I woke to a rather overcast and cool Monday morning, where was the sun? Today was my gardening day, my volunteering opportunity. Surely the sun should shine as I volunteer my somewhat minimal gardening skills to tidy up a small courtyard at Our Lady’s Home of Compassion. Ah well… I whipped up a big batch of yummy muffins and set off to Island Bay.

I was greeted by Sister Margaret Anne (same name as me – except for the Sister part!) who gratefully accepted my muffins and, after showing me a small archive room set up as Suzanne Aubert’s bedroom – with her original possessions- showed me to a tiny atrium garden almost in the centre of the main complex. It was protected on all sides and was visible from the Healing room – this small peaceful space was where I was to spend the day with Sister Margaret Anne toiling away, digging up some of a gardener’s worst nightmares – nasty little groundcover weeds that had taken control of every spare piece of earth. We both started on opposite sides and met in the middle some five hours later – having breaks for morning tea and lunch.

During the day I learnt heaps – not about gardening (although I increased my knowledge on this in a way too) but about the Sisters and about the Home of Compassion.

The Sisters of Compassion are the only religious order to have been founded in New Zealand; they started in Jerusalem on the banks of the Whanganui River in 1892 by Suzanne Aubert. The current buildings in Island Bay replaced the original convent and hospital about 15 years ago – in the last 5 years they have been redeveloped from a hospital to a place of retreat – with facilities for conferences and meetings and also simple accommodation which is often used by people who need a break or have come from out of town to spend time with a family member in hospital. The facilities are also the base for many groups including: the ADD support team, the Parent Centre, a Taoist Tai Chi group, an open garden group and, having established the first crèche in New Zealand, continues a long tradition of delivering childcare. All this is a far cry from the ‘foundling days – when there were babies by the basketful as young teenage mothers were often forced to give up their babies for adoption.’ The Sisters also run the soup kitchen in the city.

While there are not lots of ‘new’ Sisters coming through, they get a great deal of support from volunteers, both from within New Zealand and internationally – many seeking retreat in the beautiful surroundings. If you are interested in knowing more, want to be a volunteer or considering using the facilities for meetings then check out the website.

Volunteering – Home of Compassion, 5th September 2005

Written by Margaret Cassie, National Manger, Customer relations Unit ACC