UK

Women becoming nuns hits 25-year high

Three nuns waving their arms in the air Image copyright Getty Images

The number of women becoming nuns has reached a 25-year high, the Catholic Church in England and Wales says.

Figures show the number of women taking their holy vows has trebled in the past five years, from 15 in 2009 to 45 last year - the highest number since 1990.

Fourteen of the women who entered convents in 2014 were aged 30 or under, the latest figures show.

The Church says women are being drawn to religious life because of a "gap in the market for meaning in our culture".

Sister Cathy Jones, from the National Office for Vocation, said: "We are never going to be at the place we were at 50 years ago, Catholic culture was at a very different place.

"But the fact that more women are becoming nuns than there has been in the past 25 years shows that as a generation we have turned a corner."

'Reaching out'

The figures show that in the 1980s around 80 women were becoming nuns each year but the numbers gradually declined until 2004 when only seven women joined a convent.

The small number of entrants has gradually increased again in the last 10 years, reaching 45 in 2014.

Sister Cathy said nuns were now less visible in communities but they were now doing more hidden work with trafficked women or working as counsellors.

And she added that some women may have been driven to the work after having seen more poverty in the UK during the economic downturn.

"It doesn't tend to be those who are coming from quite vulnerable places who become nuns, but there are people who want to be reaching out to those on the margins, who join," she said.


'Relationship of love'

Image copyright Theodora Hawksley
Image caption Theodora Hawksley says her order tends to dress down in t-shirts and jeans rather than traditional habits

Theodora Hawksley, 29, was until recently a postdoctoral researcher in theology at the University of Edinburgh, but at the beginning of the year she decided to end her career as an academic, and begin her training to become a nun.

She joined the Congregation of Jesus in January and is now living in their house in Willesden, north London, while taking the first steps towards making vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Ms Hawksley said: "In one sense it is a bit like trying to explain to somebody why you are marrying the person you are. You can list their qualities, but in the end it is a relationship of love.

"I don't have to worry now about practical things like making a career for myself. I'm free to go where I'm needed and meet people at the margins.

"You are not on your own. It is an unusual life choice, but you are not the only one making it. There are plenty of people asking themselves the same questions."

She admitted some of her friends were a "bit bewildered" when she revealed her plans, but most have been very supportive.


Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Many nuns choose to work in the community in nursing, teaching or evangelisation

Last year the majority of new nuns - 27 out of 45 - chose to be active religious sisters, who have a ministry outside of the convent, working in a community in areas such as nursing or teaching. Religious sisters are often sent to live in different communities every few years, both in the UK or abroad.

Last year, BBC Northern Ireland political reporter Martina Purdy quit her 25-year career in journalism to become a nun.

She entered the Adoration Sisters last October.

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