The Sisters of the Gospel of Life were recently profiled in the Financial Times as part of a larger survey on the state of religious life in modern Britain. It’s not at all bad – pretty negative in places but the positive side comes through in the end, mainly thanks to Sr Roseann who, true to form, always gets the last word.
Religious life is not the visible presence it once was in the West, but new shoots are springing up all over. Our hope will not be in vain.
You can read the full article, and view the accompanying pictures here.
The Sisters Of the Gospel of Life
Monks may be a slowly dying breed, but nuns can breathe slightly easier: there are estimated to be more than three times as many Sisters as there are Brothers in Britain today. Four hundred miles from Worth Abbey, I visit the Sisters of the Gospel of Life in their church hall in Glasgow’s suburbs.
The order was established in 2000 to support women with “crisis pregnancies”. Sister Roseann Reddy, a Glaswegian in her forties, has big cheery cheeks, a pudding-bowl haircut and a talent for speaking without pausing for breath. She’s in the middle of assembling a flat-pack cot – and looks flustered. “Our life isn’t the slightest airy-fairey,” she laughs. The order currently only has one other member, Sister Andreas, a 33-year-old former editor at an Edinburgh publishing house. They live in a semi-detached house, rented from the local diocese, rather than an ancient convent. And, without a priest on-hand, they have to drive a battered car to different parishes everyday to find a church open for Mass.
Their work was started in 1997 when Cardinal Winning, the archbishop of Glasgow, announced that any women with an unwanted pregnancy “of every faith and none should come to the archdiocese of Glasgow for assistance” rather than visit the abortionist. Sister Roseann, then a pastoral assistant in the Church, was asked by the Cardinal to run what became known in the tabloids as the “Cash for babies scheme”.
The Cardinal Thomas Winning Pro-Life Initiative has helped more than 2,300 women from across the UK – each of whom, when they have agreed to carry on with their pregnancy, has received prams, toys and clothes.
We sit down to talk in the pastel counselling room, watched from above by pictures of Jesus and Winnie the Pooh. Despite the soothing decor and Sister Roseann Reddy’s bonhomie, her Catholic message is hard-edged: “Religious life has always sprung out of the need of the time. The reason ours is a new order is that it has come out of the need to uphold and defend human life that years ago wouldn’t have been necessary. There wasn’t this – as Pope John Paul said – ‘culture of death’ that we are now living in.”
Sister Roseann believes in the importance of religious tradition: “We wear our habits most of the time – unless we are doing something like hill-walking or going to see the football. At a time when we’re losing religious identity, it has an incredible effect on people to see nuns in a habit. It’s rubbish that it’s a barrier to talking to people – it’s actually the exact opposite. On the bus or train people come up to us and say, ‘Sister, I’m a Catholic, but I wonder if you would say a wee prayer for me’. Then they’ll tell some story about their son who is on drugs.” And the habit, she admits, is a useful restraining influence: “I’m quite an aggressive driver. It’s dead good to have the habit on so that you keep the plot instead of losing it.”
As we tour the storeroom, Sister Roseann tells me her life story. Born into a Catholic family, she immersed herself in pro-life campaigning after seeing the Pope preach at Murrayfield rugby stadium in 1982. At 36, she decided to become a nun. But Roseann has seen very few others make the same commitment, despite the number of “nibblers” who have tried to live the life. “The chances are that the people who come to join you won’t stay,” she says, sighing. “People always give away their CD collection because they think they won’t need it any more. We tell them to put their stuff in storage”. But doesn’t this make her depressed about the future of religious orders? She bats away my negativity: “People always look to numbers but it’s always been two or three people who start things. Great things happen from very small beginnings.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007