A document was received by the Sisters of St Joseph in Whanganui, New Zealand, and the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart in Sydney, Australia on 22 February 2013. Coming from the Vatican, the words brought into reality a journey which had started many years before for the Whanganui Sisters.

When the first four Sisters arrived in Whanganui in 1880 from Perthville in New South Wales, the difficult events of the previous years were very fresh in their minds. However, they held the founding charism of Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods close as they began their ministries in this new country. As the small group grew, this charism was nurtured and developed in all their works. The desire expressed by Julian that one day all would be united seemed an almost impossible dream at that stage.

Over the years there were occasional visits to the Sisters in Australia. The coming together of the five Diocesan Congregations as an Australia-New Zealand Federation in the 1960s, was a step on the journey.

Here in New Zealand, there was increasing collaboration of the Diocesan ‘Black Joes’ groups and the Central ‘Brown Joes’. When two of the Federation groups signified their intention to seek union with the Central group, the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, it provided the Whanganui group with the possibility. Already gatherings of the two New Zealand Congregations had been held – one in Whanganui in 2002 and another in Auckland in 2009 – the centenary of the death of Mary MacKillop. Leadership teams began to meet annually. There was a realisation that what was held in common was greater than what divided us. At an historic Chapter in 2012, the Whanganui Sisters decided to apply for Fusion with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

The term fusion relates to the creation of energy. How that happens is startling – the smashing of two atoms together to create a new element, in the same way that the stars create energy. In the process the two atoms lose a small amount of mass which is converted to a great deal of energy.

After 10 years, we can see that process as a metaphor for the fusion of the two Congregations. The beginnings of the ‘great burst of energy’ were evident at the celebration of Fusion in Whanganui in August 2013. But the resultant ‘small amount of loss’ has been no less real. The way that the Josephite charism has been lived out, across Australia and New Zealand, Ireland and Peru, has produced legacies that each group holds precious. For our New Zealand Congregation, the connections to place, to people, particularly Māori iwi (people) are unique – to be treasured and held.

Professor Morvin Simon at the Whanganui Celebration of Fusion in August 2013, spoke of Te Kiritahitanga – ‘being together in one skin’. Navigating a way to hold our differences and unique histories and cultures in love and in balance in our ministries may yet be the greatest ongoing gift of fusion.

Anne Burke rsj