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Carmelite Sister turns 90

She was six years old when she made up her mind. She entered at 17, and now, as she has turned 90 in November, she’s going stronger, in some ways, more than ever.

“Not everyone gets to 90 years,” Sr Teresa explained with a soft laugh. In fact it has come as a surprise to the Christchurch-based Carmelite nun.

“I am aware that I am 90 because I am not as agile as I’d like to be. I can’t do all things I like. I can’t dash out to the garden. You find restrictions in that way.”

But she says part of her, the intellectual side, hasn’t made a difference. “Because I am a great reader. There’s still plenty of things to read, there’s always a lot to learn, you never come to an end in life.” Currently, she is the oldest sister in the Christchurch Carmelite community and the 2nd sister to make it to 90 in the Monastery’s 80-year-history.


“[The sisters] made a great occasion of it. They seem to think it’s some sort of an achievement. “It’s just one more day, you know, even [reaching] a 100 is another day really. Because I’ve had pretty good health and been busy all the time. It hasn’t been that different really, from 70 to 80 to 90,” she laughed.

The sisters secretly invited Sr Teresa’s nephew, Fr Shane Kelleher, a discalced Carmelite father to come and surprise Sister from Australia. “Oh it was lovely really, a great surprise, really made the day extra special and he enjoyed it too,” she said.

“We have a very big large kitchen, large old fashioned kitchen with a great big table and so it’s very lovely, so we had two picnics in one day.”

ENTERING CARMEL – It all started with a children’s book.

The six-year-old Pamela Mary Kelleher read about Saint Therese of Lisieux and thought “pretty dresses, I want to be like her,” and it was a done deal.

“I couldn’t get here quick enough,” she smiled. She knew she was called to a life of enclosure and contemplative prayer. She understood what would be involved, that it certainly would not a ‘rosy walk in the park’.

“I was prepared. I think being brought up in an age too when the idea of sacrifice and giving things up for the Lord was very much part of our lives as children. And I think that coloured my whole life.”

If there was one thing Sr Teresa grasped early on in her contemplative vocation, it was that “prayer was her business”. “Sometimes it’s the only thing people hang on to.

“Prayer is learning to come closer to God and the closer you are to God the more in fact you pray for others, it just doesn’t end with God and me, it’s the whole world.” 

Prayer brings peace, calm and courage to the soul of the 90-year-old, and so does nature.

“I’ve always been very close to nature, even as a small child, very observant, nosey of how things are, of how things grow.” As she settled at the monastery, in 1990 Sr Teresa began expressing her inner soul through painting and drawing.

Eventually compiling her art work in a book – Reflections in the Monastery Garden. Sr Teresa illustrates the little moments and joys of nature, beautifully drawn with quotes and bible verses. The book is available for purchase.

She admits it’s pretty good. “[It is] a memento of what life was like.”


Sr Teresa lived through 90 years of history including the outbreak of WWII and the first landing on the moon.

“I remember the day New Zealand declared war.” Sr Teresa reminisced on her childhood memories before the war. She feels war has changed people’s lives in a way. It changed the way people experienced pure and joyful childhood.

“I remember as a child, you’re sort of free, we had a great big park opposite to where we lived and you’re free to go there and to roam around the hills. The world was yours, no limits to what we wanted to do. [I had a] wonderful childhood in every way. And I am so grateful for that because not everybody has those lovely memories ”


In her words of wisdom, Sr Teresa reflected that with so many people nowadays feeling trapped in a hopeless situation – whether it be sickness, loss of income or depression – faith, hope and positivity are of the essence.

She says the key is to make an effort to find that one little thing that springs up joy and gratitude in one’s heart, to build on that till the heart is full. To focus on what’s going well, rather than what’s not going so well.

“You’ve got to look for it. I think a lot depends on your outlook.

“Be grateful to what was given to you, be grateful for everything that happens in life. Even the things that have been unpleasant, they’re all part of the tapestry of life.

“It’s like a painting, you have light colours and dark colours. Well the light colours wouldn’t stand out if you didn’t have the dark colours behind them.”