Elsie was the seventh in a family of ten children, eight girls and two boys. The family were Bohemian in origin, and had immigrated to New Zealand with other settlers to live at Puhoi in the 19th century.
Elsie worked for many years at the Mater Hospital in Auckland where her eldest sister, Sister Mary Camillus, was the Theatre Sister. She spent many years looking after sick clergy and others, and became well known to the priests because of her extreme kindness and devotedness. It was a surprise to all at the Mater Hospital when Elsie entered the Sisters of Compassion in 1942.
On being received into the Novitiate, Elsie was give her Religious name Sister James. At that time there was a large number of Novices, many of whom were almost half her age. Sister James was always patient and showed no displeasure when teased.
Sister James’ favourite hobby was making soft toys, mostly animals of all different shapes and sizes, especially rabbits. These toys were loved and cherished by her family. Today they are to be found in many faraway places. Others were given as presents, or sold at bazaars or fairs.
Before being one of the first Sisters to work at Castledare Boy’s Home, Cannington, Perth, Sister James cared for the disabled girls in St. Raphael’s’ Ward. Sister had a great rapport with children, working with them and in her quiet way winning their respect and affection.
When the Hungarian Sisters, who had been expelled from China, took over the work at the Castledare Boy’s Home, Sister James was transferred to Broken Hill, New South Wales, where she resided until 1968, the longest serving Sister at Broken Hill.
On her return to New Zealand, Sister James spent time at Island Bay, Buckle Street and Whanganui. Unfortunately, in 1973 Sister began to suffer from pain in her back which made walking difficult for her. But nothing stopped her sewing – and the amount of work she was able to finish was amazing – not only soft toys, but other articles suitable for raffles, bazaars and gifts. She used to also help peel the vegetables and fruit in the kitchen every afternoon.
There was a simplicity about Sister which drew others to her. Sister’s attributes of patience, courteousness, kindness and gentleness were a real example to all who lived with her. Her years of faithfulness to her Baptismal and Religious Vows, and her perseverance to the end were the legacies she left the Sisters of Compassion. One of Sister James’ sayings was ‘It’s not what you do that really counts, it is who you are in the eyes of the Lord that matters.’
Born Entered Professed Died Place of Death Place of Burial
23.12.1906 08.09.1942 19.03.1945 19.04.1995 Island Bay Karori Cemetery