Sister Joan Westblade has died after more than 60 years of service to the Little Company of Mary

MOURNED: Sister Joan Westblade has died at the age of 87. Sr Joan served the community for more than 60 years after taking orders with the Little Company of Mary.

MOURNED: Sister Joan Westblade has died at the age of 87. Sr Joan served the community for more than 60 years after taking orders with the Little Company of Mary.

In 1950, a young nurse at an Adelaide hospital was caring for people with poliomyelitis when she was struck down with the terrifying illness herself.

That young woman was Sister Joan Westblade, who has died at the age of 87, and what happened to her as she battled polio is considered by many to be a miracle.

After returning to her family in Wagga, the 21-year-old faced a life in leg calipers.

But as Melbourne-based The Argus reported: “On the afternoon of Anzac Day, at Wagga's Lewisham Hospital, she prayed before the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which, after being on view in Melbourne Catholic churches, is being taken to country districts.

“She said that as Riverina Catholics were being blessed before the statue she felt a slight change in the paralysed muscles of her right side. She felt a sense of elation and thrill.

“A few hours after the blessing, while lying on a couch at her sister's home, she felt her paralysed muscles twitch, tighten and gain power.

“She said: ‘I didn't dare believe I was cured. But somehow I got off my irons, got up, and walked’.”

Two years later, Sister Joan joined the Little Company of Mary and served the order for more than 60 years.

Sr Joan was a health worker for many years at the Mary MacKillop Mission on East Timor, where she witnessed not only poverty, but also the civil unrest surrounding the 1999 vote for independence.

She once wrote: “The desperate poverty situation, particularly of the children, was brought home to me when I saw a young boy about eight years old climbing into putrid rubbish to retrieve some tins which he could sell. ... There are few paying jobs for the youth ... immediate, stop-gap measures are necessary to tide people over; [but] the causes of this poverty must be addressed."

Sr Joan received an award from the President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Francis Carroll, recognising her significant role in assisting the people in East Timor.

The Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal Award recognised members of specific Australian groups who have been exposed to risk or danger when providing significant humanitarian aid to civilians overseas.

Sr Joan spent the last years of her life at the Calvary Retirement Community in Canberra.

A funeral mass will be held at St Vincent’s Aranda Catholic Church in the ACT on Monday at 10am.