Sisters of Today

Sister Colleen Woodcock

Profiled in June 2006 (updated April 2013)colleen_woodcock

I was born and raised in Taihape and feel very much a country girl at heart.

I was educated at St Joseph's Convent School in Taihape and at Sacred Heart College Whanganui, so the Sisters of St Joseph had an influential role in my formative years.

I entered the novitiate in 1962, the year Vatican 2 began. I often count myself lucky with the timing!

After Novitiate at Mt St Joseph, I taught for a term at Ohakune, and then for two years at The Rigi school in Northland, Wellington. I gained my Trained Teacher's Certificate but realized that teaching was not my vocation. I needed to find where I could use my natural gifts and talents. Nursing had originally been my intention so the Superiors of the time asked me to help Sr Benigna in the infirmary at Sacred Heart Convent, caring for our sick and senior sisters. This ministry suited me and I learned a lot from Sr Benigna's compassionate and earthy approach to life.

In 1969 I was given the opportunity to go the Mater Hospital in Auckland to do my Enrolled Nursing training. This was an experience of being an adult student, living with another Congregation, and consolidating with good theory, the practice I already had of caring for the sick. After graduation I came back to the Infirmary and continued as Infirmarian until the beginning of 1980. The last three years of this time I was also Local Superior in the community of over 30 Sisters at Sacred Heart Convent or the Mother House as it was then called. This was a challenging and often stressful time as I was very keen on implementing the renewal thrust of the Vatican Council, eg. personal responsibility and accountability, meaningful liturgy, warm relationships. I must have been a pain to the community at times!

From 1980-1983 I was a Pastoral Worker in East Coast Bays' parish, living at Mairangi Bay with Sisters who either taught in the parish school or were retired. These years working among families were enriching ones - my thinking and theology was constantly challenged and expanded by the opportunities of being part of people's everyday lives. Being a religious and a woman working in what had previously been exclusively a male/priestly domain, brought its challenges!

After renewal in Sydney in the mid-80's, I was part of a Women and Family community, and from 1988 -2003 lived in Onepoto, a state housing area in Northcote, on Auckland's North Shore. These were amazing years of change, growth and opportunity learning how to be a religious in the modern world.  A Community Development approach to our work, meant that we supported the local people to meet their goals, and in fact become redundant in the process. Being so close to family violence and poverty in so many forms, made me realize how rich we were as individuals and as a community. We had education, support, a home to live in, food on the table each day very different to many living in the locality around us. Fortunately, we were able to access resources for the people often from people and parishes that were well-off and who wanted to support our work and contribute to families in need.

During these years of working in the community, support and political action came about through combining with other community groups/organizations to challenge the policies of government and systems that were happy to “blame the victim” rather than look at what were the causes of the poverty, unemployment, ill health, etc. among a growing number of the population. Advocacy being a voice for the voiceless- was a demanding, yet rewarding role during these years.

During these years at Onepoto, our home was home to many of other Congregations, women needing support and others that were searching for a spirituality that was grounded in “the now”. Ecology challenged our living… much so that in 1995 I found myself living on my own after the two I were living with moved on to a land-based project in Wellsford. For the next few years I worked in Refugee Health and Mental Health Promotion work.

In 2004 I moved to Whanganui and became part of a community at Mt St Joseph - our Josephite “hearthplace”, Retreat and Conference Centre, and Administration Centre.     I enjoy my role in hospitality here where all visitors are most welcome.

During these years I have also been involved in pastoral care of our Sisters, a ministry that is very satisfying and enriching for me. 

Our Josephite vision “ Kī tonu te ao me te orokohanga a te tangata - Fulness of life for the earth and its peoples” continues to challenge me on my journey in life.


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