Sister Claudia Lee Hae-in explores connections between poetry and spirituality in her writings. (Photo: Olivetan Benedictine Sisters)
An elderly Korean Catholic nun, highly acclaimed for authoring a series of books on poetry and prose, recently published her autobiography that highlights the goodness of life and relationships in her more than seven decades of life.
Sister Claudia Lee Hae-in, 75, from the Olivetan Benedictine Sisters congregation based in Busan, published the book in the Korean language. Its title translates into English as “The Word of Understanding.”
The book features the life, works, experiences and thoughts of Sister Claudia over the past seven decades including 57 years of religious life as a nun.
“This book summarizes the journey of my life, the way I have lived and struggled in the past decades, and it will help dispel preconceived notions about me as many people wonder that as a nun I only write pretty, romantic poems,” Sister Claudia said.
The nun noted that in her life she has followed the motto of “Becoming everything for everyone" (1 Corinthians 9:22), which has been often challenging as she came across different types of people with different kinds of needs.
“I have always prayed to Jesus and tried to realize how I could show them real hospitality with compassion. It helped me to become mild to those people who committed sins. That helped me to achieve happiness like a calming breeze,” the nun said.
Sister Claudia was born on June 7, 1945, in Yang-gu in Gangwon province of South Korea, close to North Korea. During the Korean War, her father was detained and taken to North Korea, forcing the remaining family members to flee to Busan.
Completing secondary school, she joined the Olivetan Benedictine Sisters of Busan in 1964. She pronounced her first vows in 1968 and final vows in 1976.
The Olivetan Benedictine Sisters are an international Catholic women’s religious order. The nuns are esteemed for their missionary and pastoral activism including parish religious formation, pastoral care, Catholic education and sacred arts.
In South Korea, the nuns offer missionary and pastoral services in various parishes and mission centers in the Diocese of Busan and the archdioceses of Seoul and Daejeon.
Sister Claudia graduated in English from St. Louis University in 1975 and in 1985, she graduated from the department of religion at Sogang University in capital Seoul.
From an early age, she was passionate about poetry and as a nun she explored connections between poetry and spirituality in her writings.
In 1976, Sister Claudia published her first collection of poetry titled The Land of Dandelions.
Since then, she has published 13 books of poetry, 10 books of prose and nine books of translation. Several of her poems are included in high school textbooks. She has received six awards for her outstanding contributions to literature.
She has told her confreres that she spreads the Gospel through prayer and poetry and that she harmonizes her religious life with everyday life and nature to compose intimate poems on various themes.
From 1992-97, Sister Claudia was the secretary-general of her convent in Busan. From 1998-2002, the nun carried out her extraordinary missionary works through a literary forum called “Hae-in’s Writing Room” and delivered a series of lectures in various parts of the country on the theme “Poetry and Spirituality in Life.”
The nun had a cherished friendship with prominent South Korean writer Park Wan-suh (1931-2011) and noted that Park’s life and works greatly influenced her life and works.
“Her humility, passion and love for humanity were inspirational for my writings,” she said.
In 2008, Sister Claudia faced a health crisis when she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The nun undertook a courageous, successful battle as she went through prolonged treatment before returning to good health and a normal life.
In 2015, fake news spread on the internet claiming the nun had died, which the nun jokingly ignored by saying, "I could forgive the fake news, but I can't go easy on the fake poem," according to her interview with The Korea Times in 2017.
Recovering from cancer, the nun started using words like “happiness” more and more. As a result, she published a book of prose titled Happiness in Waiting in 2018.
The book contained words of love and encouragement she had discovered in trivial things as she fought cancer for about nine years.
Despite her advanced age and increasingly frail health, Sister Claudia smiles at anyone she meets and emphasizes happiness and love in her interactions.
“Let's laugh first, love first, and thank you first,” she said in a recent interview with Catholic Times.
Sister Claudia says she considers herself as “a pilgrim of love and prayer” in the world.
“As a pilgrim when I make journey of love, the ordinary life becomes extraordinary with love and it ultimately leads to the Kingdom of God. When my life ends, I would like to be remembered as a poet nun who has lived happily.”