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Real Life

How I Live: I’ve been a Catholic nun for 50 years

Sister Josephine Gorman has dedicated her life to helping others in need.

By Aroha Awarau
"I’m 70 years old and I’ve been a Catholic nun for 50 years.
I grew up in an isolated area in the South Island called Hakataramea Valley, where the nearest city is Timaru.
My parents were Catholic and I had always wanted to be either a nun or a nurse.
I entered religious life and trained to be a sister when I was 17. A lot of people thought I was too young, but I was enthusiastic and thought I could save the world.
I always wanted to look after people, especially those with disabilities. I saw the work that the Catholic order the Sisters of Compassion were doing in Timaru. I wanted to be just like them – helping people in need.
I wanted to do something worthwhile with my life and I thought the best way to do that was to become a nun.
It took me five years to train. When you enter religious life, you have to take a vow of celibacy, poverty and obedience. We’ve got everything we need – we don’t want for anything.
The only vow that is hard to keep is obedience, because sometimes I would just love to go to Fiji on a holiday and have the freedom to do that kind of thing. Also, I did wonder what life would be like if I was married with children. But I’m content with my decision to lead this life. I don’t have to deal with the problems that parents have with children these days, and so many marriages do end.
Sister Josephine always wanted to do something worthwhile with her life, and for her, that meant helping others.
During my work as a sister, I have looked after children, something I absolutely adore.
I was sent to the Australian outback for eight years and helped out at a preschool for the Aboriginal community of Wilcannia. I was initially shocked at the stark poverty – a contrast to the life I had known until then. I was horrified at the brown bath water! But I learnt much from the Aboriginal people about patience, forgiveness, understanding and appreciating the environment.
After my time in Australia, I was sent to Fiji for 10 years.
It was refreshing to be with a people who had pride and confidence in themselves. This made for a happy community and a lively social atmosphere.
I endeavoured to learn the language, and I enjoyed the richness of life and social events. It was a happy time, so it was difficult for me to leave Fiji. Some of my heart is still there.
Now I am back at Island Bay, Wellington, where the Sisters of Compassion are based. I have a sense of peace being back here, where I began my religious life. It is good getting to know the sisters again. There are five of us who live in this community, with ages ranging from 58 to 75.
We used to wear veils and habits, but we don’t any more. They made us stand out and put us on a pedestal. It just didn’t feel right.
I work in the archives and my role now is to record the history of the Sisters of Compassion – an order that was founded by Suzanne Aubert in 1885.
My job is to preserve the order’s history, including all of Suzanne’s letters – there are more than 800. I also manage the website.
The Sisters of Compassion work towards helping those in need through pastoral care, prison and hospital chaplaincies, advocating for refugee and disadvantaged migrant communities, and providing care for the sick and elderly.
Our work is well known, especially in Jerusalum – a secluded area along the Whanganui River.
I love being a sister. I love getting up in the morning to pray. I feel at peace. I’ve got so much to thank God for."
Quickfire questions:
My favourite movie is... The Book Thief. It was the last movie I saw and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The biggest sacrifice I’ve made is... being away from my family in the South Island and not seeing them as often as I would like.
My most prized possession is... a letter from my father when I became a sister. He was so proud.
As told to Aroha Awarau

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