The number of nuns joining convents in England and Wales is on the rise, as reported by the BBC.
According to the statistics of the Catholic Church in UK the number of women becoming nuns here had reached a 25-year high. Many are aged 30 or under.
The concerted effort by the Catholic Church in recent years to demystify what nuns do, and to explain what life in monastic orders actually means is told as a major reason behind the increase. Though outreach and communication clearly help, young people’s search for meaning and fulfillment in a hollow world is pointed as a more profound reason behind it.
“There is a gap in the market for meaning in our culture,” says Father Christopher Jamison, the former Abbot of the Benedictine Abbey at Worth, and the Catholic Church’s national vocations director.
“Increasingly, young people find Christian faith filling that meaning gap, and for a smaller number of those, ‘religious life’ has a tremendous appeal because it leads them to the heart of human life today: to the heart of working for the poor, leading a balanced life and a great conviction that there is more to life.”
The figures show a rise for enclosed or contemplative orders, as well as for active or apostolic ministry, and the work can vary immensely within both. Some nuns in London can find themselves at the sharp end of social need in the modern world. Some even accompany police on raids of brothels to help women who have been trafficked, while others work with the poor and the marginalised, or with elderly people.
Those in enclosed orders are not completely cut off from the world, but they do devote themselves to contemplation and prayer, rising at 05:00 to start the day with vigils or matins at 05:30.
Sister Walburga, 35, became a Benedictine nun at St Mildred’s Priory at Minster Abbey in Kent, where she leads a simple life as part of a small community. She was a social worker who felt her calling to religious life grow stronger.
While she was thinking about her vocation, the Catholic Church offered her the chance to stay with the sisters there to see if it would be the right life for her. “When my vocation really became strong, my boyfriend and I split up so I could explore it. “My family thought I’d be locked away and miserable, but when they saw I was here and I was happy, they’ve come round,” she says.
The rhythm of life is rather different for Roisin McGrogan, a novice with the Faithful Companions of Jesus in a convent in London. Roisin is among the 27 women who joined active orders last year, working outside the convent, helping homeless and vulnerable people in the UK or abroad.
Roisin, a 27-year old Irishwoman with an infectious smile, came to this ancient calling in a very modern way, using an internet web app to explore her options. “Vision Vocation Match” allows would-be nuns to answer an internet questionnaire, to narrow down which religious order would suit them best.
Roisin agrees that it’s a little like using an online dating site to find the perfect partner. “I tried that too, but I found it less effective,” she says, laughing. “When you’re looking for a life partner, or one love, it’s to sustain you and to enable you to become the best person you can be ideally. And this is another way of falling in love: with great hope and great promise.”
That is a feeling echoed by Theodora Hawksley, an equally engaging novice who was a theologian and academic, and is now writing a book on peace-building. At the age of 29, she has become a novice with the Congregation of Jesus in north London. Her work also involves helping homeless people, as well as taking part in the daily life of the convent, cooking and gardening.
When asked about her feeling of not having the chance to marry or have children her answer was direct and unhesitating: “Yes, of course, that is going to hurt at various times. But in the same way as when you prune a plant, it encourages it to grow and flourish in different ways, that’s ideally what should happen when you cut off one possibility of love. When you are chaste, other parts grow, and may be more flourishing, more welcoming to others.
“If our society is obsessed with money, sex and power and the games people play with them, then vows of poverty chastity and obedience represent a profound freedom. That’s what has drawn me to religious life. It’s not a fleeing from the world – it’s a finding your place in it.”
Whether a life of religious contemplation or participation in good works, both traditions of monasticism for Catholic women are clearly enjoying a fresh flourishing in Britain today.
Adapted from the BBC news report by