It may have been the five year old Maori girl who asked “Can you tell me about God?” that convinced Pauline Gallagher that it was exactly what she wanted to do – teach children about God.

Brought up on the west coast at Greymouth, she had been a pupil at St Mary’s College, run by the Sisters of Mercy and as she couldn’t start teacher training college until she was eighteen she accepted the chance to go as a seventeen year old, for some work experience at the tiny school of Okarito in the south west.  There were only five pupils, including the little Maori girl.

In 1940s New Zealand there weren’t many career choices for girls – teaching, nursing and working in offices, banks and shops were the usual choices.  Pauline opted for teacher training in Dunedin and working as a lay teacher, relieving in a Catholic school, confirmed her calling and she joined the Mercy Sisters.

She began her working life as a qualified teacher, at St Patrick’s in Dunedin, before moving on to St Philomena’s College. But when the Mercy Superior issued a new appointment list in 1968, Sr Pauline’s name  was on it.  She was to travel south to a new education challenge in Gore.

A new Catholic boys’ school was being built there and staffed by the Rosminian Order, but in the years prior to 1969 little thought had been given to founding a co-ed school until the arrival in Gore of Fr Lance Hurdidge IC, who had been appointed by his Rosminian Superiors in England to be the first Headteacher.  In what was probably his first meeting with Bishop Kavanagh of Dunedin in1968, Fr Hurdidge asked him what provision he had made for the secondary education of the girls in the area.  The Bishop’s reply was a questioning look of surprise!  Fr Hurdidge had been acting for some years as Deputy Head at the well known, Rosminian St Gregory’s (co-ed) College in Huddersfield, England.  This experience had convinced him of the value of co-education and it didn’t take long to convince Bishop Kavanagh of the idea for Gore.  But there were difficulties!

By this time the St Peter’s building was almost completed, but without  the necessary provision for a mixed intake of pupils -  boys and girls.  Considerable thought and action had to be given to the need for changes to the buildings, especially toilet facilities, gym changing rooms, curriculum options and female teachers, to name just a few.

Bishop Kavanagh recognised the need for a Religious Order of Women to join the Rosminians in the administration and staffing of the new college.  Several were approached, but because the Sisters of Mercy had already been established in Gore and several other Southland primary schools, for many years, the decision was made to invite them to be involved in the new venture.

In 1968 three Sisters were appointed to be the foundation teachers: Sr M Stephanie Glen, Sr M. Fidelis (Zita Kean) and Sr Mary David (Pauline Gallagher).
Sister Pauline Gallagher in 2013

The founding teachers were determined that the charisms of both their orders should be integral to the life of the school and so Charity and Mercy and a sense of Christian community became fundamentals in the daily life of St Peter’s.  The staff worked well together and a strong spirit of Christian community soon became evident  among staff and  students..

Sr M. David still remembers Fr Hurdidge’s rather amusing response when she asked him how  he  saw her role as Senior Mistress.  He replied, “You are to be in charge of the girls in all things pertaining to girls as girls! “.

Finding that the girls tended to be overshadowed in the early days, by being outnumbered by the boys about two to one  - there was no boarding facilities for the girls until several years later-  Sr M. David set about raising their expectations  and academic self esteem.   With the arrival of Mrs Loyola Williams as a lay teacher of Home Science and Sr Stephanie teaching music, choir and drama, the curriculum for girls broadened.  The Sisters brought the idea of an annual Eisteddfod  with them from Dunedin  and a variety of talents were discovered.  Sr M. David  began debating sessions  and the Bishop’s Shield  competition in public speaking became well established.  Sr M. Fidelis’ skills and experience were responsible for the setting up of the College Library.  The Sisters also took an enthusiastic part in teaching  girls’ sports, despite being somewhat hampered by their long habits in the early days. Two different education systems had to be accommodated at St Peter’s.  The  Rosminians brought their ideas from England and these had to be integrated into theNew Zealand system, which tended to be  more competitive at that time. For example, Fr Hurdidge didn’t approve  of awarding  Dux Awards  or prizes for places in Class in those early years.   

Before the Integration of Catholic schools around 1975, finance was limited and couldn’t stretch to employing ancillary staff e.g. cleaners. So this had to be included in the teaching staff duties, especially of the Sisters, who often wondered what had inspired the architect  to choose white floor tiles for a boys' school corridor!

After six years of teaching in Gore, Sr M. David attended the Pastoral Institute in Melbourne to study for a diploma in Religious Education and while there, was elected Superior General of the Mercy Sisters.  This meant that at the end of her 8 year term of office, there was no return to St Peter’s but a move into spiritual guidance and pastoral counselling. This moved her to Auckland for about seven  years and even six months in Cyprus and Lebanon, working with ex-pat Missionaries  who were on the edge of burnout  through their time in Afghanistan and  the Middle East.

On her return to New Zealand, Sr M. David (now known as Sr Pauline Gallagher) spent time in spiritual guidance work in Wanaka, before retiring to Alexandra.

There she has been involved in a variety of Mercy ministries and spending time in quiet contemplation.  She enjoys maintaining links with old friends from St Peter’s.


Contact Details

Street Address: 121 Kakapo Street, Gore, Southland, New Zealand
Postal Address: P O Box 94, Gore 9740
Telephone: (03) 208 9060
Fax: (03) 208 0000

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