Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Windows on a Women's World
Windows on a Women’s World: The Dominican Sisters of Aotearoa New Zealand
In this moving and beautifully written book, author Susannah Grant chronicles the astonishing transformation of the New Zealand Dominican sisters from a strictly enclosed body of religious teachers to a congregation of religious women working in the wider community in a range of active ministries, while remaining deeply committed to shared Dominican ideals.
Ms Grant was given full access to the congregation’s rich archives in order to write this book, from the point of view of an ‘outsider’.
‘The sisters wanted somebody who would bring a fresh perspective. They didn't want to gloss over the tough bits, so they not only gave me free reign in the archives, they were incredibly open and honest in their interviews,’ says Ms Grant.
She travelled widely in her research – to Invercargill, Dunedin, Oamaru, Wellington, Palmerston North and Auckland to interview sisters in their own homes. She also travelled to Dublin and visited the convent at Blackrock where the first New Zealand Dominican sisters came from.
Ms Grant says like many New Zealanders, she knew very little about the Dominican Sisters before embarking on her project.
‘For many people I think the image of nuns dressed in habits singing in a chapel probably sums up their understanding and expectations of a community of religious women. And that is what the Dominican sisters looked like a hundred years ago. But it's not how they look now.’
The first 10 Dominican sisters arrived in Dunedin in 1871. The congregation expanded rapidly, establishing schools throughout Otago and Southland, and eventually reaching as far north as Auckland. For most of their first century in New Zealand the Dominican sisters were teaching nuns, living in large enclosed convents cut off from the outside world.
In the mid-1960s the Second Vatican Council ushered in a period of radical change. The sisters moved out of their convents and into small homes in their local neighbourhoods; out of their schools and into new roles in education, social justice, pastoral care and spirituality. Today they are an ageing congregation that is diminishing in size.
Ms Grant says while most of the sisters are at least semi-retired, they are still vibrant and engaged with their local communities, and passionate about the issues facing New Zealand society.
Windows on a Women’s World
The Dominican Sisters
of Aotearoa New Zealand
By Susannah Grant