A Family Affair: A mother's greatest sacrifice

Three years ago Geraldine McGrory, 28, became a novice in the enclosed Benedictine order at Tyburn Convent in London where she is called Sister Mary Joseph. Her mother, Margaret McGrory, is a housewife and has 11 children. She lives in a suburb of Birmingham

Sister Mary Joseph

I didn't have a vision or hear voices when I got the calling. Something just quietly changed in my life. I used to be quite materialistic and loved shopping, especially for clothes. But suddenly all these things seemed completely unimportant. I was brought up in a Catholic home with 10 brothers and sisters but I wouldn't say I was particularly religious. I went to Mass every week and said my prayers but in my teens I was just like any other normal young girl. I wanted to leave school, go to university and get a life. I did quite well at school and got into Birmingham University, where I studied law. After that I joined a legal practice and began my law training.

It was after I had been on a trip to Lourdes with my mum that I started to feel differently. She had always wanted to go so it was a bit of a trip of a lifetime for her but I didn't really think much about it. After I came back and returned to work I started going to Mass in my lunch hour, which was pretty weird for me. The feeling started to grow inside me that perhaps I was really cut out for a religious life.

At first I thought it was a phase and that it would pass. I started praying for guidance and went to see my local priest to get advice. I thought I would get some kind of sign or proof that I was on the right track. The priest said if I was waiting for a fax from heaven I'd have a long wait as God doesn't send faxes! So it was quite a long time before I was really sure about it.

It has never occurred to me that I may have made the wrong decision. I never feel I want to be anywhere else because I am so sure I have chosen the right way of life for me. Whereas my motivation before was to earn money and have a good time, now it is to love God and serve the Church. I don't miss anything about my old life, neither do I feel that my freedom has been curbed.

Of course, I miss my mum and I will be thinking of her at Christmas but I am so involved in the life of the convent I don't have time to dwell on life outside. I have my own room with a bed, a desk and my books. I never get bored.

I get up at five in the morning, work hard at my housekeeping duties all day and go to bed at around 8.30pm. The days and weeks literally fly by - this will be my third Christmas in the convent.

Before I joined and I was thinking everything through, it did cross my mind that I would never marry and have children, which was a shame because I love children - particularly babies.

But if you have a vocation, God does give you the strength to cope. Instead of having children of my own I have got thousands of children in a spiritual sense. In the convent, we are like spiritual mothers, praying for the souls of all the children in the world.

There is a real sense of sisterhood in here. I feel that this is now my family because we all have that spiritual union and devotion to Christ.

I believe that God has a special path for everyone and, at some point in any young Catholic's life, they question themselves and ask whether they want to become a priest or a nun.

It wasn't a difficult choice for me in the end because things seemed to miraculously fall into place. All I did was pray for discernment and everything was revealed.

Margaret

I had very high hopes for Geraldine because she was a very clever child. She was top of her class in everything at school. When she went to university to study law we were all so proud of her. She did well at law college and then began her job in a solicitor's office. She seemed to really enjoy her working life - she was very popular and made friends easily.

About three years ago Geraldine came home to visit for the weekend. She seemed quieter than usual and after a while she told us she had decided to enter an enclosed convent. She said she had thought long and hard about it but she was sure that was what she wanted to do with her life.

At first it was a bit of a shock, and I would never have told her but there was a part of me that was a little bit disappointed because of what she was giving up. I felt she had a good career and could go far. But I do feel very strongly that children should follow their own path in life, so I was also immensely proud of her. In a Catholic family as big as ours it's considered almost an honour if one of your children gets the calling. I suppose you could say that I had secretly harboured some hopes that one of mine would have a vocation.

Although we are a very strong Catholic family and go to church every week, none of our other children has ever shown the slightest desire to go into the Church. In fact, they were probably more shockedabout Geraldine's decision than I was. They had never come into contact with nuns and, like many people who only ever see them on the television, probably thought of them as figures of fun. Now that they have seen her way of life they really appreciate what she is doing.

I missed Geraldine dreadfully when she first went in. I still keep her bedroom just as she left it. Some people might think it's like a shrine to her. But it doesn't feel like that. I never entertained any hopes that she would come back but I just couldn't bring myself to change anything. Her books are arranged just as they were. I go in now and then and sit quietly and have a read. It makes me feel close to her.

It's hard for any mother to come to terms with the fact that their daughter is miles away and can't just get away when she wants. I can't just pop up and see her for a cup of tea when I want to. I can't phone her up for a chat like other mothers do. But I do respect the fact that she has given herself to the religious life and, although our relationship is now quite restrictive, it is worth any sacrifices I have had to make. We visit her once a month and she writes us lovely letters.

There is an inner happiness about Geraldine now that I can't explain. Looking back, I think she was probably quite stressed when she was working. She worried endlessly about the state of the world. She felt she wanted to do something positive to help. She really has a very strong belief that dedicating her life to God will make a difference. Convent life suits her very well. She is full of joy and although I know that if she decided tomorrow that she had chosen the wrong path she could leave, I don't think she will. She is very strong-willed and knows her own mind. But if she ever changed her mind she knows that we will always be there for her and support her in her choice.

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