Adding to the serenity of our Lady's Home of Compassion

Studio Pacific Architecture have recently completed landscape and building upgrades at Our Lady’s Home of Compassion in Wellington’s Island Bay that have radically transformed the setting for this Chapel, retreat centre, visitor centre, and administration offices.

Our Lady’s Home of Compassion in Island Bay is a place of pilgrimage and spiritual nourishment for all-comers. While it is Catholic in inspiration, it is open to all religions and spiritual seekers and indeed to people of all creeds.

The landscaping has enhanced the peaceful beauty of the building. Photo credits: Andy Spain

The landscaping has enhanced the peaceful beauty of the building. Photo credits: Andy Spain

The Sisters of Compassion, also known as the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion, was founded by Suzanne Aubert at Jerusalem – Hiruhārama on the Whanganui River in 1892.

For more than a century the Sisters have taught, nursed, and provided homes for children, the sick and the elderly in New Zealand and the South Pacific, and for 118 years have run the Compassion Soup Kitchen in central Wellington for the City’s needy.

Through their compassion, faith and integrity, they seek to bring dignity to the lives of the aged, the powerless and the poor.

Everyone is welcome, no matter their religion.

Everyone is welcome, no matter their religion.

Our Lady’s Home of Compassion in Island Bay, Wellington, was established in 1907 and is the mother house of the congregation as well as being a conference and retreat centre. It is also home to the Suzanne Aubert Heritage Centre. Suzanne Aubert is New Zealand’s first saint in the making with the process of her canonisation well underway. Her final resting place is in the Chapel of Our Lady of Compassion at the Island Bay site, a purpose built new crypt completed by Tennent Brown Architects in 2017.

The site has a long and fascinating history – purchased by Suzanne Aubert in 1907 and originally built as a hospital it has been successively added to, modified, reconstructed and altered over a number of years for various purposes resulting in, what was, an incoherent collection of buildings with no hierarchy or legibility.

Studio Pacific were engaged to undertake a masterplan for the site with a view to creating a clear and legible campus that reflected the Sisters current needs and planned for the future. Crucial to the success of the project was a total reconsideration of the arrival experience and development of a cloistered courtyard at the heart of the complex.

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The processional arrival sequence and courtyard space create a calm and reflective atmosphere guiding the visitor on a journey that celebrates and reflects the life and values of Suzanne Aubert, values which are instilled in the Sisters of Compassion and guide the incredible work they continue to do. Soft curving lines lead the visitor in and direct the eye to significant features along the way.

A new Waharoa creates a formal entry and water plays a central role in different forms. The courtyard offers a range of spaces that cater for large formal gatherings and individual contemplative moments. A new visitor centre and café provide a focus for the many visitors who come from all over the world. The life of Suzanne Aubert is evoked everywhere from engraved quotations to a carefully selected planting palette that reflects both her European heritage and deep connection to Aotearoa.

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“Almost without exception every visitor who comes comments positively on the beauty, the tranquillity and the peacefulness and warmth and comfort that the environment stimulates, says Sister of Compassion chief executive, Gerard McGreevy. “Most want to come again and again.  

“It has always been a special place but the beauty of this landscaping has underlined and reinforced this in a way that has had quite unexpected outcomes.  Island Bay was set up as a place of pilgrimage, prayer respite and retreat and is also a place for the curious.

“All seem to have their expectations – whatever they are fulfilled – and leave with a tranquillity they may not have arrived with. We think we achieved what we set out to do.”