In its early days, St Peter’s College was staffed by the Rosminians and the Sisters of Mercy. Gradually over the years lay teachers replaced them and by 1990, Sister Sue France, the last of the Mercy Sisters to teach here, left the school.
Sister Sue worked at the school for three years and looks back at her time here with fondness. A Southlander by birth, she was one of ten children and three of her brothers were pupils here. Brought up in Ohai, she herself was taught by the Sisters of Mercy at St Patrick’s in Nightcaps, before going on to St Catherine’s in Invercargill. At the age of nineteen and feeling that she had a vocation, with the support of her family, she was able to join the order in Dunedin. At a prayer weekend at their convent in Gore, the sisters had greatly impressed her with their ordinariness, laughter and humanity.
By the time she came to Gore in 1987, she had gained her teaching diploma and worked for several years at Moreau College, teaching English, French, Social Studies and Religious Education.
St Peter’s was her first experience of a co-ed school, however the rest of the staff proved to be very supportive and wonderful to work with and she was quickly accepted as part of the school family. She soon noticed that the boys made the most noise and tended to dominate in the classroom and she had to adopt strategies to redress the balance in favour of the girls.
For Sister Sue, the highlights of working here were watching how the younger children developed in confidence as they progressed through the school and the joyful way that staff and pupils celebrated special occasions together. Amongst her colleagues there were individuals who stood out by displaying great compassion and understanding when dealing with others and at least one other who had a great sense of style and fun!
As well as teaching, Sister Sue also did Special Needs support sessions and this confirmed her desire to go on and train as a counsellor. Travelling to the USA she completed an MSc at Loyola College in Maryland where she was trained as a counsellor, with a special interest in working with victims and witnesses of crime.
On her return to New Zealand, she worked as a psychotherapist for Catholic Social Services in Dunedin, as well as doing a long distance commute to cover her private practice in Invercargill. More qualifications were to follow and returning to the USA she worked with veterans in a residential substance abuse treatment programme and then in a mental health facility. Having completed her PhD, Dr Sue returned to Dunedin in 2007 and took up her current post at the Mercy Hospital’s Marinoto Clinic.
With her gentle manner and air of authority, Dr Sue reckons that she has achieved a good balance in her life, dealing one to one with individual patients, but also dealing with the broader picture on the hospital board of directors and Tiaki Manatu o Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand Trust Board.
Over the years she has maintained her connections with St Peter’s and enjoys returning for functions and celebrations, reflecting that the staff have done a great job in keeping the special character of the school alive into the twenty first century.