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A Nun in Notts

17 December 21 illustrations: Kasia Kozakiewicz

Called to a life of holiness, this Nun is taking on the fight against nuclear weapons...

I never imagined I’d be a Catholic sister. I didn’t grow up in a tradition where that was the norm. I come from Belfast in Northern Ireland, so I actually grew up in a culture that vilified Catholics, and I’d always assumed that I would get married and have kids. I was in quite serious relationships in my young adult life, but I sort of always knew that wasn’t for me, although I couldn’t explain why.

I guess it was a long road of discernment that brought me here. My faith has always been really important to me, and I love being part of a community, particularly one that has a heart for social justice. I think that the love of God, neighbour, and nature is central to the Christian tradition. It’s definitely got pushed aside for political expediency at some points, but in our congregation that’s the main focus.

Our congregation was set up in Nottingham at the end of the nineteenth century when industrialisation had made life difficult for the poorest members of Nottingham. Factories and mining meant that people were living in oppressive situations. It was an unjust way of treating people, using them for labour and then leaving them in squalor without education or healthcare. When we first came to Nottingham, that’s what the sisters focused on. They went into people’s homes to provide healthcare, and to set up schools. 

In my day-to-day life, no two days are the same. We pray together as a community in the mornings and evenings, so the day is held by those two points of prayer. It’s an important time to come together and listen to scripture, but also to listen to one another. We have to learn to see wisdom in one another, rather than expecting it to always come mystically from above. The in-between part of the day is quite diverse, our community has just moved house so a lot of it is quite practical, full of unpacking and getting the house ready.

I’m a peace activist so that’s an important part of my work. When people think of religious life, I don’t think they’d think that nuns get arrested, but I’ve been arrested for protesting nuclear weapons and the war in Afghanistan. One of the vows we take is obedience, but I think God calls us to holy disobedience when a law is unjust. Since January, nuclear weapons have been illegal under international law, but our government is still buying more weapons of mass destruction. I feel called to keep protesting, especially since I come from a place of privilege and many brothers and sisters across the world can’t do that. They live under regimes where they’d just disappear. I’m very blessed to have this privilege, and that my community supports me. I mean, if you read the Bible, Peter, Paul, and Jesus himself were all arrested. We’re walking on tried and tested ground. Non-violent civil disobedience is a powerful tool to bring about social change.

When people think of religious life, I don’t think they’d think that nuns get arrested, but I’ve been arrested for protesting nuclear weapons and the war in Afghanistan. One of the vows we take is obedience, but I think God calls us to holy disobedience when a law is unjust

I think it’s challenging to keep balance. There’s so much injustice in the world and the need is endless. You could be involved in every campaign going, so it’s a challenge trying to discern what’s yours to do. Someone once said, “You can’t do everything, but doing something makes all the difference,” and I believe that. I can’t save the world, and I have no more answers than anybody else, but I believe that we can make a difference. Here in Nottingham, for example, we have the gun factory Heckler & Koch in Lenton, which I think perpetuates our addiction to violence. I think you have to prioritise where you are, so to resist the arms trade in Nottingham is really important.

It’s important to have time for my community too. The essence of religious life is living with people that you’d never normally choose to live with. God calls these women of different ages, cultural backgrounds and class to come and be together. We experience the normal struggles of living with each other, but we’ve intentionally chosen to live a certain life. We’ve committed to this for life. It’s not like a house share where the tenancy agreement is up in a year.

Of course, community can be difficult. If you ever read stories in the Bible about the disciples, they bicker and fight all the time, and we’re no different. I don’t think our lives are very different from anybody else's in that way, if you share your home with family and friends there are always ups and downs. When a couple says they don’t argue, I don’t believe them, likewise when a nun says they don’t argue, I don’t believe them either.

Equally, the community element is what I enjoy the most. I never feel like I’m doing this on my own. I know that my sisters are always supporting me. We support each other to go out in the world, through prayer and action. Sometimes in very practical ways, like going to the climate protest together.

You don’t just become a sister overnight. It’s a really long process that can take between six and nine years. After all, we make our final vows for life. Most women nowadays are entering in their thirties and forties and have come from lives with careers and responsibilities. Risking all that is huge. But I feel very blessed and privileged to have this life, which brings such joy and peace and hope and diversity to me.

Like I mentioned, we’ve just moved into a slightly bigger property so we can welcome guests. We want to be able to use those spaces to home people who would otherwise be destitute. We also want to share space with grassroot activists, maybe people who can’t afford rent space. And of course, to be a presence in the local community, and for everyone to feel welcome and heard. 

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