“Be full of loving concern for another”
– Suzanne Aubert

The first years

The Sisters of Compassion, New Zealand’s only ‘home-grown’ order of Catholic sisters, was founded in 1892 by Suzanne Aubert who wanted to provide a way to reach out in practical love to those who are marginalised in our society and for all who seek help. Unable to bear the thought of anyone going hungry, she opened a soup kitchen.

In 1901, the Soup Kitchen was established at St Joseph’s Home for Incurables in Buckle St for the unemployed and casual labourers. Many men, now elderly and unable to work on farms or in the goldfields, were drifting back to the cities. They had no family support and were left impoverished. To meet the need, she opened a place where hot soup could be obtained morning and evening. No questions were asked. The men, at a given hour, would knock on the hatch, outside the kitchen, and it would be lifted, and they would be served a large pannikin (a metal drinking cup) of hot soup, usually with toast broken into it. From the very beginning, meals were provided twice a day, and this tradition continues 120 years later, where breakfast and dinner is served daily.


The pram

Suzanne often expressed the opinion that enough food and clothing were wasted in the growing city of Wellington to maintain a charitable institution.

Accordingly, she and the sisters travelled round the city begging for food and cast-off clothing from the hotels and boarding establishments. While keeping some food for themselves, the sisters shared what they collected with the poor, whom they also visited on their daily rounds. The fact that the sisters were poor created a very close bond with those they served. Their ingenuity in making use of what most people considered rubbish led to their being the recipients of a variety of gifts. Whenever there was need of anything, no matter how small or how great, they prayed for it, and in due time the want was supplied.

To help with the delivery of food and clothing, Suzanne had the practical idea of large wicker baskets on wheels, like perambulators, old-fashioned prams. Edwin Arnold, a very generous man, owned a shop for wickerwork and basket making. He agreed to make these regardless of her not being able to pay for them. They became lifelong friends even though their religious views were entirely different.


A letter from Sister Veronica to the Jerusalem Sisters, ca. 1904

Now I must tell you about a great expedition that took place yesterday of which Sister Salome was the centre of attraction.

Having gone out on the afternoon round with Sister Camillus and the prams being very much loaded, in crossing Lambton Quay a collision took place with a motor bike and Sister Salome’s pram. Well, to give you Sister Camillus’s words, when they arrived home: ‘Mother I was going in front I heard a crash I looked behind, and saw the pram smashed and a man sitting on top of it; his bike was partly smashed, his head and face were cut, but as yet we have not heard the extent of his injury. Sister was not hurt although she got a great shock; there was enough pudding and kai on the ground to feed the crowd that had gathered around; we are expecting to see it in tomorrow’s morning paper.’ Space will not permit for any more news however.


1905    Old Age Pension increased to 26 pounds a year, however eligibility tightened
1907    Resolution passed to constitute New Zealand as a Dominion
1908    New Zealand’s population reached one million


Where is your mother going?
E anga ana to whaeo kohea?
To Wellington.
Ko Poneke.
Taken from the New and Complete Manual of Māori Conversation by Suzanne Aubert