Sisters of the Past

Sister Paula Brettkelly (formerly Sr de Porres)

Profiled in September 2008 

3 February 1944 31 August 2008

paula-brettkelly.jpgPaula Brettkelly was born in Manchester United Kingdom, to Arthur and Agnes, nee Hanbury.  She was the third child in the family preceded by Mary, Arthur, Christopher, and then Leo and Gabrielle Anne.  The family lived in Bahrain for 3½ years while she was young, and then moved to the South Island of New Zealand.  The children attended local boarding schools, and Paula became a student at Teschmakers, where she was taught by the Dominican Sisters. Later the family moved to Wellington. 

Paula entered the Sisters of St Joseph on 19 March 1961 and was professed on 23 January 1964, taking the name of Sister de Porres. She reverted to her Baptismal name in 1974.  She studied and trained as a teacher and began her ministry, teaching in various Josephite Primary Schools in the Wellington and Auckland dioceses. 
After 18 years in school teaching Paula was asked to be part of the CCD effort in the parishes of the Hawkes Bay. The Team worked at empowering parents and adult volunteers to find new and relevant ways to teach the Gospel, running Youth Camps, forming Social Justice groups and discerning ways to adapt traditional convent lifestyle to meet emerging apostolic needs.

In the 80’s Paula moved on to Adult Formation as part of the NZ Renewal team. From her work and discernment with Renew leaders came the challenge to mission beyond the institutional church to be with the Christ of the Secular city.
Paula then made the shift into what would become her major focus for the next 20 years. She had read something about HIV Aids in a magazine and had been so moved by it, that she offered her skills as an adult facilitator and educator to the Aids Foundation. Quite quickly, the work of education expanded into issues of human rights and advocacy.  This became her love and her passion: fighting discrimination and stigma faced by those with HIV and Aids, standing alongside them as they lived  - and as they died; advocating for the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform Act and the 1993 Human Rights Act; joining with other sisters in presenting submissions to Parliament on the Foreshore and Seabed Act, the Charities Bill and the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Amendment Bill.   Paula was also involved with Te Mana o Waitangi formed by the Human Rights Commission to facilitate discussion throughout the country about Treaty issues.  
Paula was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM)  in 2007 for her work for human rights.

For many years Paula was the Whanganui Josephite representative on the combined Australia New Zealand Josephite Justice Network meetings; she kept Sisters informed of the work of the Josephite NGO reps at the United Nations; and she coordinated consciousness-raising newsletters to communities about reducing third world debt, making poverty history and environmental issues.

Another great gift of hers was for networking.  For a couple of years she took time away from her beloved Pukerua Bay to get the Mt. St. Joseph Conference Centre in Whanganui up and running, using this skill to great advantage.  She then moved back to Pukerua Bay near Wellington.

Paula had many loves: she was lover of good books, art history and concert FM. She enjoyed movies with heart, UK TV, Monk; and the occasional Scotch whiskey. She relished the time to pray, Eucharist and profound conversations. She loved to walk her neighbour’s dog, and feed the little stray cat.  She got great satisfaction from creating a soup made largely from her own vegetable garden; and her colourful wardrobe was a great credit to the second handing clothing trade.  In a word, Paula loved her life. She was profoundly grateful for every big and small service that was done for her in her last months, and as her strength ebbed and she could do no longer do her favorite things, she very gently detached from all that had been significant to her and welcomed and embraced her death.

She left her loved home in Pukerua bay to come to Nazareth, Whanganui in April 2008, and as she became more frail there were stays in Hospice and then the Aubert Home of Compassion where she died peacefully on 31 August 2008.
Her Vigil was held at Mt St Joseph on 2 September 2008, and on 3 September 2008, Paula’s funeral took place at St Mary’s Church Whanganui.  Both gatherings were joyful celebrations of her life, and a wonderful tribute to the great love she had shown and been shown by her four ‘families’ in life her blood family, her Josephite family, her Gay family, and her Friends family. 

Sister Catherine Shelton concluded her eulogy with the following words:
“Paula, we shall miss you, our sister and our friend; we shall miss your big laugh, your big insights and your even bigger heart.
E te tuahine hoa, Paula, takoto, takoto, takoto, i runga i te Ariki nui.
May you live for ever, Paula, in the eternal love and life of your Godde.

We thank our God/de for you.”

Gallery / Whakaahua

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