Sidney Duigan was born in Wanganui into a notable local family on 4 November 1918. Her father, Charles Lowther Duigan, a sharebroker, was also managing director of the Wanganui Herald Newspaper Company, and her grandfather, James Duigan, had been editor of the paper when its founder John Ballance was premier of New Zealand. Her mother was Scottish-born Christina Neilson Duigan, née McColl. The family home still stands, just metres away from Christ Church, Wanganui, her family church.
In 1929 Sidney and her older sister Christina became pupils at Woodford House, Havelock North. After she finished her schooling in 1934, she was sent by her family to Newnham College, University of Cambridge, where she completed the first year of her economics tripos. The education she received reflected not only her own determination to pursue a professional career, but also the positive attitude of her father, ‘who believed fiercely in education and careers for women’. From Cambridge, she moved to Paris in 1937, changing the direction of her university education and studying the liberal arts (particularly French, singing and art) at the Sorbonne.
When the Second World War broke out she chose to remain in France and was in Calais nursing with the French Red Cross when the Germans captured the city. After being sent to a camp in Lyons, she managed to escape and subsequently worked in the South of France with the Red Cross and the French Resistance until the end of the war. At one stage she was briefly imprisoned by the French police, who mistook her for a spy. After the war Duigan refused to discuss the nature of her work, claiming that memories of that time gave her nightmares. In recognition of her courage and sterling services to the Resistance, the French government awarded her the Croix de guerre (avec palme).
While based with the Resistance in Pau, in the Pyrenees, Duigan met Vladimir Koreneff-Domogatzky, a White Russian army officer, who had sought refuge in France as a result of the Russian Revolution. He had served for three years with the French Foreign Legion in North Africa and he too had been awarded the Croix de guerre (avec palme). The couple were married in Pau on 5 December 1946. The following year, Sidney took her husband to Wanganui, where they made their home; there were two sons of the marriage. In New Zealand she was known as Sidney Koreneff.
For four years from 1960 she carried on the Duigan family tradition as managing director of the company that ran the Wanganui Herald, probably the first woman in the country to hold such a position. Vladimir died suddenly in May 1961, and, following a religious experience, Sidney decided to enter the Anglican ministry. The only ordained office available to women at the time was that of deaconess, but no official training had been provided for nearly 30 years and there were only five Anglican deaconesses in New Zealand.
However, in 1963 the governors of St John’s College, Auckland, approved a scheme allowing deaconess students to attend lectures and chapel services. In 1964 Koreneff became the first woman to study at St John’s. She flatted nearby at her own expense. Of her male co-students she said, ‘the ones that didn’t approve really avoided me. The others made their way down to my flat’. When Deaconess House, a training house for deaconesses, opened in February 1966 in Parnell, Auckland, she spent a year there.
Koreneff completed her licentiate in theology and in December 1966 was ordained deaconess in Palmerston North, by Bishop Henry Baines. Until 1971 she was a curate in all but name in Palmerston North, then moved to Wellington, where she ministered in Upper Hutt and with the Maori Pastorate. She also worked as an industrial chaplain and became secretary of the Inter-church Trade and Industry Mission.
The first Anglican women priests in New Zealand were ordained in 1977. Koreneff was ordained priest the following year, one of the first two women priests in the Wellington diocese. When she was appointed vicar of St George’s Church, Patea, in 1980, she was the diocese’s first woman vicar. She won great respect there for her ministry following the closure of the local freezing works. On her retirement as vicar in 1986 she moved to Pukekohe. However, from there she worked as priest in charge at Coromandel in 1986–87, training local people for a new type of lay and ordained team ministry. Thereafter, she regularly assisted in the parish of Pukekohe, and continued to be mentor to many women ministers. At the time of her death at her home on 11 October 1997 she was preparing for priestly duties the following day at St Paul’s Church, Buckland, Pukekohe. Her ashes were interred beside those of Vladimir at Aramoho cemetery, Wanganui.
Celebrated and even feared for her strong-mindedness and incisive intelligence, and also loved and admired for her faith, friendship and fearless honesty, Sidney Koreneff made her mark in the male-dominated world of education, newspapers and religion.