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New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children


The hostel's proper name in the Catholic Archives in Hill Street, Wellington, is Catholic Polish Youth Hostel, but among the Polish people it was referred to as Bursa Męska or Polish Boys' Hostel.

Sister Monika (Maria) Alexandrowicz was an Ursuline nun who, together with Sister Imelda Tobolska, had shared the children's fate through Russia and Iran. She worked with those children for 14 years in New Zealand – first as a teacher at the camp and then as a manager of the Polish Boys' Hostel, followed by the Polish Girls' Hostel, before she was recalled to Poland. She describes those times very clearly in her memoirs Od Lubcza na Antypody (From Lubecz to the Antipodes):

"When the older boys were leaving the camp to go to Wellington, some to St Patrick's College, Wellington, and some to apprenticeships in carpentry, motor mechanics and other trades, the necessity arose for setting up a hostel for these boys. We were aided in this work by Father John Kavanagh, who was appointed by the Bishops' Curia to liaise between the Curia and the page 325Government. After negotiating all the conditions with the authorities, both Government and Church, Father John Kavanagh bought a two-storey house in Clyde Street, Island Bay, which was to accommodate 40 Polish boys, some of whom were already working and some attending school.

"On the adjacent section, there was a very little house which was allotted for our use, Sister Imelda's and mine. We managed also to set up a little chapel – a converted army hut – between the hostel and our house. So, on 26 August 1946, Sister Imelda and I moved into the Polish Boys' Hostel in Island Bay, Wellington, beginning a new phase of our work."