Sisters of the Past

Sister Immaculata - Mary Gilbert

Profiled in March 2010


30 March 1911  -  7 April 1980

immaculata gilbert 2.jpgMary Gilbert was born in Kumara, a small town on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, on 30 March 1911.  She was one of eleven children and her parents were John and Bridget, nee Curtain.  Her uncle was a Marist priest, Fr Thomas Gilbert. Mary lived with an aunt in Taihape for some years and attended the local St Joseph’s School there.

Mary entered the Sisters of St Joseph in Whanganui on 13 April 1932, and when professed on 22 January 1935, she was known as Sister Immaculata.  Her ministry began as a primary school teacher and she taught first in Hastings in 1936, from there moving to many of the Congregation’s schools in country areas – from Hastings to Whanganui, Levin to Hawera. She was a fine musician and taught music also.  She spent some years at Sacred Heart in Whanganui in the 1940’s and in 1953 she moved back to Sacred Heart in Whanganui where she remained for the next 23 years. 

Immaculata became Boarders’ mistress at Sacred Heart, and she was greatly valued by staff and girls.  She had a special gift with young people, being able to relate to them and draw the best from them. In 1968 she moved with the senior boarders into Marian house, a neighbouring home purchased for this purpose.  In the nine years she was there, she was able to indulge her love of baking for them and for the Sisters.

Sister Immaculata’s talents also lay in leadership and administration.  In 1953 she was elected to be a member of the Sisters’ Council, and also appointed as superior of the Sacred Heart Community.  She was re-elected to the Council in 1956 and again served as Community Superior.  In 1959 she was once again chosen for the Council and in 1960 was elected Secretary-General.  Re-elections to the council continued in 1965 and 1971. 

Thus over half her religious life was spent on the Council, and twelve years as Assistant to the General.  In this time her gifts of wisdom, calmness and good humour were invaluable at the administrative level as well as in the communities she lived and worked in.   She was appreciated as a wise and steady member of the Council, and as a kindly and understanding help to Sisters and boarders alike.

Sisters’ memories of Immaculata inevitably mention her gentleness, approachability, and ability to give her attention completely to the person she was speaking with.    While fun-loving and vivacious, she had a presence and composure that was very ladylike.  She was a big, beautiful woman with a heart to match.  She had a wide range of interests, and among these were her skills at craft – bookbinding, sewing, and the making of soft toys.  She was an avid stamp-collector. 

In her later years, Immaculata moved to Hawera, leaving there after 4 years to return to Sacred Heart where she died on 7 April 1980.  Her Mass of Requiem was celebrated at Sacred Heart Convent Chapel and she was buried in Aramoho Cemetery. 

In his words of Sister spoken at her funeral, Fr Alex MacDonald SM said:
“In her there was no fuss, no exaggeration, no bid for attention – just the quiet, sincere work and attitude of one who had grown close to God.  For years she suffered from ill-health…yet there was never anything of complaint – just the slow steady calm progress through her Gethsemane to her ultimate union with God.”

Gallery / Whakaahua

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