Sisters of the Past

Sister Columba Margaret McWilliams

Profiled June 2013sr_columba

14 February 1859 29 May 1924

Derry in Ireland was the birthplace of Margaret McWilliams.  Her parents emigrated to Australia, then later to New Zealand, where Margaret entered the Sisters of St Joseph on 2 September 1885.  She was professed as Sister Columba on 11 April 1887.

Sister Columba taught in local schools and was active in the young Congregation.  She was chosen for many leadership roles - the first being as Bursar in 1899, and again in 1902.  In 1908 she was elected Mother General and was re-elected in 1911.  In 1914 she was chosen to be Mistress of Novices.

Sister Columba was well aware of the problems facing the burgeoning school population in the centre of the Whanganui, and was instrumental in the move into the large building ‘Hutchison’s Folly’ (renamed Villa Maria) in the middle of town.  This accommodated senior boarders and extra classroom space.

As time moved on it became evident that more space was needed and alternative locations were considered  until finally St John’s Hill was chosen for a new convent and school.
At that time the Sisters’ Constitutions did not permit them to own property.  However Archbishop Redwood ruled that the Mother House of the Congregation should be the property of the Sisters and authorized them to take the appropriate steps.

Mother Columba as she was then, had to find the money!  Being a woman of faith and courage she went ahead despite local people believing she was ‘going off into the wilds’.  St John’s Hill was then on the outskirts of town and streets mere dirt tracks. In her fund-raising, Mother Columba wrote to a benefactor Mr Sidney Johnson of Hawkes bay, asking for a donation.  His letter containing a very generous donation and an interest-free loan was wrongly addressed and did not reach Whanganui until a year later!  Sacred Heart’s foundation stone was laid on 11 May 1911, and the new Convent and School was blessed and opened in May 1912.

Mother Columba continued in her role as major superior until 1917 and then carried out various duties until her death on 29 May 1924.

She was buried in the Heads Road Cemetery, Whanganui.

Gallery / Whakaahua

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