During Holy Week 21 years ago, Martina Purdy was at Stormont in Northern Ireland around the clock, reporting on the political negotiations that led to the Good Friday agreement. Her job in the high octane world of news journalism took her to Downing Street, the White House, even the Oval Office.
Now, as Sr Martina, she reflects on her decision to leave it all behind and embrace religious life:
In October 2014, I left everything to follow Jesus, including my job as a BBC political correspondent in Belfast.
When I told the Head of News I was quitting, she was expressionless. When I said I was entering a convent, her eyes expanded and her jaw dropped. When she recovered, she started making arrangements: ‘’We’ll make the announcement on Friday at 3 o’clock.” ‘’What?’’ I responded, bursting with joy. ‘’Why that’s the hour of mercy, the hour that Jesus died to new life. That’s amazing that you chose that time! Don’t you think that’s amazing?’’ My boss didn’t seem to share my amazement.
Many times since, I have pondered my incredible journey from Broadcasting House to the Adoration Convent. In fact, the BBC, where decisions are ‘’referred up’’, is quite good training for religious life. Instead of seeking an editor’s permission, I seek the Superior’s. At first, it seemed, I needed permission for everything!
People imagine that convent life is rather serene, perhaps a bit dull, but in fact it’s a great adventure. I was meeting new people, listening to their stories and facing deadlines all the time, just like in the newsroom.
The first deadline - just before 7am - is morning office and adoration in our chapel, then 8am sharp for breakfast: tea, or coffee and locally baked baps. In the shop next door to get the baps, there’s a chance to scan the headlines – searching, not for a story, but for someone in trouble to pray for, often a politician!
One of the biggest adjustments was breakfast in silence. The Superior assured me I would get used to it, and even welcome it. She was right.
My work changed radically. No longer running around Stormont looking for a story, I was helping with altar bread, arranging altar flowers, hoovering or perhaps my greatest challenge: cooking. A meal for eight people including our chaplain was more frightening than a live camera and a breaking story. The superior asked me if I had ever made a chicken casserole. ‘’Oh yes,’’ I replied. ‘’From Marks and Spencer. I put it the microwave.’’ She smiled back. ‘’Well, you’re not doing that now. You’ll make it from scratch.’’
So much for cooking by St Michael! From now on I would need the Mother of God! It was a great lesson in the power of prayer - my cooking skills have greatly improved.
The noon deadline for news has been replaced by mid-day prayer, and Mass, where I might do a reading. That’s so much better than announcing another political deadlock, or listening to an interview for the best quote. Now I search Isaiah, or the Gospels for memorable lines.
After daily Mass it’s lunch followed by dishes and an afternoon of work, spiritual reading, or study plus a free hour for a walk or a rest.
The busiest part of my day used to be between 5pm and 6:30pm when I would be flying between TV and radio studios reporting on the day’s events. I would be caught up in my own stress, and my own problems. At the convent, I’m in adoration, singing psalms and praying for other people, although my own concerns still creep in!
No longer do I unwind with a glass of wine and a pizza. Each evening it’s a simple tea before finishing my daily chores, enjoying some recreation, or praying in adoration. Sometimes I have a music lesson (I’m learning guitar). At 8:30pm, there’s rosary and night prayer and then it’s bed. If I’m not too tired, I’ll read. At first I was quite exhausted, and I still am sometimes, but my days fly by, full of life and drama.
If you had told me more than five years ago, that I would be living on the Falls Road, dressed in a brown habit, two doors down from the Sinn Fein offices where I used to interview Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness, I would have said you were mad, that this was quite impossible. Of course, now I love to quote Luke 1:37: ‘’Nothing is impossible to God.’’
One morning, I was going to the shop for the breakfast baps when a man in a flak jacket, riding a bicycle, slowed down on the footpath, and shouted: ‘’You were mad leaving that job in the BBC to go in there!’’ But I just raised my hands in the air and quoted Sr Elaine, a former barrister: ‘’I am living the dream!’’
My mission as an Adoration Sister is to receive the life of Christ in the Eucharist and communicate it to others. So I’m still in the communications business (only now I thank Jesus every day that I don’t have to explain Brexit.)
My life is more challenging than before – and it is more fulfilling. One reason I became a journalist was to seek the truth. Then I fell in love with Jesus who is the Truth.
All the skills I have learned are not wasted. I go out and speak to people about Jesus and adoration. I have kept the convent journal, and tweeted scripture. I even published a chapter in a book last year, Reporting the Troubles, reflecting on one of my biggest stories: the day the Good Friday Agreement was sealed.
I had a privileged position at the BBC, a privileged life, and a ring-side seat at history.
But the greatest privilege of my life now is living in God’s house, sitting at the feet of Jesus every day, in His Blessed Sacrament, adoring Him.