Sheila O'Toole

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Sheila Mary O'Toole CNZM QSO (1929 – 10 June 2024), also known as Sister Mary Laurence, was a New Zealand Catholic nun who worked in Western Samoa and Vietnam.[1] She is the most decorated New Zealander in relation to Vietnam.[2]



Sister Sheila O'Toole was a member of the order Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions. She worked with indigenous Montagnard refugees at Phuoc Binh in Phuoc Long province from March 1969 to April 1975.[1] She was in Saigon during the Vietnam War, was held in a prisoner of war camp, and was one of the last people to depart from the United States Embassy in April 1975.[3] She also helped Vietnamese orphans leave Saigon in Operation Babylift.[4][5]

O'Toole returned to Vietnam in 1992 and spent another 12 years there, including working at a hospital for leprosy patients. She introduced fellow New Zealander Sally Morrison to the hospital and Morrison spent many years supporting the centre.[6]

In the 1986 New Year Honours, O'Toole was appointed a Companion of the Queen's Service Order for community service in Western Samoa.[7] In the 2004 New Year Honours, she was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services as a welfare worker.[8]

In 2007, O'Toole published her memories of Vietnam in Behind the Visor: My Life in Wartorn Vietnam.[9]

In August 2019, O'Toole celebrated her 90th birthday and in January 2020, she celebrated 70 years of service.[10] She died at Atawhai Assisi in Newstead, on 10 June 2024, at the age of 94.[11]


  1. ^ a b "Str Sheila Mary O'Toole". Retrieved 10 April 2023.
  2. ^ "Sister Sheila O'Toole: Vietnam nun - Part 2". DigitalNZ. 17 September 2010. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  3. ^ "Sister Sheila O'Toole: Vietnam nun - Part 1". RNZ. 11 October 2010. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  4. ^ "Sister Sheila O'Toole recalls 'Operation Babylift'". RNZ. 14 April 2015. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  5. ^ "Search for family forty years on". RNZ. 12 April 2015. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  6. ^ "Philanthropist Sally Morrison on her life's missions". UNO Magazine. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  7. ^ "No. 50362". The London Gazette (2nd supplement). 31 December 1985. p. 30.
  8. ^ "New Year honours list 2004". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 2003. Retrieved 10 April 2023.
  9. ^ "Behind the visor : my life in wartorn Vietnam |". Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  10. ^ "Jubilees in 2020" (PDF). Province Newsletter: Sisters of Our Ladies of the Mission. 2: 4. August 2019.
  11. ^ "Sheila O'Toole obituary". The New Zealand Herald. 13 June 2024. Retrieved 13 June 2024.