Habit that be­came a good fit

Amy Jack­man talks to Sis­ter of Com­pas­sion Mar­garet Anne Mills about teach­ing, tai chi and Tolkien.

Kapi-Mana News - - FEATURE -

Did you al­ways want to be a nun?

I wanted to be a teacher. I went to teach­ers’ col­lege in Palmer­ston North. Half­way through I de­cided I’d love to spe­cialise in spe­cial needs kids. In the 1970s there wasn’t much op­tion to do that. Then one day, Bob Stu­art, the former All Black cap­tain, who was a ca­reers ad­viser at Massey, sug­gested I go to Carter­ton. The Sis­ters of Com­pas­sion had a school for spe­cial needs chil­dren there. It was mar­vel­lous, just what I wanted to do. I said to one of the sis­ters: ‘‘How do I keep do­ing this?’’ She said: ‘‘You join us.’’ I said: ‘‘You must be jok­ing.’’ So it wasn’t a nat­u­ral at­trac­tion. When did that change? I was teach­ing in Flaxmere and still think­ing about it. A seed had been planted. I thought I’d give it three years, then I could get on with my life. I ar­rived at the be­gin­ning of 1975 and have stayed put. There was a time of ad­just­ment but af­ter a few months I thought: ‘‘Why didn’t I do this years ago?’’ It was a won­der­ful in­ner peace.

Do you en­joy the sur­round­ings here?

I love this place. In the morn­ing I go out on to the lawn, wind, rain, frost, what­ever and think: ‘‘Thank you God for this won­der­ful cre­ation. The trees, the birds, ev­ery­thing.’’ It’s great to get up and breathe in the day know­ing God will give me enough en­ergy to do ev­ery­thing I need to. I of­ten think the other sis­ters think it’s a bit ec­cen­tric.

What are some high­lights of your time here?

It’s an ad­ven­ture ev­ery day. It’s like the new Hob­bit movie. Ev­ery­thing’s an un­ex­pected jour­ney. I’ve been able to teach in the school in Carter­ton. We started a school in north­ern New South Wales for Abo­rig­ine chil­dren there and I’ve spent time teach­ing at St Anne’s in New­town. I also spent 10 years work­ing at the soup kitchen, which was mar­vel­lous. What did you learn there? One morn­ing one of the chaps came up and said: ‘‘What’s wrong with you, Mar­garet Anne? Haven’t you taken your pills or some­thing?’’ I must have been look­ing grumpy or not with it. It taught me I needed to be mind­ful of who­ever I was en­gag­ing with. You also learn that peo­ple around you are very dif­fer­ent. In the 90s there were a lot of glue snif­fers. Some were hav­ing kids. You wor­ried about them but they seemed to be OK. How­ever, one lit­tle boy was born at the same time as one of my neph­ews. I went to see my nephew when he was 6 months. Then it hit me that, wow, there was a big dif­fer­ence. The child at the soup kitchen had a dull­ness in the eyes and was much smaller.

Do you go to the Taoist tai chi classes here?

Yes, I’m a mem­ber of that group. It keeps the bones right. When you’re in the class and work­ing on a move or a set, you’re to­tally en­gaged. I go in jaded and come out re­freshed.

Does the east­ern tai chi marry well with Catholi­cism?

I have al­ways had an in­ter­est in the East, the tem­ples and Bud­dhism. I learnt karate when I was younger. The Taoist tai chi phi­los­o­phy closely mir­rors what we are about as sis­ters. It is a mar­tial art but a peace­ful one. It’s all about gen­tle­ness, com­pas­sion and peace­ful­ness of the spirit.

Did you have a wild youth be­fore the Com­pas­sion?

I had my stu­dent days. Massey in Palmer­ston North was won­der­ful. I had a great so­cial life. I loved clothes, good friends, travel. There were the boyfriend trou­bles; just life really. I stayed in the YWCA. We girls had fun push­ing the bound­aries. Dur­ing one Ger­man beer fes­ti­val, we were the frauleins who took around all the beer. We had great fun dress­ing up in lit­tle cos­tumes and en­joy­ing the beer. Your love of life doesn’t change be­cause you be­come a nun, ei­ther. When we set up a school in Aus­tralia it was really hot. On a Fri­day af­ter the week’s teach­ing the best thing to have was a nice cold beer. How do you en­joy life now? I’m a great fan of Tolkien. I even have a scrap­book. I went in 2001, 2002 and 2003 for the Lord of the Rings pre­mieres. In 2003, Sis­ter Jo and I stayed overnight. Af­ter the Two Tow­ers pre­miere we thought: ‘‘ This is get­ting big. We’re go­ing to have to stay overnight for the next one.’’

Some of the men from the soup kitchen were there. The red car­pet hadn’t been rolled out at that stage. They said to us: ‘‘Sis­ters, you can’t sleep there. The trans­port peo­ple will come and tell you to go.’’ We said we would be fine, so they sat with us and talked. An­other great part was at 2am. Sir Ian McKellen came walking along. The two of us be­came like teenagers and ran along to talk to him. I got lots of au­to­graphs and pic­tures dur­ing the pre­miere.

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Sis­ter Mar­garet Anne: ‘‘Your love of life doesn’t change be­cause you be­come a nun.’’

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