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Centre of Attention - Feb 2003

Raising the profile of Mount Saint Joseph as a conference centre and providing relevant programmes for the community brought Sister Paula Brettkelly to Wanganui 15 months ago.

Her role at the Hillside Terrace residency is as much visionary as it is programme coordinator and networker.

Paula returned to Mt St Joseph where she was trained as a sister. After starting her career teaching around the North Island she spent the past 20 years in Wellington working on the social scene with groups like the Prostitutes Collective and the gay and lesbian community.

Mt St Joseph where Paula trained, first became the training centre for the Sisters of St Joseph in 1949 when it was bought from the Peat family. In the early 1970s when training shifted to Wellington, the house became a residence for a community of sisters. It stayed that way until 1981 when the sister’s official residence and what the sisters describe as the hearth place of the Sisters of St Joseph at Sacred Heart was pulled down due to earthquake regulations.

It was then that Mt St Joseph took the role as hearth place and was also dedicated as the administration centre.

Now assigned to taking care of the residence are six sisters. Sister Paula Brettkelly is the only sister who lives at Mt St Joseph.

She, assistant co-ordinator Jenny Jury, financial administrator Kitty Moore, and domestic care manager Pat Ditchfield are the ones who keep things ticking along.

Paula says Mt St Joseph acted as a conference centre and retreat as early as the 1980s, but it was in the early 90s it was officially dedicated to the role.

Paula brings with her as coordinator of the centre a vision. She has great networking and programme experience and an ability to promote what is on offer.

She explains her job has two parts. The first has been to build up relevant programmes for the community. And the other has been to encourage the house to be utilised by outside groups.

"Commercial use of the premises subsidises community-based courses. It needs to be viable as well as serving. The object is not to make money but neither to be a burden."

All the sisters agree that Mt St Joseph is a peaceful place perfect as a neutral space for mediation, negotiations, meetings or team building.

The community courses on offer cover spirituality, justice, environmental issues, and Paula describes what they do as both challenging and ground breaking.

news4.jpgStepping up their role in the community are the Sisters of St Joseph and staff who take care of the Mt St Joseph residence and conference centre. From left to right are Sister Therese Devon, Sister Yvonne Munro, Sister Mary McKenna, assistant coordinator Jenny Jury, financial administrator Kitty Moore, Sister Paula Brettkelly and Sister Helen Doyle. Missing from the photograph is Sister Frances Wallace.

Gallery / Whakaahua

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