HICKEY, MARY Dr (MA Litt.D. OBE)
(MOTHER MARY ST DOMITILLE)
Mary Hickey was born in a thatched whare in Opunake on 13 April 1882 about where the Cottage Rest Home is today. She was the first of eleven children of John Cornelius and Hannah Hickey nee Stack, and the first European girl to be born in the town. Her father was a member of the Armed Constabulary.
Mary attended Opunake Primary School and was the first pupil teacher there. Later she taught at New Plymouth, gaining her teacher's certificates by correspondence from Auckland. She then taught for a time at Stratford High School.
In 1905, Mary joined the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions in Christchurch and taught there. She then attended Canterbury University College, where in 1914, she completed her B.A and was Senior Scholar in History. In 1915, she completed a M.A degree with first class honours in history. In 1925 she achieved the distinction of being the first woman in Australasia to be awarded a Doctorate in Literature, her thesis being on the early history of Canterbury.
Mother M St Domitille was alive to all educational movements in her time. On a visit to England in 1925 (to attend the Chapter of the Congregation), she met Madame Montessori and was greatly impressed, and so on her return she introduced to New Zealand the Montessori method of education.
She gave strong support to bringing into being the NZ Catholic Schools' Journals. She contributed articles to them, and for many years edited the Catholic Teachers' Bulletin. In 1921 she wrote a history, first published in instalments by the Opunake Times, then as a book: A Graphic Outline of the Great War, and this was used as a text in the colleges where the Sisters taught.
Mother M St Domitille was principal of Sacred Heart College, Christchurch for over 20 years. Later she was Provincial, for six years, of the south province of her congregation. She had a great influence for good on all those she taught, and is remembered for her wise sayings including "The most important virtue is common sense, but often it is the least commonly found" and "God must love the ordinary person because he has made so many of them".
Mother Domitille was awarded the OBE for her work in education. She died on the 20 June 1958, quite suddenly, on her way to chapel for evening prayer. She was a woman of strong faith and of vision but always humble - a woman for all times.
Sister Marie Gabrielle (Wright), Petone (niece)