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Sister Josephine Gresham

List of Deceased Sisters

Date of Death 14/08/2020


11 May 1946 – 14 August 2020


Josephine Mary Greshamwas born in Geraldine, South Canterbury, to Patrick and Margaret Gresham on the 11th of May 1946. She had 8 brothers and sisters, was the youngest daughter and second to youngest child. 

Josephine’s family life laid a solid Catholic foundation for her whole life. Certain qualities marked her family: warm, caring, hard-working, ready to help others, practical and generous. Her love, gratitude and pride in her family was always with her.

When she was nineteen she went to Heretaunga, Upper Hutt, to become an SMSM, a Missionary Sister… she had heard that these Sisters worked overseas. This is the way she was choosing to love God and serve people. Her commitment to serve God and people came through robustly at this time, and continued all through her many years.

As a novice Josephine took the name of Mary John Bosco. She was professed as an SMSM on 8 September 1967. Her first mission assignment in October 1967 was to the Chatham Islands where Josephine’s now famous cooking skills launched. About two years later she was assigned to St Anne’s Hostel in Ponsonby, Auckland, then in June 1970 she set out for Fiji. For the next 8 years in Fiji she studied at Corpus Christi Training College then taught in Naililili   and in Labasa where she was the Principal of Holy Family Secondary School. She respected young people and related well with them.

As Sister Josephine, she went on to do further training which prepared her to be a spiritual director and counsellor.  The following 11 years saw her using her many talents as part of the smsm formation team in Heretaunga, in the Wellington Archdiocese Youth Ministry Team and in the Marist Futuna Retreat Centre in Wellington. Retreats, workshops, Scripture study groups, leadership development programmes, spiritual direction, and prayer groups gave her life as she shared her own great love of God and Mary.

Josephine’s personal conviction of Mary’s gracious choice and her love of the smsm vocation meant that her community was one where someone in smsm first formation would always be welcomed. She could be trusted to engage that person in the community life and fruitful ministry while at the same time assuring faithful accompaniment and wise discernment.

24 February 1992 the smsm community in Whangarei began with Sisters Jo, Catherine McDiarmid, and Sr M Cuthbert. This community soon became part of three other communities: St Francis Xavier Parish, Marian Heights Village and Pompallier College. Jo with her drive continued to find ways to be a prophetic witness to God’s reconciling love. For 9 years she was Catholic Chaplain at Whangarei Base Hospital, available for staff and patients, led over 70 funeral services and was part of an ecumenical team which trained and supervised volunteer chaplains for the northern hospitals.  Years later she was chaplain at the Hospice and then returned to be Ecumenical Chaplain at Whangarei Hospital. She speaks of this time as being enriched ‘with unexpected revelations of the love of God’.

Called to provincial leadership for the South Pacific Province from 2004 to 2010, she infectiously and passionately passed on her love for the congregation and its mission and tirelessly called forth the best in each person… and organized everyone!!

It was not always easy for others to work in a team with Jo. She liked holding the TV remote control! She could be demanding… but she never asked things of others that she herself would not do. Over the years she had serious health issues but these did not stop her. Her enthusiasm to help people discover their own goodness and ability and to walk with God with head held high motivated her.   She could see the intrinsic goodness in everyone and was happy to listen, encourage and coerce! We always felt better (even spoilt) from being with Jo. She was big-hearted, overly generous, nothing was too much trouble... That’s the joyful Jo we loved and were loved by.

Back in Whangarei in 2011 after a sabbatical in Israel where she loved walking in the land of the Lord, she continued sharing her own great love of God and Mary through participation in parish and several outreach programmes. She was a valued member of the Auckland Diocesan Pastoral Council.

On 14 August she led the early Friday morning communion service in the parish as usual, then shopped at a supermarket. Afterwards, in the carpark while chatting with a parishioner, she collapsed from a massive heart attack and died. 

“Sister Jo” was someone who brought people together from all walks of life.  This showed on August 17 at her Requiem, live-streamed from the Marist Whangarei parish where Fr Chris Martin, sm, presided over the Mass which had been planned by Jo’s own community of Sr Akenese Afoa and postulant Sharron Tinai. Because of covid-19 restrictions other smsm and her family could not attend, however there was great support from the Whangarei community, especially from our neighbours in the Village. Four former smsm who live in the area were pallbearers together with Akenese and Sharron. The following day Jo was buried at the Waikaraka Cemetery, Auckland, in the presence of nine smsm, Fr Michael O’Connor, sm, and a former student from her teaching days in Fiji.

At the graveside we read Josephine’s poem: “A gracious choice”; she introduces it with a favourite line: “Make me know the shortness of my life that I may have wisdom of heart.”  (Psalm 90)


Sr Pauline Gresham, smsm