Mother Mary Kostka (lay name Kate
Roman Catholic Mother Superior, meeting
prejudice with mercy
first Catholic nuns were Dominicans. They
lived an 'enclosed' life in their central
city convent. Except when teaching school
they remained apart from the everyday world.
This made it difficult for them to meet
the social needs of Dunedin's growing Catholic
population. In 1897 a second group of nuns
arrived: the Mercy Sisters. These Irish
Sisters were what was called 'walking nuns'.
Their mission was to the poor and sick and
they travelled out from their convents to
do their work.
The Sisters were out visiting the sick
within days of arrival. Within weeks they
were running the South Dunedin Catholic
schools. St Vincents Orphanage was opened
soon after, a boys orphanage followed in
1920. The Sisters walked about the city
in pairs, becoming a familiar sight on the
streets of South Dunedin in their long black
habits. Kate Kirby - Mother Mary Kostka
- was their first Superior. She was an inspirational
leader, a woman of great personal holiness.
The Sisters lived a life of great austerity,
funding their work largely from the music
lessons they offered. In 1918 Mother Kostka
sent her Sisters out to nurse victims of
the Influenza Epidemic in their homes. Wards
were set up in the Sisters' schools as well
as a creche for the children of the sick.
These brave gestures did much to soften
the traditional prejudice of Dunedin Protestants
towards Catholic nuns.
(Photograph, Otago Settlers Museum Collection)
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