Northern Ireland

Martina Purdy: 'My decision to become a nun was like makeover in reverse'

Martina Purdy Image copyright Martin McKeown
Image caption Martina Purdy has spoken of how she felt weighed down by her possessions

A high-profile BBC journalist who left her career to become a nun has described her transformation as a "makeover in reverse".

Martina Purdy quit her job as political correspondent for BBC News NI last October to enter the religious life.

Speaking publicly about her decision for the first time, she said she had chosen a "simple, hidden life" doing "little things".

"I help to bake the bread, I cook and I clean and I pray," she said.

Ms Purdy, who spent more than 20 years in journalism, spoke about her Catholic faith and her dramatic life change during a service at St Eugene's Cathedral in Londonderry on Monday night.

'Wearing brown'

Her address was part of the Little Way Novena that is being held there this week.

Ms Purdy, who joined the Sisters of the Adoration, in west Belfast, revealed her path to the contemplative life.

Dressed in the brown garb of the religious order, she joked: "This is what happens when you go deeper into your faith. You end up wearing brown on the Falls Road.

Image caption Martina Purdy joined the BBC in 1999 and left last year to take up a new way of life

"I feel a little bit like I'm in a makeover show in reverse.

"Those who know me know that I'm not one for silence, a bit of a chatterbox.

"So when I came to the congregation seeking to join them and they told me that they ate in silence and their work was in silence, I kind of thought they were joking.

"But only the Lord could call a chatterbox to a life of silence. But He does love irony".

Her decision shocked many people, not least her friends in the media and the scores of politicians she had grilled over the years.

'Drunk'

She admitted she was shocked herself.

"When I phoned a number of the politicians to tell them myself, I have to say a few were uncharacteristically quiet. I was going: 'Hello, hello, are you there?'

"One thought I was joking. I called one of my relatives to tell them that I was quitting the BBC to become a nun and he said: "Are you drunk?" I said: 'No, I'm not drunk, I'm just happy'.

"Most people were surprisingly supportive, very loving in fact. Two friendly print journalists came to see me at the convent.

"They planned to stage an intervention but when they saw how happy I was, they just gave up and wished me well and went home."

Ms Purdy was educated at a convent school and raised as a Catholic but said she had no "calling" when she was younger. Instead, she was drawn towards news, with a real passion for politics.

"Did I want to be a nun? Absolutely not. I have to say poverty, chastity and obedience aren't exactly big sellers," she said.

Image copyright Martin McKeown +4478842371158
Image caption Martina Purdy walking to Mass in Londonderry

"Who wants to be a living sacrifice? I wanted to be a journalist, was happy enough to get married and have children, if that happened."

Martina joined BBC Northern Ireland in 1999, having worked as a print journalist before that.

However, her journey deeper into faith began about eight years ago following a holiday to Peru when she thought about becoming an aid worker.

'Choked'

"I started to get a growing sense that I lived a pretty selfish existence. I thought my life was a little bit too easy," she said.

"Ok, you know hell is the multi-party talks, but there was always respite at the end of the day. I wanted to have a more meaningful life and do more for other people."

Ms Purdy was increasingly drawn to religion and described becoming "really joyful or quite tearful" after taking communion.

She said she began to feel "weighed down" or "choked" by her possessions.

"I started to have this overwhelming desire for God and started to lose the passion for the things I really liked, like shopping, champagne, going on trips, going out with friends," she said.

"I started to lose my passion for my job. I thought 'whoa what's going on?' .

"I really love politics but it just wasn't really satisfying me anymore."

Image copyright Martin McKeown
Image caption Ms Purdy spoke to the congregation gathered at St Eugene's Cathedral

Her feelings were cemented during a retreat and she realised she had been "asleep" in her faith until that point.

"I knew it was my choice. I could stay at the BBC, have a good life or I could go and give my life to God. I could be transformed. So I'm like: ' Yes, Lord, I'm in. I want to be transformed.'

"And hence I'm in the brown.

"If you told me at the end of that retreat that I'd be living on the Falls Road, two doors down from the Sinn Fein offices where I used to be a reporter, wearing brown I would have laughed."

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