Sharing the Faith
Since February 2019 the IBVM Sisters in Australia have had the pleasure of hosting two Congregation of Jesus Sisters (CJ) from South Korea, Dorothea Lee CJ and Maria Lee CJ, to explore and learn from our common story and charism. The CJs and IBVMs share the same founder, Mary Ward, and in the near future it is hoped the congregations will unite.
Loreto Ministries Communications Manager, Elouise Hahn recently sat down with Dorothea and Maria, to learn more about the work of the CJs in South Korea and what teachings can be shared across cultures. Dorothea has just finished her term as Provincial of the South Korean Province and Maria is a primary school teacher who has studied at the Montessori Centre International in London amongst other places.
Why did you choose to spend time in Australia?
Maria – I wanted to visit and learn about the Loreto schools here as I am a teacher at our Mary Ward School in South Korea. We have one Mary Ward primary school with 760 students and one secondary school with 780 students run by the CJ Sisters.
Dorothea – I am spending my sabbatical in Australia after finishing a six-year term as the Province Leader of South Korea.
How have you found life here? How does it differ from South Korea?
Maria – We wear our habit in South Korea, but the Loreto Sisters in Australia don’t wear one. Also, in South Korea we have 220 Sisters and usually all of our pastoral work is run by the Sisters but here the Loreto Sisters work with lay people. There are 15 Sisters working in the Mary Ward schools and some Sisters are working in the hospital specialising in aged care. We also work in our social welfare facilities, parish churches and in the retreat houses. We have three big retreat centres where our Sisters work as spiritual directors or manage the houses.
We do work with lay people but the difference with the Loreto schools here is that lay people teach religion very well. Whereas in our schools only the Sisters can teach religion. That is a big difference. The Loreto Sisters in Australia have done great work in expanding education, there are many schools here.
Do you think that in time lay people will teach religion in your schools?
Maria – I would love to learn how we can work with the lay teachers together because our Korean CJ order is big at the moment, but our young Sisters are getting less. In the future I hope our lay teachers can teach religion and the Mary Ward charism. I came here to learn more about this integration.
Dorothea, what similarities and differences have you noticed?
The Korean Sisters are very busy, usually we get up at 5am and pray for one hour and have mass every morning, breakfast quickly and go to work all day. We have no time to relax even on the weekend. But here the Loreto Sisters have more time to relax. They are still active and work with other people like leading prayer groups, parish work etc but at a different pace. They also look more natural (referring to not wearing the habit and laughs).
When was the South Korean Province formed?
Maria – The South Korean Province was founded in 1964 and Sisters came from Munich in Germany. Some of our Korean Sisters went over to Munich, trained and came back to South Korea. Then we built schools and began to work in parishes before expanding to China, Mongolia, The Philippines and this year to Myanmar.
Is social justice a main pillar of the CJs work? What social injustices do you try to overcome?
Together – We have a learning centre for children who come from very poor areas. They come to our afterschool centre to learn and play. We also have a community centre for the youth in Seoul. This is for the young people who study very hard in poor conditions trying to find their first job. We built a house so they can have a meal, a conversation and rest. We also counsel them. Additionally, we have a facility in the middle of South Korea (where our Provincial house is) and homeless people come to have their lunch every day.
In South Korea is there a large gap between the wealthy and poor?
Maria – Yes, a big gap. The economic condition of South Korea is quite good. We are an OECD country so we are not very poor but there is still a big gap between rich and the poor.
Is the education of women one of the main callings for the CJ Sisters?
Together – Education for the youth and women is our main calling. The other important ministry is spiritual direction.
Why is the partnership between the IBVM and CJs so important?
Dorothea – We have the same foundress, Mary Ward so we are the same order even if we have different names. We share the same Ignatian spirituality, so we are the same order. We are praying for our union.
What hopes do you have for the future?
Dorothea – Women have an important role to play because the role of women is important to their family and in society. I love to offer women spiritual direction.
Maria – My hope is to share the charism of Mary Ward with young people and with lay people because we don’t share the charism much in South Korea. South Korea is not a catholic based county and only 10 percent of the population is catholic. The main religion is Buddhism. I hope lay people can teach religion and share the Mary Ward story. That is my hope.