How does a large 12m coach bus full of 60s Up members navigate the hills of Wellington? The answer – not very well at all. Our driver Peter did his very best to drop his passengers at the Home of Compassion Visitors Centre, but was foiled by tight corners, narrow Wellington roads, and residents cars parked just where the driver wanted to turn. But never mind, a little hill climbing never hurt anyone who had two good legs, and the Visitors Centre provided a couple of cars to ferry the less able up the hill.
Our outing was to the Visitors Centre which told of the life of Suzanne Aubert, a Frenchwoman who travelled to New Zealand and founded the Home of Compassion on this site. But first we were welcomed to the Visitors Centre with delicious cheese scones and a hot drink, and Sister Josephine told us a little about Suzanne Aubert, (known as Mother Aubert), the exhibition centre which details her life of compassion to those in need, and the plans to have her declared a Saint.
While still in France she had learnt chemistry and botany from a relative. When she arrived in New Zealand she used this knowledge to make herbals remedies for healing. She eventually won the respect of the Maori people, who shared their own knowledge with her. She worked with the Maori people, starting a home for orphans and the under-privileged in Jerusalem, on the Wanganui River in 1885. She set about writing a Maori/English phrasebook to help the settlers coming to the country.
Moving back to Wellington in 1899, Mother Aubert and her fellow nuns saw a need for a soup kitchen, which is still operating to this day. They established one to help hungry workingmen hold down jobs. Following this, Sisters of Compassion communities were founded in Auckland and Wellington. Mother Aubert died in 1926 at the age of 91, spending her whole life helping anyone in need. Many businesses and the Courts closed down for her funeral, indicating how respected and influential she was in Wellington society.
In the 1980s processes began for her canonisation as a saint. Jessie Munro wrote a biography of her life and the investigation of three recorded miracles began. Her writings were looked at in detail from both a historical and theological perspective. In 1997 the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference readily agreed to support the first part of the formal process, called the “Introduction of the Cause of Suzanne Aubert".
We looked through the adjacent chapel, a lovely restful building looking out over the gardens and hillside.
Then it was time to walk back down to hill to board the coach, and the staff at the Centre kindly helped out again providing transport for some of the ladies who couldn’t manage the walk. We ignored the Wrong Way sign, hoping we didn’t meet traffic driving up the hill.
Robin’s help was needed to guide the driver to back a little way down the road and ensure he missed the car parked close behind. He then waved his arms around, just like a traffic officer, stopping the traffic while the bus manoeuvred around the tight corner so that we could be on our way again. Our return trip took us around the coast before we headed north to Petone.
Our group enjoyed lunch at the Petone Working Mens Club – always good value there. Fully fed and watered, we climbed aboard again for the return trip to Levin. After our hill climbing exercise, many nodded off on the drive home. It was a very interesting trip, as always.