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NUNS ARE ON THE RUN; ...But the religious life is an important and very fulfilling one , maintains Sister Eileen.

More and more young Irish women would rather live the good life right now than become nuns and make vows for eternity.

JASON JOHNSON asks one devotee how can the pious life beat the thrills on offer to young women in modern Irish society?

ABSTINENCE isn't a byword for 1990s Ireland. Neither is prayer, spirituality nor even God.

Thousands of young Irish Catholic women today are coming out of churches and turning towards shops and nightclubs.

Boyzone and clothes are top the talks agenda, and bands like B*witched are the role models of the moment.

But just as fashions come and go, some problems forever stay the same, and somebody has to tackle them.


"There is still poverty in Ireland and there are needy people just as there always have been," says Sister Eileen Nash, a nun for 15 years.

"And I think there are always women who are aware of that and who also feel some depth of calling inside themselves."

The sisterhood, says Sister Eileen, is still a good lifestyle choice for a new generation no matter what's on offer.

To her it's all about community, selflessness and doesn't revolve around the modern image-driven lifestyle.

But the bare facts must speak for themselves: the numbers of young women joining religious orders had dropped year after year.

The calling to young women is deafened by the din of the modern, European, forward-looking Ireland.

Sister Elizabeth Maxwell of the Conference of Religious of Ireland agreed numbers were falling, but that makes little difference to the role sisters have to play.

"The numbers of women making enquiries about religious life has risen considerably over the past few years," she said.

"It seems that the searching is intensified by the passing and ephemeral nature of a lot that is presented as the good life today."

She added that women who become nuns do so to fill a spiritual need in their lives - and that might be due to the nature of modern society.

Sister Eileen, 36, who is based at Mount St. Anne's retreat centre in Co Laois, says she `nearly left it all by the side of the road'.

"I had become a florist at first but I had this feeling that I suppose I had always had.

"When I first started talking about becoming a nun, an aunt of mine would say to me that it was something I had always wanted to do.

"I don't remember that, but I remember that when I was around 15 or 16 finding consciousness."


Eileen went to school with the Presentation Sisters, whom she since joined, and was impressed with their devotion.

"There were particular ones among the women who kind of stood out for me.

"I think it called something in me and also called me to do something to help other people.

"That feeling stayed with me until eventually, years later, I said to myself that I'll do something about this."

After talking with family and close friends - most of them supportive - Sister Eileen took the biggest decision of her life and trained as a nun.

Her major hope was that everyone she knew would still see her as herself - and not a changed woman who had left her life behind.

"I'm not saying that there weren't times that I wanted to get out because there were some really tough times.

"But I went ahead with it and now I'm happy and sure I made the right decision."

Ireland's nuns have changed a lot in the last 20 years.

The formal dress codes are have been relaxed while the amount of hands on work they do in many areas of the community has increased.

Nuns say this is why women of all ages still join up from all quarters of life when they feel their existence is missing something.

The pattern has changed, but those who do take the plunge are said to form part of the backbone of Catholicism in Ireland.

"It makes a lot of sense," says Sister Eileen.

"We must always go to wherever we're needed to help people make the most of their lives.

"People might have nothing, but they have other riches that we can't see."

Women who take the vows can expect to spend around an hour a day in personal prayer and half an hour praying as a group.

Some Presentation Sisters spend most of their time working with school children on retreat.


"Times have changed, but I feel there is a fair amount of belief out there even though people are fighting against it.

"There is a huge amount of searching for some kind of relationship with God.

"In my case, without that relationship with God my life would have very little meaning."

Sister Elieen says her life has many pressures like those of ordingary people, but is greatly rewarded by her work.

Nuns will tell you that the choice they have made is a valid and still a very vital one.

"The pressures are very different to what other women would have," says Sister Eileen.

"Some have their prime relationship with their husbands and their families and mine is with God.

"That's something I came to realise and the focus of that relationship won't change."
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Johnson, Jason
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Apr 18, 1999
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