Faith Matters

Sr Martina: Why I left everything to follow Jesus

Sr Martina at the Adoration Convent in west Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

Former TV journalist Martina Purdy has spoken of her decision to embrace religious life after having a “ring-side seat at history” by covering the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Once the voice that covered the peace process though her role as a political correspondent for BBC Northern Ireland, Sr Martina turned her back on a 20-year career in reporting in 2014 when she decided to become a nun.

Three years later she took her religious vows in St Peter’s Cathedral in west Belfast and joined the Adoration Sisters.

As the 21st anniversary of the Belfast Agreement approaches, Sr Martina described how she “left everything to follow Jesus,” and said: “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.

“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.”

Describing convent life as a “great adventure”, Sr Martina said meeting new people and listening to their stories while facing deadlines as a nun was “just like 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,” she said.

“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.”

Read more: Elaine Kelly was a leading Belfast barrister until God called her to become a nun

Sr Martina at the Adoration Convent in west Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

For the former journalist, whose career also included a period at The Irish News, the noon news deadline has been replaced by mid-day prayer and scripture reading.

“That’s so much better than announcing another political deadlock or listening to an interview for the best quote,” she continues.

“Now I search Isaiah, or the Gospels for memorable lines. 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.”

An evening glass of wine and slice of pizza to unwind has also been swapped for a “simple” meal, chores, prayers and the occasional guitar lesson.

“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 Féin offices where I used to interview Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness, I would have said you were mad.

“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!’

“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, reporting from Downing Street, the White House, even the Oval Office.

“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.”

Read more: Elaine Kelly was a leading Belfast barrister until God called her to become a nun

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