In 1928, Congregational Leader of the Whanganui Sisters of Saint Joseph, Sr Lucy Donovan with Sr Xavier Malone, attended the Eucharistic Congress in Sydney. The Apostolic Delegate urged them to consider unity with the Australian Diocesan Congregations.
Sr Aquin of Lochinvar in 1934, proposed union between the five Congregations of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, which would then obtain Papal Approbation for all diocesan groups. This proposal was not taken up.
In 1938, Archbishop O’Shea took to Rome a Memorial asking for approval of the New Zealand Congregation. Rome commended the Sisters on their spirit, but citing their low numbers and being only in one diocese, declined the petition.
The issue was raised again by Sr Enda Brown in the 1950s and supported by Archbishop McKeefry who further suggested amalgamation. Views were sought by Mother Vianney of Perthville of ‘some kind of Federation’. Informal meetings took place between the Congregations over the next few years.
The first foundation outside the Wellington Archdiocese was made in Auckland in 1961, and Papal Approbation was sought. Once again it was turned down with the recommendation that as a ‘smaller Congregation they consider seriously and take action on some form of association with the community from which their foundation came’. Sr Adrian Nesdale immediately wrote to the other four Congregations.
On 11 September 1965, representatives of the five diocesan Josephite Congregations met together in Sydney, and in 1967 the Sacred Congregation granted approval to The Australian-New Zealand Federation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.
Despite assurances that approbation would be granted with amalgamation, a further application was unsuccessful in 1967. Rome thought it necessary to have at least 250 Sisters for a viable Congregation.
At the 1981 Chapter, the leadership was asked to investigate the implications of becoming pontifical. This came from a shared recognition that much of the apostolic activity of the Congregation had been geographically controlled by Bishops. Documents were sent to Rome.
In 1984, Congregational Leader Sr Catherine Ryan was the delegate to the Union of Superiors General (UISG) in Rome, and Sr Barbara Cowan who had prepared the application, was to accompany her. A check with the Vatican before their trip found that there was no record of the documentation. Undeterred, Barbara prepared a second collection. While Catherine attended the UISG meeting, Barbara made sure the material got to the right people, also meeting Pope John Paul II briefly.
The Sisters of Saint Joseph of Nazareth were approved by the Sacred Congregation for Religious as a Congregation of Pontifical Right on 28 October 1985 – one hundred years after they had been confirmed as a Congregation of Diocesan Right by Francis Redwood SM, Bishop of Wellington, New Zealand.
On 2 January 1986, the Pro-Nuncio to New Zealand, Archbishop Magnoni celebrated Eucharist in Thanksgiving in the Sacred Heart Chapel in Whanganui.
The Sisters saw Approbation as recognition that the Congregation had stood the test of time, and now had greater freedom to grow in the strength and unity of charism, corporate mission, and shared responsibility for their life task.
Anne Burke rsj
Aotearoa New Zealand