When St Peter’s Hostel put out an appeal for workers, Pauline Hickey answered the call and initially worked weekends in the kitchen.
She had all the right experience. She was one of eight children and she and her five sisters had to help their mother with sewing and cooking. Pauline showed an early aptitude for cooking so was usually called on to help with preparing the meals. Her father didn’t encourage academic careers for girls, so after her school days at St Theresa’s and St Catherine’s in Invercargill, she went to work for a caterer, while still helping out at home.
Pauline's story continues below.
She had always known about the proposed Catholic boys’ school in Southland from the half crown collection every Sunday at church. This was to be the money that enabled the building of St Peter’s College.
By the time that Pauline married Jack Hickey from Waikaia and moved to Gore and had a family of her own, St Peter’s became a reality, but adequate staffing was always an issue. As a member of the Catholic Women’s League, she knew of the need for staff and when she went to work in the Hostel kitchen, she found Fr Buckner very sensible and fair to work for and with a good sense of humour, once you got to know him.
As cook, she placed the emphasis on ‘home cooking’ – wholesome and tasty food, and followed the Catholic tradition of fish on Fridays (with chips). One Sunday at mass, it was announced that the Vatican had relaxed this rule, so on the next Friday, Pauline served the boarders wiener schnitzel with chips, which went down very well. Afterwards however, she was summoned before Fr Buckner, who informed her that a parent had complained about the serving of meat on a Friday and it was only after checking with the priest about the new directive that she was vindicated.
Food for the Hostel usually came from wholesale caterers in Invercargill, but meat was sourced locally in Gore. When the Hostel first opened, numbers were small and the atmosphere homely under Br Willett. Over time the numbers grew to around 140 boarders and she remembers some of the ‘littlies’ being very homesick. She often had a couple of them to help in the kitchen and found that this was good for them and cheered them up. At her home in Lock Street, she seemed to have a 24 hour ‘toast kitchen’ where boarders would turn up at any time to hang out with her own children.
The Hostel kitchen was her pride and joy, being ‘beautiful and well equipped’. It had a steam oven and Fr Buckner was constantly amazed that she could consistently produce eggs from a steam oven that were boiled to perfection.
Pauline worked at SPC over a period of 20 years and during that time there were many changes. A boarder came from Hong Kong – the first to do so and caused something of a sensation wearing a Walkman and headphones (such things were new to Gore). When he returned after the holidays, he had to bring supplies of them for the others.
In the early days, the main meal for boarders was at lunchtime. When this was moved to the evenings and children made their own packed lunches, it caused a reduction in staffing levels and some job losses.
As well as working at the school, Pauline also found time to serve a term as Chair of the Fair Committee around the time of Brother Ted’s death and remembers with pride that they made $20,000 which seemed a fitting tribute to him. By the 1990s after her long career at the Hostel, she left to take on a childcare role.
Her own five children were all pupils at SPC and enjoyed the sporting opportunities offered. Her family have retained strong links with the school, but she remembers the night before the official opening of the new chapel, two of them were practising their golf strokes on the school field and one particularly strong stroke narrowly missed smashing one of the new chapel windows.