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
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.