It all started with a phone call from Reverend Mother asking if she could teach typing. Well, yes, she had studied typing for a year at school. “Good. And music?” She could read music and sing. “Splendid. Well, you’re to go and teach at St Peter’s College next week”.
For young Sister Stephen, teaching five year olds at Winton Primary School and studying for her teaching diploma extramurally at Massey University, this news was a thrilling prospect. St Peter’s was a new, young school, with great potential and looking back, Sister Josie says “We grew up together.”
Sr. Josie's story continues below
Southland born to a farming family at Tuatapere, but educated by the Mercy Sisters in Dunedin, she has always admired their work. When the time came to decide on her future path, she delayed enrolling in Otago University’s School of Physical Education and joined the sisters “for a fortnight” to sample the life, but then never left.
At St Peter’s she was a form teacher for forms 1 and 2 teaching mainly English, social studies, RE, typing, music and PE and Health.
It was PE that was her particular interest and over the years she has been involved in netball, swimming, lifesaving, gymnastics, cricket, softball, basketball and squash. When the teaching day was over, she would take team practice after school and then do extramural study for her degree in the evenings
Sister Stephen lived in the convent in Gore and loved the life there in both the convent and the school. She particularly enjoyed staff participation in sports, when staff teams would play against school netball or hockey teams. One year the staff performed as a “guest choir” in the Eisteddfod.
There were many social staff occasions too, including times when staff from Gore High School and Longford Intermediate were invited to functions at the College.
The day when she first swapped her habit for a tracksuit to teach PE was a memorable one. She remembers that the pupils were so stunned by the sight that they were particularly co-operative!
As well as organising PE displays, she was closely involved in the Form 1 and 2 folk dancing socials. This annual event was eagerly anticipated. Great effort was put into preparing, practicing and decorating. Parents were invited and joined in with the dancing.
Inter-school sports were encouraged and with lots of teams competing, it meant that everyone had a chance to join in, not just those who shone at games.
Sports and education trips were highlights in the school year. On one skating trip to Queenstown in a Jenkins bus, they came across another Jenkins bus that had broken down. The occupants all piled on to their bus and they turned out to be the Netherlands Women’s Hockey Team. The St Peter’s pupils regaled them with traditional NZ songs as they completed their journey.
Looking back, she recalls that there always seemed to be an atmosphere of energy about the place. There was a wonderful spirit in the school – among the staff, the students, their families and the wider community. It was a gift to have been in such a supportive environment in those early years and to have worked alongside and learnt from some very inspirational teachers.
After six year in post at SPC, Sister Stephen moved to Dunedin to complete her studies and taught part time at Moreau College, where she was also part of the hostel staff.
In the 1980s she spent a year in Australia and in the years that followed, her interests widened to include ecumenism, eco-feminism and social welfare.
From teaching, she moved on to working with those whose interests weren’t being met by society. As well as working as a sister in parishes in Invercargill and Dunedin, she has travelled widely, attending conferences and meetings as part of her work in the field of justice and women’s issues.
She has worked as a co-ordinator at the family court for nearly ten years and also as Presbyterian support in the role of co-ordinator at the Cameron Centre. Her interest in justice and equality led to involvement with the Women’s Movement, where she has taken part in many protests.
Nowadays, her main focus is with Restorative Justice Otago – a community service contracted to the Ministry of Justice, in which she helps to facilitate meetings between those who have caused harm and those who have been affected.
Throughout her life, she has worked for change and believes that as a woman of Mercy, her Mercy charism goes with her in whatever role she fulfils.