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

The Ursuline Sisters at work

page 330

The Ursuline Sisters at work

Sister Imelda, professionally trained in home science and talented in turning plain ingredients into something delicious, did the cooking and looked after the singing in the chapel.

Sister Augustyna was in charge of all the household cleaning and the convent garden, and sometimes exchanged work with Sister Imelda.

Sister Marcina, a quiet, serene person, had a great gift for dealing with very young children – she was very patient and spent many hours playing with them. As a result, they adored her and listened to her every word.

Sister Brennan, somewhat older than the rest of the Sisters, though her deportment was the best in the hostel, was a great organiser. She found a way of simplifying every task that needed doing. For example, to prevent too many dishes being broken, she allotted each girl her plates and cutlery, as well as a pigeon hole, and each girl washed her own dishes under a running tap – quick, hygienic and no arguments. She looked after the library and made sure the equipment, such as the radios and sewing machines, was in working order. She was a very intelligent and cultured person, and would even slip informative books into the room of one of the girls studying for her degree.

Sister Alexandrowicz was an incredible person and the girls were very lucky to have such a person for their "mother" at the hostel. She was strong in character, had unwavering faith in God, really loved people, especially children, and was an excellent administrator. What ordinary matron would sneak round the hostel in the small hours on the eve of St Nicholas' feast day to hang some lollies on each doorknob? A chapter at least would be needed to describe her. She was responsible for the entire hostel, did the accounts both for the hostel and the girls, ordered and paid for all the supplies, and looked after the spiritual welfare of her little band of Ursuline nuns.

She tried to treat each of her young charges as if she were her own child and bring her up accordingly. A formidable task, but her love and dedication produced wonderful results. Because she created such a caring atmosphere, some of the lucky girls, whose fathers came here after demobilisation from the Polish army, were unhappy to leave the hostel.

"The girls living in the hostel were very happy," says Romualda Waluszewska (Sokalska). "Sister Alexandrowicz was very kind and watched over us like a mother. She often reminded us that the hostel was our 'home'. During the weekend when the girls went out, she would wait until they all returned safely. At times we felt she cared and worried for us too much. It wasn't until we became mothers that we realised she was doing it for our own good."

Over the years, other Polish women helped with various tasks. Maria Sawicka, a nurse, looked after the hygiene of the younger girls and the minor page 331ailments of all. Jadwiga Michalik helped supervise homework, taught national dances and supervised the making of costumes for concerts. Sister Paula, a young Ursuline nun who came here temporarily, produced some Polish plays with the girls. She left in 1954.