FOR GOD’S SAKE

FROM THE MO­MENT SHE WAS BAP­TISED MARY DO­MINICA, MARY HORN WAS ON A PATH TO A CON­VENT. HER CALL TO BE AN ARTIST CAME MUCH LATER - AT NEALY 60

NZ Life & Leisure - - Contents - WORDS: NATHALIE BROWN PHO­TOGRAPHS: BRIAN HIGH

Mary Horn has cel­e­brated three dis­tinct stages in her life — nun, teacher and now artist ( with just a lit­tle ac­tivism thrown in)

TO REFASHION SHAKE­SPEARE’S As You Like It, the world’s a stage; life just a se­ries of in­ter­con­nected acts. Mary Horn, whose time on earth has been in­flu­enced by many a poet, has so far per­formed three of those acts: teacher, re­li­gious sis­ter and pain­ter, each call­ing ap­proached with love.

At 17, one of seven chil­dren from a de­vout Catholic fam­ily in Wai­mate, South Can­ter­bury, she was ac­cepted into teach­ers’ col­lege, start­ing as a pro­ba­tion­ary as­sis­tant at an In­ver­cargill state school a cou­ple of years later.

Teach­ing was her first call­ing. Her sec­ond, in 1958, came on en­ter­ing a Do­mini­can con­vent. “I was 20 and lit­er­ally in love with God just as the other girls I knew were in love with the boys they would even­tu­ally marry,” she says.

“The search for God is a love story. The God of my un­der­stand­ing is al­ways elu­sive, al­ways chang­ing. So I’m on what I call the God quest. I’m still on it at 80. The young women I knew in the 1950s have a very dif­fer­ent love for their hus­bands now than they had as young brides. It’s a sim­i­lar thing for me.”

Af­ter her novi­tiate in Dunedin, she lived in con­vents from Auck­land to In­ver­cargill, work­ing in Catholic pri­mary schools and ob­serv­ing the daily 16-hour prayer cy­cles and rou­tines of a teach­ing sis­ter. “When I went into the novi­tiate, there were 22 young women and we had a lot of fun to­gether. There was a re­cre­ation pe­riod every night when we played ten­nis and net­ball — we tucked up our habits in a par­tic­u­lar way known as kirtling, pin­ning them at the back. “We sang, made up dances, put on lit­tle acts for each other. Or we’d sit around talk­ing and do­ing beau­ti­ful em­broi­dery. We made life-long friends there.”

But even­tu­ally, she says, young women no longer wanted to be­come sis­ters. “It hap­pened grad­u­ally be­tween the 1980s and 1990s, and it was like watch­ing some­thing you love slowly dy­ing.”

Over time, the Do­mini­can or­der sold off most of its con­vents, the sis­ters hap­pily mov­ing out of in­sti­tu­tional life and into the wider com­mu­nity where some lived to­gether in smaller houses and oth­ers lived alone. In the early 1990s Mary, who had been shar­ing a home with four oth­ers, moved to the size­able Do­mini­can con­vent Teschemak­ers, near Oa­maru.

The Kakanui Moun­tains, seen from Teschemak­ers Road close to Mary’s home, are a strong in­flu­ence on her paint­ings; (below) Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel stands in the grounds of the for­mer Teschemak­ers board­ing school and Do­mini­can con­vent, a gen­tle stroll away from Mary’s front door.

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