Mystery of missing nuns deepens

This week CathNews presents the top stories from 2006. This story was originally published on 7 March 2006

The riddle surrounding the remains of two missing Sisters of Mercy nuns has resurfaced as earthworks around Auckland's historic St Patrick's Cathedral draw closer to an old, unmarked cemetery.

The New Zealand Herald reports that during the mid-1800s, 10 nuns were buried in gardens on the Wyndham St side of the building, which is undergoing a AU$10.7 million renovation.

Five nuns' bodies were later shifted to Ponsonby and five were thought to remain either under the cathedral's floor or in the surrounding gardens.

The original church built in 1848 was to be extended and the cemetery would have been disturbed by the new nave's construction. On 21 November 1883, a warrant was issued under the Cemeteries Act of 1882 to exhume all 10 nuns.

Here the mystery deepens, because for some unknown reason only 5 nuns were shifted to a common grave at St Mary's Convent in Ponsonby's New St where they still lie today, alongside the separate grave of Mother Mary Cecilia Maher.

But expectations that five remained in the Wyndham gardens alongside the cathedral were dashed when tests showed evidence of just three graves.

Cathedral business manager Kevin Sherlock said exactly what happened to the other two nuns is an enigma.

St Mary's archivist Sr Marcienne Kirk said research had not solved the mystery. Either some nuns were missed off the tombstone or more remain at the Wyndham St site than originally thought, she said.

An archaeological assessment of the cathedral and precinct found ground disturbances in the garden near a hidden well, although archaeologist Simon Best doubts that these are graves.

"The southern grassed area contained a number of significant anomalies recorded by both magnetometer and ground penetrating radar surveys," Best found. "Some of these are interpreted by the operators as possible graves."

Mystery of missing nuns deepens (New Zealand Herald 6/3/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Church in New Zealand
Sisters of Mercy
Archdiocese of Wellington

St John of God head under fire (NZCity/MewsTalkZB 6/3/06)

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