Suzanne Aubert was born on the 19 June, 1835, in a small village on the outskirts of Lyons, in France. Her father, Louis, and her mother, Clarice, had three boys besides Alphonse – Louis and Camille.
Suzanne was their treasure! For years she was taken by her loving parents for treatment at different hospitals, and she had to wear calipers to help straighten her legs, and glasses for her poor sight. As she grew older, her legs became stronger, although she always walked in a peculiar fashion, and throughout her long life, she was always troubled with her eyes.
As she grew up, her grandmother taught her to love God and to love and honour the poor. When any poor people came to the door the children gave them what they needed with a gracious curtsey or bow, and if they did it carelessly, their grandmother would say: “Is that the way you would give it to Jesus?” Later, Suzanne was to say that she could not see a poor person without seeing Our Lord in him. “As far as I am concerned,” she said, “there’s no merit in it for me. My grandmother instilled it into me so much that I always take Our Lord’s words literally: %u02D9In as much as you did it to one of these, my least, you did it to me.’
Being brought up with three brothers, made her very high spirited, and one day at school she dressed up a cat in a bonnet and shawl and let it loose among the Sisters while they were saying their prayers in the Chapel!
It was while Suzanne was still at school that Bishop Pompallier came to talk to the girls about the Mission fields of New Zealand. Suzanne was very impressed so when she was about sixteen, she asked her father’s consent to to become a sister, and go to the Missions. She was told to forget about it, and not to speak of it again! However, she was allowed to study nursing, and when she was twenty-one, she once more talked to her father about becoming a Sister. He was so upset that she decided to leave home and follow the way in which she felt the Lord was calling.. She was supported in this by a very holy priest called the Cure of Ars, or John Marie Vianney, who later became a Saint.
It was he who had predicted that Suzanne would one day go to the Antipodes and begin a work for the Church which would do much good.
On 4 September, 1860, Suzanne, with a group of other young people, left her native land with Bishop Pompallier, to follow Christ in the spreading of His Gospel among the Māori people of New Zealand.
It took some time for Suzanne [or Sister Joseph as she was now called] to know what work God wanted her to do, but meanwhile she set to work teaching and caring for the sick. It was not until 1892 that she became the Mother Superior of the first New Zealand Congregation – the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion.
As the little Sisterhood grew, she first of all took care of the abandoned children, and later those who had no one to care for them the handicapped! It was these poor children that she loved in a special way, because they reminded her of her own childhood, when her own afflictions had caused her so much suffering.
Her love for the poor, fostered so long ago by her Grandmother, is continued today by her Sisters of Compassion, as they go about the work of caring for the sick, the under-privileged children of society, and those in any kind of need.Although Suzanne was unable to go a normal school during her early years, she made up for it later, and quickly “caught up” with the other girls in her class, when at twelve years of age, she was sent a boarding school run by the Benedictine Sisters.
New Zealand: www.compassion.org.nz