Maria Boulding: Nun and theologian who translated works by St Augustine

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The Independent Online

Maria Boulding spent 62 of her 80 years as a much-valued member of Stanbrook Abbey, a community of enclosed Benedictine nuns. Her realisation, early in her monastic life, that she had a gift for theology and for writing brought her into contact with leading theologians and prelates. She translated St Augustine's Confessions (1997) and his Expositions of the Psalms in several volumes (2000-2004), to much acclaim.

In the late 1970s she joined the theological commission of the English Benedictine Congregation to produce Consider Your Call (1978), a book on contemporary monastic life, and similar enterprises. All the other members were monks. Her books included The Coming of God (1982) and she contributed articles to theological journals. In 1982, in A Touch of God (a selection of essays which she also edited) Boulding admitted to having enjoyed the company and stimulation of men. She recalled how, while reading out a piece she had written which included a quotation from St Augustine, she said, "That bit's Augustine, not me." Amid much laughter her male colleagues riposted with "We know you're marvellous, Maria, but we can tell the difference."

In 1980, as part of the preparations to commemorate 1,500 years since the birth of St Benedict, Boulding was invited to address male and female communities in Australia and Japan. She remarked on the paradox that having entered an enclosed community for life, she should be called to travel worldwide. In Japan she experienced a minor earthquake. Realising she might die she thought, "If I had only a few more minutes to live, I didn't want to waste them talking to God about my sins. I wanted to thank him for all the love, all the joy."

Mary Boulding (she adopted the name Maria after entering Stanbrook) was born in Wimbledon in south London in 1929, one of six children. Her father, Reginald Boulding, was a pioneer of radar and a convert to Catholicism. Deciding at 16 that she wanted to be a nun, she turned down a scholarship for Oxford University to enter Stanbrook in September 1947. After taking her final vows of profession in April 1952, she became, to use her own description, "intellectually frustrated, stagnant, unhappy," and began to wish she had delayed her vocation until later.

She was rescued by the recently elected Abbess Elizabeth Sumner who, recognising her abilities, channelled her into theology. After that she never looked back. She gained a diploma in theology and in 1974 became a Bachelor of Divinity. Meanwhile she was novice mistress from 1965-74, then twice sub-prioress, from 1974-78 and again from 2006-08. She was twice a member of the Abbess's council, and Prioress (second in command to the abbess) from 2008 until her death in November 2009. For some years she was also the librarian.

After the Second Vatican Council, in the 1960s, Boulding became a firm supporter of renewal and openness in the Church. In 1985 she obtained permission from the abbess to become a hermit – a state of life only granted to nuns or monks considered to be sufficiently mature in their monastic vows. She remained a hermit until 2004 and it was during these years that she became best known for her writing and translations.

The Stanbrook Abbey Boulding entered was a collection of Victorian buildings near Worcester, designed by E.W. Pugin. With dwindling numbers, the nuns decided in 2007 to move to a smaller, purpose-built monastery in North Yorkshire, incorporating the latest advances in sustainable living. They moved in May 2009. Boulding, with her experience of the eremitic life, approved of their new ecological lifestyle. She died of cancer, fully supported by the community, to whom she gave her services until only weeks before her death.

She is survived by one brother and by her sister, Cecily Boulding, a Dominican nun and also a theologian.

Christopher Ralls

Maria Boulding, nun and theologian: born London 7 May 1929; died Stanbrook Abbey, North Yorkshire 11 November 2009.