Mary Meade was 16 when she entered the Sisters of Compassion and spent 73 years with the religious order.
She took the name Sister Dorothea at her profession, and on July 14 will celebrate her 90th birthday with family and friends.
There will be an 8.30am mass followed by morning tea at New Vista where she is now a resident.
She grew up on the Whanganui River and says of her upbringing: "My heart belonged to Maoriland. As with our Maori people, for us the river was an essential means of our survival. It gave us water, food, transport and recreation.
"Its moods affected us - sometimes clear, calm, sparkling, tranquil and reassuring, sometimes mighty, roaring, muddy, churning, restless, violently sweeping all before it, and above all, to be respected at all times."
When she was 12, Mary went with her older sister and the Maori missioner Father Venning to prepare for her first Holy Communion.
"We stayed for a week and there we met the Sisters of Compassion, who took us for catechism lessons. We had never seen sisters before and I did not know that such a life existed.
"I asked my all-wise sister, what is that thing? 'I think that is what they call a nun', she told me."
Sister Dorothea was captivated by the sisters and their work.
"That week changed my whole life, from there I heard the clear, pressing call to religious vocation.
"I returned home full of zeal and shared with my brothers and sisters all I had learned."
Barbara Smith of Otaki says her older sister was stubborn by nature.
It was this characteristic that saw Mary determined to enter the convent following her confirmation.
She wrote away to ask the Superior General if she could enter the convent, but the response came back that she had to wait until her 16th birthday.
"It was the longest two years of my life," Sister Dorothea told her family.
She wrote to the superior on and off during those two years. "I wrote in my very best handwriting."
Finally, aged 16, she entered the Home of Compassion in Island Bay Wellington, and after profession, Sister Dorothea returned to the river to work at Jerusalem.
There was no electricity on the river at this time.
Each morning before 5am, the sisters would find their way up the path in the dark to the shed at the presbytery to crank the engine to give them light for prayers.
In the spring the sisters would hand-milk the cows, and usually have milked 13 by the time they were to attend mass.
It often happened that a sister would be called out in the middle of the night or during school hours to attend a sick person in a remote place. The horses were provided by whoever came to alert them of the crisis.
Leaving the river, in 1958 she was transferred to Carterton to St Dympna Special Needs School.
"I was sad to leave my beloved river again ... However the tide was turning so off I went on a completely new adventure." She was to be sole charge of the new school.
Sister Dorothea credits Sister Isidore for her far-sighted vision to start the school. Sister Isidore transferred disabled children from the infant rooms at Jerusalem and Ranana, and Ward Eight at the Home of Compassion in Island Bay, who she saw had "physical and mental abilities within their twisted bodies".
The school had its humble beginnings in an empty coke shed. "A coat of paint, the dirt floor cleared and swept, a few pictures on the walls and school was in."
Special needs schools were just emerging in society, although they were more like minding centres offering day relief for parents.
Sister Dorothea said she was horrified to hear some teachers in these centres referred to the children as "just cabbages".
"I was prepared to battle - cabbages grow, develop, blossom, fulfil their purpose, produce fruit and have very big hearts."
Sister Dorothea said she always maintained that "if you treat a person normally they will react normally".
It took a long time to persuade the Education Department to visit, as they did other schools.
But Sister Dorothea succeeded in having the school registered, and handy she said, though not as important, to be eligible for education grants.
Her vocation led to her to study the causes of behaviour; was it emotional, biochemical, hormonal or early childhood negative reinforcement - nature or nurture?
She joined the Scientific Research Council for New Zealand and travelled around New Zealand with doctors and professors from universities who met annually in conjunction with the IHC Conference.
In 1965 Sister Dorothea went to Balmain in Sydney to study for a Diploma in Special Education. While she studied, she was invited to teach Special Education at Sydney University. Professor Martin, head of the psychology department suggested she study for a degree in psychology, and on her return to New Zealand, Sister Dorothea studied at Massey University.
She started the first New Zealand Special Olympics in 1966, sponsored by Rotary, which was a huge success.
In 1981 Sister Dorothea she made a trip to Lourdes and Rome with a group of 120 disabled children.
Years later one of Sister's disabled children Debbie, decided to get married.
"She wanted me to give her away, and today her beautiful children call me grandma."
In 1984 Sister Dorothea moved back to Jerusalem to work among the people in the district, that stretched in the east to Taihape, and south to Wanganui.
A year later after 50 years in the teaching profession, Sister Dorothea retired to live at Castlecliff, but continued to work as a prison chaplain.
In 1997 she was awarded the QSO for zeal and devotional activities, and in 2001 Sister Dorothea received a Papal medal.
The country girl who from age six could shear a sheep, cull a pen of ewes, dock a lamb and milk a cow says:
"Our differences are our jewels, they make us unique."
Sister Dorothea's parents George Meade and Millicent Hope Noon married in Dunedin in 1919 when the young woman arrived to meet her husband in this faraway land. Reverend Mother Suzanne Aubert founded New Zealand's only indigenous religious order, the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion in 1892. She arrived from Lyon in France in 1860 and came to Jerusalem from Hawkes Bay in 1885. She started two hospitals in Wellington; St Joseph's Home for Incurables in 1900, Our Lady's Home of Compassion in 1907 at Island Bay, as well as the Soup Kitchen in Tory St.