Lee - A call to Josephite life

Lee Tan lived in Palmerston North from 1980-1987, she is now a trainee sister with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart in Sydney, Australia.


Long before I was baptised a Catholic in 2001 I felt a gentle nudge to seek out the wounded heartbeat of the world. In both my personal and professional life I have lived with a social-justice perspective towards the wider community. My work in public-policy over recent years prompted me to ask: ‘is this what God wants for our world?’ I thought the government agenda I was working with has little to do with the common good or making a difference for the world’s ‘wounded’.

During my professional work with a Māori health provider in the Tairāwhiti region, I saw a third-world level of poverty and deprivation in this, an OECD country. Official data showed Māori in that region died younger with an avoidable death rate more than twice the national rate, and higher rates of preventable illnesses like heart disease, rheumatic fever and diabetes.

It seemed my work was to rationalise and reinforce an unjust status quo. In 2014, I was drawn to discerning my vocation, which may have started in the mid-1990s when I was an adult collaborator in YCW (Young Christian Workers). The spirituality of people around me was inspiring.
During the mid-2000s, I attended a vocation weekend in Wellington. I’d been working with indigenous people and low-paid workers and was drawn into an understanding of Jesus, which demanded an active resonance with the ‘wounded heartbeat’ of the world. This brought me into contact with the ‘wounded Jesus’ of Malaysia, Borneo, the Philippines and Aotearoa and I wanted to respond.

The Josephite sisters inspired me to learn more about their charism. I discovered their co-founders, Julian Tenison Woods and Mary MacKillop, as models for how Jesus wants us to ‘listen attentively to the heartbeat of the world’, and how to make a difference where ‘humanity’s wounds are most exposed’.

In 1884 Fr Julian Tenison Woods visited my hometown of Pahang in Malaya. As I read about his exploration of the interior of the Malay Peninsula, I was thrilled to realise he ‘knew’ where I come from. It is more than coincidence one of the Josephite founders mapped my homeland before I was born!

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