According to an appreciation of her life written by Sister Philomena (Pat Crombie) in 1964, she had loved life dearly, and to amuse the Sisters she had told this story: The mother of one of the lads she used to go with warned her son: “Keep away from temptation and Annie Gough!”
Annie was 32 when she entered the Sisters of Compassion at Island Bay in 1908. Her companions in the Novitiate were Sisters Augustine, Josephine and Cecilia. They recalled that during their time together Annie, now Sister Lawrence, was a constant source of amusement to her companions and made many a recreation happy by her fun. They said: “If Sister Lawrence never did anything else for the Institute, she probably saved the vocations of many of her companions by her saving sense of humour.”
One time when she was starting the poultry farm, she wanted a cockerel, and with Sister Augustine as companion she set out for Berhampore where she hoped to beg one from people known to the Sisters. She saw a butcher’s cart going in that direction and asked the boy for a lift. They travelled in questionable style, perched high on the old-fashioned vehicle to their destination. Having successfully obtained the chook, they returned home triumphantly only to be deflated when met by the Novice Mistress who had somehow heard of the unseemly mode of transport.
Once when Mother Aubert came to the Novitiate to be with the novices, she was standing at the table, as was her practice, with a bundle of picture books. She was looking around the novices to see who would be a good one to choose to be a kindergarten teacher. She called Sister Lawrence to the table on the opposite side to herself, to give her a lesson on instructing children by means of pictures. The ones chosen were those of domestic animals.
Mother was very short, and Sister Lawrence was tall, and looked even taller standing opposite Mother with the picture books open between them. Mother began: “This is a cow.” Sister had to repeat: “This is a cow,” pointing to the animal in the picture. Next, pointing to a calf, Mother said: “This is the baby of the cow.” She, in her effort to restrain a smile, kept her face rigid without moving a muscle. The same thing went on about a horse, and “the baby of the horse.” But when Mother said: “This is a mice,” she was never known to say ‘mouse’, but always ‘mice’, it was almost too much for the gravity of the listeners. Then Mother went on: “This is the tail of the mice,” and Sister Lawrence – the greatest humourist in the community – repeated in a toneless voice, and with the same stolid countenance: “This is the tail of the mice!” the listening Sisters could not restrain their mirth. Fearful lest Mother should see them, some slid off their stools and crept out on all fours! Out one door and in the other, so that their absence would not be noted, and they could have their laugh in safety! Mother did not appear to notice anything unusual. There was another table with quantities of material that it was hoped would obscure her view. Sister Lawrence’s lesson went on for nearly half an hour. Towards the end of it, Mother observed quietly: “You may all laugh now, but your turn will come!” And of course, they all knew she had been fully aware of their mirth.
In the winter of 1915, there was a shortage of fuel in the Home. Severe storms had brought great quantities of driftwood to Island Bay and the nearby beaches. Sister Lawrence, then convalescing from a recent illness, was allowed to go down to the seaside with another sister whenever the weather permitted. They did not fail to see all this firewood going to waste, especially at Owhiro Bay and a little further on towards Makara at Fly Point. It was not easy access, but they managed to induce Sister Claver to let them have the farm man with his horse and cart to bring at least some of this wood home.
The result was that a cross-cut saw was requisitioned, and lunch provided, and parties of Sisters cut up the big logs small enough to be handled and loaded for home. Fortunately, or unfortunately, they overloaded the dray one day and it sank in the sand to the axle. There was no shifting it, so two Sisters came up and appealed to Mr. Tim Herlihy, a kind friend and neighbour. He immediately came to the rescue with his own team and carts. Not only did he assist in extricating the dray and its load, but he arranged to come every day to help in the cutting and carting of the wood. By this time, the attention of other neighbours was aroused. Mr Allan Orr, Secretary of the Carriers Union, got up a big working bee one Saturday, consisting of men and 22 lorries from the Colonial Carrying Company and other companies. Enough firewood was brought to the Home to last several years. Not only that, but residents of Island Bay under the leadership of Major Wells, came Saturday after Saturday until the whole lot was cut into convenient lengths. They would not allow the Sisters to do any more such work. News of this working bee was conveyed to Mother who was currently in Rome, and she wrote to Major Well herself, thanking him for his kindness.
Sister Lawrence spent most of her life at Buckle Street, and was in charge of the Soup Kitchen for over 15 years. It was here that her special gifts and talents were most apparent and put to the greatest use in the work she did for the men who came there. Many were good men but addicted to drink. She helped many and encouraged them to regain their self-respect and in many cases their return to their Faith. She helped by being strict. A glance through her prayer book shows the greater power she used – that of prayer. Their names were listed and recurred again and again as she had jotted them down as a reminder to herself. Prayer and sacrifice must have been the quiet but mighty means Sister had found and of which she made an apostolate.
She also visited the Ewart Hospital and was the means to the conversion and happy death of many an unfortunate man. She used to make little bookmarks to give to the Sisters to remind them to pray for the souls in Purgatory.
In 1929, she was sent to Taranaki and Whanganui to collect for the building of the Convent at Island Bay; she was away for two years.
Gradually her health began to deteriorate, and she returned to the Island Bay Infirmary in the 1960s. During the last weeks of her life she showed no preference for one food over another. “My word,” she would say, “what would Mother say if she heard that?” And if soap was left in the water, she would fumble for it: “Where shall I put this?” Another sign of Mother’s training.
Sister Lawrence had a deep humility and was quite unshaken by any attempt to praise her: “That just shows you don’t know me.” Her rosary beads were never far from her hands. It was quite wonderful to those who nursed her, how peaceful and clear in her mind Sister remained to the end, for she had shown at times a fear of losing her faculties. Each morning she made the effort to go to Mass in spite of failing strength and weariness. When Mother Melchior told Sister she did not think she had long to live, the answer was completely typical: “Well, I’m glad now I came, though I hated it like hell!”
She died very gently, and as hers was such a colourful personality her passing left a void that would not be easily filled.
Birth Entered Professed Died Place of Death Place of Burial
03.05.1876 15.09.1908 07.04.1911 27.06.1964 Wellington Karori Cemetery