Sisters of the Past

SISTER ALEXIS - Mary Connelly O'Kane

Profiled July 2011

25 March 1903  -  9 November 1970alexis_okane.jpg

Mary Connelly O’Kane was born to Hugh O’Kane and his wife Ellen Lavinia Annie, nee Jansen, on 25 March 1903.  Hugh was working as an engine driver in Dunedin.  Mary, known to the family as Connie, was the eldest of eight children.  There were three girls and one boy in the first family Connie, Nellie, Hughie and Margaret.  When her mother Ellen died, the family moved to the North Island where Hugh managed to get work.  Connie managed the housekeeping and her siblings, until her father came home to Pongaroa at the weekend.  They were living in Waipawa when Hugh married his second wife Susan in 1922.  The family moved back to Dunedin without Connie in 1928, and Des and Jim were born there.  Susan died there, and Hugh was remarried to Julia.  Two more children were born Con and Julie.  Hugh died in 1952.

Mary entered the Sisters of St Joseph community in Whanganui on 19 July 1922.    She was professed as Sister Alexis on 21 January 1924.  She became a primary school teacher and over the years taught in many of the Josephite Primary Schools in the central and lower North Island.  She had three separate appointments to Manaia, two to Otaki, and others to Waverley, Waipukurau, Waipawa and Feilding.  She was a talented musician and therefore taught music, and played the church organ wherever she was stationed.

Alexis was a very capable and gifted woman, and seemed to be able to turn her hands to anything.  She was a local Superior at Manaia in 1951, and in 1953, she was elected Congregational Bursar.  She was re-elected to that position for the following 17 years.  Many are the tales of her kindness, her generosity and her ingenuity!  She could leave the meticulous care of her accounts to don apron and mend a tap or a jammed window.  She was very creative, into art, and she devised a way of making beautiful vestments for the Chapel which were double-sided and could be worn as either of two colours.  Though physically a small woman she had incredible energy and purpose in all her activities.

While in Otaki in 1939, Sister Alexis, with the children, made a model of the ‘Calvary Hill’ there for display at the Wellington Exhibition.  The model is in a glass case in the porch of Hine Nui o te Ao Katoa on the Marae at Pukekaraka.

During her time at Sacred Heart as bursar, there was a fire in her room.  While awaiting the fire brigade the Sisters formed a chain and passed the buckets of water along the cause was found to have been a faulty electric blanket.

Sister Alexis died at Sacred Heart on 9 November 1970.  Her Requiem Mass was celebrated at Sacred Heart Chapel and she was buried at Aramoho Lawn Cemetery.

Gallery / Whakaahua

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