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Sister Mary Susanne Keenan

List of Deceased Sisters

Date of Death 19/08/2019


Margaret Ann Keenan    

14 February 1941 – 19 August 2019

Margaret Ann Keenan was born in Christchurch on the 14 February 1941. She grew up in South Canterbury only moving north with her family near the end of her time at secondary school. Ann (as she was known) was the oldest daughter of the eight children born to Hazel and Patrick Keenan. In her loving warm family she learned the very practical skills of cooking, sewing and gardening. During her school years she attended five schools, two of which were dedicated to the Sacred Heart. From the age of 13 she wanted to become a sister: to help the lepers and honour the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When she entered Heretaunga novitiate in 1959 her parents had a farm in Fielding in the North Island.  Sue was a great horse woman and her interest in sport continued through life.  She was an official netball referee (Tonga), and a keen indoor bowls player in later years.

Sue made vows as a Missionary Sister of the Society of Mary on 8 December 1961. She was missioned to Tonga, arriving there on the Tofua on 8 May 1962. She was to spend a total of almost 40 years in this Kingdom, investing her energy in the young people she taught, and in later years keeping up contact with many of the students, volunteers and friends she knew there. Her constant proud refrain when a former student’s name was mentioned was “She was my student…”

After five years teaching in Lapaha and Ma’ufanga, she came to Auckland in 1966 for teacher training at Loreto Hall followed by a one-year home craft course in Christchurch where she graduated with distinction. The principal at Loreto Hall described Sue as “earnest and goodwilled, capable and enterprising”. While in Auckland she made perpetual vows on 8 December 1967. On her return to Tonga she was named principal of St Mary’s Domestic Science School where girls who were unable to get into the High School were taught life skills. Her expertise in the area of home economics became evident, and in 1975 she was a representative from Tonga on the Curriculum Development programme at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.

Sue’s gifts seemed to enable her to see potential in a person and build on that, passing on practical skills that resulted in young men and women confidently finding employment in the hospitality, tourism or dressmaking industries both in Tonga and other countries. A tribute to her compassion and encouragement from Lopeti, a successful former student, was read at her funeral. She also valued the contribution and friendship of many of those who volunteered at the school. In Tonga she found another family and a love she treasured right to the end.

At the celebration of 45 years of ‘Ahopanilolo in 2015 Sue was guest of honour. Such is the esteem and honour in which the school holds Sister that the staff and students there, on hearing of her death, chose to wear black for 10 days.  

From 1978 - 1981 she was Deputy Principal in Chanel High School on the island of Vava’u, and, after a time in New Zealand, she returned to Tonga to teach at St Mary’s High School, before again becoming principal from 1987 - 1990 at the technical school renamed ‘Ahopanilolo Technical Institute.

Sue loved the Congregation and was readily available for congregational services. She was on the Heretaunga novitiate staff, and assisted with an smsm programme at Coogee, as well as service at the provincial house (South Pacific) and St Anne’s Hostel. She was also local superior on several occasions, regional councillor in Tonga, and Sector Coordinator for New Zealand. Always generous with her time and talent, Sue was once asked by an smsm in Rome to bake a cake for another congregation in chapter. When told there were 80 participants, she made three huge cakes. The MSCs were overwhelmed! In 1994, after more than a year in the community at via Cassia, ill health meant she had to return to New Zealand. 

She was again at ‘Ahopanilolo in 2002, but poor health again forced her to return to home shores in 2005. After a period in hospital she then moved to the community in Avalon, her base until she joined the community in Whangarei in 2014. There she participated in various parish activities including taking communion to the sick, and participating in the choir for the Maori Masses.

Throughout her life Sue was a woman of deep faith, nothing showy, but to all who know her it was clear that her faith was a source of great strength, supporting her through tough times and stormy seas. Spiritually she was energised by her LTSR in Australia, a 30 day retreat in Fiji, and several short renewal programmes. She faithfully spent time in personal prayer every day… sometimes sleeping before the Lord in the manner of His friends.

Always interested in developing new skills, she enrolled in numerous courses. As well as obtaining a Diploma in Adult and Tertiary Education (1996), she did courses in creative writing, art, picture framing, professional editing and proofreading (2008). A very active person, she would arrive in a new place – and plan a new project.

In her later years Sue took time to develop her artistic and creative gifts for herself. She drew much pleasure from her painting, card making, cake decorating, etc. At the time of her death there were many paintings and cards of hers in folders in her room, some destined for particular persons, but others were displayed in the parish hall after her requiem for friends and parishioners to choose a memento of Sr Sue.

After our NZ assembly in June this year, Sue visited her family. She was unwell on her return to Whangarei and was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. An irregularity in her blood lead to a diagnosis of multiple myeloma. Given only weeks to live, she was recommended neither for chemotherapy nor travel to Auckland. Sue said: “Let nature take its course.” She was admitted to a hospice for a limited time before transferring to Cairnfield House where she died very peacefully on 19 August 2019. This rest home / hospital was a place she knew from taking communion to residents there.

The Diocese of Tonga thought it important to have a representative at her funeral. The Director of Catholic Education, Mr Soane Vahe, came. He noted that the years that Sr Susanne toiled with vocational training in Tonga greatly contributed to bringing it to the standard it has today.  “It has borne fruit a hundredfold for the Diocese of Tonga and Niue.”

To the consolation of many parishioners of Whangarei, Sue’s vigil and funeral were at their parish of St Francis Xavier. She had chosen readings and hymns associated with blessings in Christ (Ephesians and the visitation). The following morning (Friday 23rd) she was buried at Waikaraka Cemetery, Auckland. Fr Soane Lomu, sm, officiated and a Tongan choir sang. The daughter of one of her former students played “Abide with me” on the violin as “Malia Susana” was lowered to her final resting place.

Your many paintings in our communities will constantly remind us of you, Sue. May you rest now in the Heart of Jesus.


Sr Patricia Leamy, smsm