SUZANNE AUBERT IS BORNMarie Henriette Suzanne Aubert is born on 19 June 1835 in St-Symphorien-de-Lay near Lyon in France. In many ways, her early childhood experiences shape her later mission.
ACCEPTING THE CALLIn 1859 Bishop Pompallier visits his home town of Lyon to recruit missionaries for his Auckland diocese. Suzanne accepts his invitation, encouraged and advised by two Marist priests, Father Yardin and Father Poupinel.
FROM FRANCE TO NEW ZEALANDSuzanne sets sail for NZ on 4 September 1860 on a whaling ship unsuitable for passengers – and on a voyage that would test her courage. On the morning of 19 December, they have their first glimpse of New Zealand, celebrating Christmas Day above Cook Strait. Suzanne, the 22 other missionaries onboard and Bishop Pompallier joyfully land at Auckland on 30 December. The awaiting crowds are equally as joyful to greet their Bishop. A Māori hand is the first held out to Suzanne on that beautiful day.
HAWKE’S BAY BOUNDBishop Pompallier dies in Paris in 1871, his diocese in total financial collapse. Thomas Croke, the new Bishop of Auckland opposes Suzanne’s work so, in 1871, she leaves Auckland to revive the Catholic Māori mission at the Marist mission station at Meanee in Hawke’s Bay.
MISSION REVIVALSuzanne pins her hopes of a revival of the Māori mission on Bishop Redwood who is appointed as Bishop of Wellington in 1874. In 1879 Father Soulas arrives from France and familiarises himself with Māori families in Hawke’s Bay and constructs a new church at Pakipaki.
HAWKE'S BAY, JERUSALEM!In 1882 Māori from the Whanganui River area ask Bishop Redwood for a priest. The following year Suzanne, Father Soulas and two Sisters go to Hiruharama – Jerusalem – to revive the Catholic mission. Suzanne is appointed to set up and lead a branch of the Marist Third Order Regular of Mary.
BUILDING THE FOUNDATIONSIn 1885, the Sisters help dig the foundations of a new church and Father Soulas sets the first pile in place. The local people join forces with a Wanganui building firm for its construction and, on Christmas Day, Bishop Redwood blesses St Joseph’s Church.
SUZANNE ON TOURThree years after its completion, St Joseph’s Church is burnt down and Suzanne and Sister Magdalen set off on a nationwide year-long collection tour to raise money to replace the church. They raise £1000... enough for a convent as well.
THE DAUGHTERS ARE ESTABLISHEDWith the Society of Mary in France unhappy with the direction of the Hiruharama community, Archbishop Redwood intervenes and, on 14 October 1892, appoints Suzanne as Mother Superior of the newly established Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion.
TAKING TO THE WELLINGTON STREETSIn 1899 Hiruharama is deemed too isolated for a children’s home and Suzanne and two Sisters arrive unannounced in Wellington. They immediately begin their work with the suffering and destitute of the city planning a home for disabled people and setting up a soup kitchen and crèche for children of working parents.
THE HOME OF COMPASSION OPENSLand is bought in Wellington’s Island Bay for a new children’s home and a fundraising committee is formed. In 1907 the Home of Compassion is opened, initially for the care of children and babies.
SUZANNE HEADS TO ROMEIn 1913 a report claims that the Sisters’ capacities are overstretched so Suzanne – at 78-years-old – travels to Rome to present her case to the Pope. More than four years later, Pope Benedict grants the Decree of Praise to the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion.
BUILDING A FUTUREA frail, but triumphant Suzanne returns to Wellington in early 1920. Back at the helm, she continues her work, organising the construction of a surgical section to the Home. The Sisters start training in general nursing.
SUZANNE DIES, NEW ZEALAND MOURNSOn 1 October 1926 at the age of 91, Suzanne Aubert dies surrounded by her Sisters. Crowds gather in the streets for her funeral and the church overflows. Condolences and tributes pour in from around the world.