigna worked with the handicapped children in St. Raphael’s Ward. One day a woman was being shown over the Home and on arriving at the ward she saw Sister Benigna on her knees by a low bed, feeding a very deformed child. As the woman hurried outside she said: “Fancy kneeling to such a terrible looking child!” Sister Benigna heard her, and explained that she was ‘kneeling to the Christ’ she saw in that child. Sister will always be remembered for her quick wit and her love for children.
Another incident: Janey was a little girl who couldn’t lie down as her body was twisted from the waist down like a corkscrew. She used to scream: ‘Nig! Ole Nig!’ and Sister Benigna (Nig) would come and put her arms around Janey and give her a hug. That was all she wanted.
Betty was blind. The teaching sister was persuaded to take her to school but was warned that if she was lost she would probably be found on top of the toilet flush tank, playing with the water! Sure enough, Betty found her way to the school toilet. When the teacher complained Sister Benigna replied ‘Oh, yes, she likes water, and can’t see where it is!’
Sister Benigna’s sewing machines and skill in tailoring were a great boon to the Sisters in those days of serge habits which had to be made to precise regulations. Her work was perfect and she expected the best from her helpers as well. She once said that the difference between a seamstress and a dressmaker is like the difference between someone who says prayers, and someone who prays! Many hours were spent unpicking work that did not pass muster.
Stories are also told about her days at St. Anne’s Home, in Broken Hill. One early morning, while she was on night shift, she got a lift from the milkman to chase after an old lady who had wandered away from the Home.
Sister Benigna was a true comedian and would have the Sisters in fits of laughter at concerts and at Recreation as she was so hilarious! Everyone agreed that she was always a very contented person, thoroughly devoted to whatever task she was assigned, and ready to try her hand at anything.
Over the years Sister’s many nephews, nieces, grand nephews, and grand nieces have kept contact with her. In 1968, they had a reunion as there was a very fine family tree done which traced the Hunter family back to the time when they first came to New Zealand. Sister’s family were always very good to the Sisters of Compassion.
Sister Benigna kept herself occupied until a few months before her death. She was very peaceful, and responded many times to the prayers even when becoming very weak. Sister died on 18 January, 1986.
Born Entered Professed Died Place of Death Place of Burial
28.11.1902 26.03.1932 23.01.1935 18.01.1986 Island Bay Karori Cemetery