The Children's House

From Spectrum, 12:10 pm on 19 July 2015

Creche Mother Suzanne Aubert cropped
Mother Suzanne Aubert (1835 -1926) (Courtesy Sisters of Compassion Archives, Wellington)

Suzanne Aubert had piano lessons from Franz Liszt and nursing training with Florence Nightingale...

In 1860, Bishop Pompallier brought 25-year-old educated and feisty French woman Suzanne Aubert to the New Zealand Catholic Mission based in Auckland. For the next 40 years she taught and nursed in the North Island as well as founding the Sisters of Compassion. Aubert and her Sisters moved to Wellington in 1899 to begin charitable work among the urban poor.

Already regarded as a maverick and visionary, Mother Suzanne Aubert established a home for ‘incurables’ (a haven for the sick and infirm and those fallen on hard times) and a soup kitchen. Her canonization is currently under consideration in Rome. If the cause is successful she will be New Zealand’s first saint.

Suzanne Aubert also established a creche behind the Basin Reserve. In 1914, the original 1903 wooden crèche was replaced by a brick building designed by prominent ecclesiastical architect John Sydney Swan (also responsible for notable Wellington landmarks St Gerard’s Church and Erskine Chapel). This was New Zealand's first purpose-built child daycare centre.

Mother Suzanne Aubert was well ahead of her time and met resistance from the government and the public. A crèche was seen as encouraging working mothers to neglect their children and even promoting unmarried motherhood and divorce.

Spectrum’s Jack Perkins explores the newly-renovated crèche and its colourful history with heritage architect Alison Dangerfield.

Creche The begging pram collected charitable donations around Te Aro south Wellington
 Sisters of Compassion used 'begging prams' to collect charitable donations around Te Aro, south Wellington.(Courtesy Sisters of Compassion Archives, Wellington)

Creche pan
Inmates of St Joseph's Home for Incurables and customers at the soup kitchen. (Courtesy Sisters of Compassion Archives, Wellington)

Creche Creche Opened th Sept
New Zealand's first purpose-built creche opened 27th Sept 1914. (Courtesy Sisters of Compassion Archives, Wellington)

Creche sunny northern aspect
The newly renovated creche today, showing the sunny northern aspect where children once played.

Creche Suzanne Aubert s funeral in was widely reported to be the largest funeral ever accorded a woman in New Zealand
Suzanne Aubert's funeral in 1926 was reported to be the largest funeral ever accorded a woman in New Zealand. (Courtesy Sisters of Compassion Archives, Wellington)

Creche Alison Dangerfield Heritage Architect
Heritage Architect Alison Dangerfield about to enter the 'Children's House'.