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Mary Cyprian Morris

List of Deceased Sisters

Date of Death 04/09/2009

The wedding at Cana was the gospel chosen for Sr M. Cyprian’s funeral on 8 September. For her, the mother of Jesus was both attentive to the needs of others and a practical woman of action… truly her role model.

Joan Mary Morris was born in Dunedin 22 November 1923, the only daughter of William and Elizabeth Morris. Later her only sibling, John, was born. Both Morris children chose a vocation in the Church: John as a priest of the Diocese of Dunedin until his sudden death in April 2009, and Joan as a missionary to peoples and countries far away from Otago. Undoubtedly this missionary spirit was greatly due to her Dominican education, interesting her in the whole world and encouraging a heart that embraced the universe. Throughout her life she avidly listened to the radio and scanned the papers for the latest news and information.

Professed on 11 February 1949 at Heretaunga, she went on to qualify as a teacher and to gain a diploma in social work. In researching for her social work thesis entitled Makogai – a community study of a leper colony she spent several months in Fiji with the community of smsm working at Makogai.

In 1954 she was a foundation member of the Wellington Catholic Social Services working for nine years as a caseworker and counselor, and she found homes for many babies offered for adoption. She encouraged other women, especially Maori, to work with those in residence at the women’s prison, arranging for catholics to have the possibility of Mass regularly. She also collaborated in community development projects with Marist priests on the Maori Mission in Taranaki and the Hawkes Bay.

This keenly intelligent and quick-witted woman knew that education was an essential aspect of community work, and she linked the two in her Diploma of Education thesis, analysing educational background and achievement in unmarried mothers in NZ.

In 1964 Sr M. Cyprian was missioned to St Mary’s College, Vaimoso, Samoa, firstly as a staff member, then as principal. A woman of great energy, and, in many ways ambitious, she had a vision and drive for success… Not one to suffer fools gladly, she could be a difficult person to work with, and some co-workers found her controlling. But her motivation was for the good of those concerned, and sometimes this meant twisting a little the interpretation of the law. A feminist in her own way and a woman ahead of her times, she gave an education that produced wonderful leaders of families, government and business.

From Samoa, Sr M. Cyprian went to Boston for LTSR in 1974. Bishop Dozier of Memphis had asked for an smsm trained in social work to help his diocese where unemployment impacted on one third of the black population, and refugees were coming in the wake of the Vietnam war. During her time in Memphis working in Catholic Charities, Sr M. Cyprian helped settle many refugees and was involved in a number of programmes to combat poverty.

Returning to Wellington in 1976 she worked for a time on the National Mission Council facilitating mission awareness programmes in schools and parishes throughout New Zealand.

At the age of 60 this intrepid missionary did an MA in religious education at Fordham University in New York before setting out for the Solomon Islands. Of the ten years she spent there, eight were at Nazareth Apostolic Centre for the renewal and upgrading of catechists, and the preparation of those who felt called to priesthood and religious life. According to the Director of the centre, Cyprian was good at assessing the probability of a call and acting on it. In 1992-93 these gifts were tapped by smsm when she lived at Linnane House, Honiara, with young women considering religious life.

Back in Wellington in 1995, Cyprian found two jobs: Executive Secretary for the Conference of Congregational Leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand (CLCANZ), and research officer for the Presbyterian newspaper Crosslink. It was at this stage that she began to write book reviews… an activity she continued even when she was in Marian Rest Home. This ecumenical contact broadened her connections – as did the regular contact with the religious congregations in New Zealand.

Cyprian also gave congregational service: six months in Rome in administrative duties at the time of the 1971 General Chapter, as an auxiliary staff member for the 1983 Marist Family renewal in Fribourg, and twice on the provincial council.

A woman with a great passion for God’s mission, Cyprian reflected God’s compassion for the down-trodden. With her there was no half measure. Mission with quality – or she was not interested. Cyprian’s appreciation of quality also showed in her choice of entertainment and of clothes. It must have been quite a sacrifice for her to wear a “habit”. She enjoyed partying, good conversation, good food and drink… and she had a wicked sense of humour.

Cyprian’s need to be of help to others found many outlets during her fruitful life, and when the tables were turned and Cyprian’s strength diminished she gracefully tried to accept the help that she needed – firstly from 2007 at the Josephite Marian Rest Home, and then earlier this year in the hospital section at Selwyn Heights Retirement Village.

At his sister’s golden jubilee ten years ago Fr John Morris said: “Although this is Cyprian’s celebration, there is something for all of us to ponder. Whatever milestones we have reached in the journey of life, we can all stop, look back on life, offer thanks to God, and then move on.”

Cyprian has now moved on, and we thank God for her and for all God has done through her.

Sr Patricia Leamy, smsm