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Martina Purdy on becoming a nun: 'It felt like a makeover show in reverse'

Former TV journalist Martina Purdy has spoken frankly about her vocation. Donna Deeney reports

Published 12/05/2015

Former BBC correspondent Martina Purdy at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Londonderry last night
Former BBC correspondent Martina Purdy at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Londonderry last night
Martina in her BBC days
Martina speaking from the pulpit
The packed congregation at St Eugene's Cathedral

Dressed in the brown garb of the Sisters of Adoration, former broadcaster Martina Purdy appeared uncharacteristically nervous as she prepared to give her first public address since quitting her job to become a trainee nun.

Her decision last year to swap a high-flying media career for the contemplative life sparked widespread surprise and much comment.

The novice spoke candidly about her Catholic faith and her dramatic change in lifestyle at St Eugene's Cathedral in Londonderry last night as part of the Little Way Novena which is being held there all this week.

A packed congregation sat engrossed as Ms Purdy explained how her faith deepened to such an extent that she ended up "wearing brown on the Falls Road" and feeling a bit like she was "in a makeover show in reverse".

Her distinctive blond highlighted bob hairstyle has been replaced by an undyed crop and she now sports a studious pair of glasses, but her voice, so familiar from BBC political reports, confirms it is indeed the same woman.

In her address, Ms Purdy explained how even she was left wondering at how she arrived at this new way of life.

"I am quite happy to come and talk at a novena to St Terese, her vocation is love," she said. "I was reflecting on her Little Way, doing little things with love, because that is pretty much what I do now - little things. I help to bake the bread. I cook and I clean and I pray.

"Those who know me will know that I am not one for silence. I am a bit of a chatterbox, so when I came to the congregation seeking to join them, and they told me they ate in silence and their work was in silence, I kind of thought they were joking. Only the Lord could call a chatterbox to a life of silence, but He does love irony."

Ms Purdy said her decision was greeted by a fair degree of shock and disbelief within the field of politics. "I read that people were shocked at my decision. I was shocked myself. When I phoned a number of politicians to tell them, I have to say, a few were uncharacteristically quiet and I was going, 'Hello, hello, are you there?' One thought I was joking. I called one of my relatives to say I was quitting the BBC to become a nun and he said, 'Are you drunk?'

"In fairness I was drunk on the Holy Spirit but most people were supportive - very loving in fact. Someone who doesn't know me very well asked what I was running away from."

Ms Purdy said that although she had been raised and educated a Catholic, faith was not always the driving force in her life. But gradually her passion for journalism ebbed because her love for God left no room for the material world.

She said: "I went to convent school but did I want to be a nun? Absolutely not. I have to say poverty, chastity and obedience aren't exactly big sellers. I wanted to go out and be a journalist, I was happy enough to get married and have a family, but I wanted to be a journalist more than anything, so that is what I did."

It was during a holiday to Peru eight years ago seeing extreme poverty that Ms Purdy began to wonder about a change in direction. Afterwards, she went on a retreat with the nuns' order.

She said: "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 and so I said, 'Yes Lord, I am in'. If you had told me at the end of that retreat I would be living on the Falls Road, two doors down from the Sinn Fein office where I used to visit as a reporter, I would have laughed."

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