Sister Loyola still sparking after a lifetime of service
Talia Carlisle talks to 91-year-old Sister Loyola Galvin about little miracles, becoming a nun and gardening.
Why did you become a nurse?
When I was 3, I put my foot into the spokes of a bike. I developed osteomyelitis, which became quite acute when I was 10. I spent a lot of time in hospital and fell in love with the nurses, so I thought I’d be a nurse when I grew up. And you did! Hawera Hospital didn’t accept me into the nursing programme because they thought my foot wouldn’t stand up to it. So I tried Wellington Hospital. When the doctor examined me, there was a problem with the Japanese prisoners of war at the Wairarapa camp. They had a riot and someone got shot. I was being examined and the doctor didn’t examine me properly because he was in a rush. God must have meant for me to be a nurse because I had that little miracle. Did you enjoy nursing? I began when I was 19. I met a lot of lovely friends, many of whom I still have. I recently went to the 96th birthday of one of the girls in my class. I also met someone very special who didn’t come back from the war. I met him when I was 23. That must have been hard. It was hard for lots of people. I spent a lot of time with people who had come back from the war injured. My cousin was a very sociable person before the war, but when he came back he didn’t go out with girls much as he didn’t want to be pitied because he only had one leg. I knew mine would be a very different life to what I’d planned. What did you do next? I wanted to make a new life for myself. I had a distant relative who was involved with the Sisters of Compassion. I thought about it a lot. The idea of putting your whole heart into it and doing it for the rest of your life. After I thought and prayed a lot I decided to do it. I chose the Sisters of Compassion because they worked with people who didn’t have much. Have you always been religious? Dad and Mum didn’t always go to mass, but they did sometimes. We weren’t pushed to go – it was our choice. I admired a lot of people in the church deeply.
What changes have you seen in Catholicism?
It has become more accepting of other denominations. The church was also very male-orientated. And uniforms have changed. Yes. In the early days you had to wear a pleated skirt, blouse and little cape to be recognised as one of the order, but Mother Aubert wanted the sisters to wear the ordinary clothes of ordinary people.
Where does your name come from?
When we joined the order, we took the name of a saint. I chose St Ignatius Loyola because as a child I’d read stories about him. I saw a picture of him and he had a bandage on his leg like I did. I had a fascination with him after that. How did you get into gardening? I grew up on gardening. My father was a great gardener. He always got up very early because we had cows in Taranaki. I’d trot along behind Dad. He was the most patient man in the world – who wants a 2-year-old trotting behind them when they’re trying to milk cows? What are your other interests? I’ve always been interested in politics and gardening. I have a great interest in reading. As part of living a religious life you’re supposed to read something sensible for 20 minutes a day. I love really classical music. I like to watch the news. I’m very keen on crosswords.
I see you were made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit last
I laugh about it. It’s very kind of them, but there could’ve been a number of people who deserved it more.
Were you surprised by the success of the documentary
It’s something I never would have dreamed of. So many people have said to me they’ve got an idea of what it means to be a nun because of that film. Since that film came out I’ve had over 100 letters from people who had known me. Did you enjoy making the film? One of the lovely things is that I’ve met so many lovely young people. I really feel for the young people of today. There’s so many pressures on them. There weren’t drugs and things when we were young. But there’s so many young people doing good things.
Is that why you started the community garden group?
First I wanted to grow stuff that didn’t have poison in it. Gradually I realised there was so much interest in it, so I started the Community Garden Group at the Home of Compassion in Island Bay. People are growing their own vegetables and realising it’s a good idea. A young man at the university asked me if he could have a little plot. He hoped to teach horticulture. He had a few friends who wanted to do the same thing.
So many young people are now realising it and getting on the gardening bandwagon.
Gardening with Soul,
Sister Loyola Galvin:
‘‘I’ve always been interested in politics and gardening.’’