Sisters of the Past

Sister Cyprian - Kathleen Howard

Profiled in July 2003

15 November 1905 –12 July 2003

 Cyprian was born Kathleen Lily Howard in Hastings in 1905. Her father was a farm manager at Poukawa, south of Hastings. He died suddenly, and her Irish born mother had to make a home for Lily and her younger sister, Eileen in Hastings. Times were very difficult financially, and her mother had to show great resilience, courage and commitment to hard work in order for the little family to survive.

These qualities were abundantly present in Cyprian’s life also. She attended Sacred Heart College in Wanganui and wanted to enter religious life straight from school. However her mother requested that she test her vocation by working for some time in Roaches Department Store. It was not until she was 20 that she finally entered and took on the life she was to be part of for 78 years. Her family understood that Cyprian intensely disliked dancing and socialising because she had fallen over the mezzanine floor at Roaches during a staff dance evening there. It seems Lily had seen that as yet another sign she was destined for the convent.

Cyprian was both a primary schoolteacher and a music teacher. The sisters at that time largely relied on the earnings of the music teachers to put food on the table for the community, but it must have been a very hectic life. The piano would be humming at lunchtimes and straight after school until vespers and the evening meal, and there would be no time for any leisure pursuits. Classes for the next day would be prepared in the evening. The weekends were taken up with visiting - Cyprian had always been a great visitor with a particular concern for those less fortunate – another learning from her own childhood.

Between 1925 and 1970 she was posted to many different areas of the Central North Island – Waverley and Patea, Waipawa, Levin, Fielding and Ohakune – sometimes revisiting places several times. In Ohakune and in Waverley she had close links with the Maori mission. There was close bond between Cyprian and her sister. Eileen always visited Cyprian each year no matter where she was.. Cyprian for her part was a talented letter writer and wrote as often as she was able.

In 1970 Cyprian took on a new role – that of general bursar to the administration team of the Sisters of St Joseph. Sisters remember that her door was always open and no request was too small for her to engage in. No person was unworthy of her time and full attention. She also supported the more vulnerable sisters in the community- helping them to achieve a variety of tasks.

Eight years later she was back at Levin, supposedly retired. However she became involved with the hospital, the Veteran’s home; the Vincent de Paul shop, visited shut-ins all over Levin and in 1990 (at 85) became the chaplain at the Horowhenua Hospital. Retirement and Cyprian did not go together at all! When she left Levin in 1992 for Nazareth Rest Home the parish priest wrote a whole page of tribute to her in the parish newsletter:

"sunshine or rain, Sister would be spotted visiting all over Levin, often on foot. She will be remembered by us all for her love of God, expressed well in her concern for the spiritual life of so many- the elderly, the shut-ins and the Catholics returning to God. She has been a great example of how to live in the later years of life. Always conscious of her religious vocation and the mission therein, Sister Cyprian covered a lot of territory! But her prayerful presence did more than all the actions together"

For her last 11 years Cyprian was a resident of Nazareth. Because she had been so very active it was difficult for her to accept the diminishment which came with her ageing. This painful struggle went on for some time but over the last six years her state of health was such that she was confined to her bed in a seemingly peaceful state of mind.

To return to those qualities imbued in her early childhood and built on by her community life – they seem to be:

  • a willingness to put herself out for the less fortunate and vulnerable;
  • a choice of unobtrusive tasks and an ability stick to them through thick and thin;
  • a single-mindedness about her commitment to God, shown in both prayer and action.

Cyprian was buried from St Mary’s Church, Wanganui on 15 July 03 after Mass celebrated with her family, sisters and friends.

Gallery / Whakaahua

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