Martina Purdy is a former journalist, former trainee nun and now public relations officer for the St Patrick Centre in Downpatrick.
Q. Can you tell us something about your background?
A. I was born in Belfast in 1965. My father, Albert (Al), was from Eastwood in Nottinghamshire and he met my mother at a dance in Belfast in 1962 when he was doing his national service in Holywood, Co Down. My mother, Margaret (nee Logan), a Belfast woman, was a full-time homemaker and my father was an elevator mechanic. I am one of four children and have three brothers, all of whom live in Toronto, Canada. My family emigrated there in 1971 due to the Troubles. I briefly attended Holy Child school in Andersonstown, but most of my education was completed in Canada. I went to Holy Redeemer School, then St Joseph's Morrow Park (secondary school). I earned a BA in international relations at the University of Toronto and a post-grad diploma from the Ryerson School of Journalism in Toronto.
Q. How and when did you come to faith?
A. I was a cradle Catholic. My parents gave my brothers and I an amazing example of self-sacrificing Christian love, commitment and faith. My father was an Anglican, but converted to Catholicism when he married my mum in 1963. My mother is a walking Catechism, so she instructed us and we attended Mass regularly. My late father was a very committed Catholic, often booming out his favourite hymns, How Great Thou Art, and Amazing Grace. He had a great faith in almighty God and the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Q. Does this faith play a real part in your life, or is it only for Sundays?
A. I do my best to live my faith at all times of the day, but due to human weakness, I fail regularly. Having had a life of prayer during five years of the Adoration Convent, I try to maintain some of that life by praying the Divine Office and attending daily Mass. My house has a little prayer room and I try my best to always be aware of God's presence and to meet His gaze, whatever I am doing. I committed to working for the St Patrick Centre because of its dedication to educating people about the life of Ireland's patron saint.
Q. Have you ever had a crisis of faith?
A. No. I have always believed in God, but at some point that intellectual faith went from my head to my heart.
Q. Why did you leave journalism and enter the Adoration Convent in 2014?
A. It was a surprise to me. If you had told me I would be entering a Falls Road convent two doors away from the Sinn Fein offices, where as a journalist I interviewed Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, I'd have laughed in your face. In fact, I had felt that my life was too self-centred and I had a growing sense that I must give life to God. This became a burning desire and I fell in love with the Lord, the risen Jesus.
Q. Why did you leave the convent a few years later?
A. The Adoration Sisters Congregation had grown too small to meet governance in Canon Law. Three other sisters and I still had several years to conclude our nine-years' Formation, so it was decided it would be better to release us rather than wait and be told we could not complete our Final Vows. It was shocking and painful and a cross for us all.
It was an adjustment going in and also coming out. I was quite disorientated at first, but gradually I've found a balance between work, prayer and leisure. None of us are built for more than a 24-hour segment and I try to live each day in the present moment and in the presence of the Lord.
Q. Have you ever been angry with God? And, if so, why?
A. Yes, the Lord sees flashes of my quick temper, but being perfect, He is always right, so He wins every argument. Sometimes, I'm angry over something stupid, like when I am hiking and fall flat on my face. Other times, I shout, "Why don't you do something when I see injustice?" Then I'm reminded of the phrase: "What are you doing?" I was rather mad at Him briefly when I realized I would have to leave the convent, but I worked through it in prayer.
Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith?
A. Sometimes on Twitter, yes, especially when I take a rational position in favour of life in the womb. I try to remember that these insults, for the sake of God's Kingdom, are a blessing.
Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own Church?
A. I'm ashamed when I fail, or when priests, or consecrated persons, fail. And I am ashamed when the Church, as an institution, fails, especially over issues of child sexual abuse.
Q. Are you afraid to die?
A. I'm not afraid to die, though I wouldn't like to drown. I see death as a change, not the end; a door that opens to the deeper mysteries of God.
Q. Are you afraid of hell?
A. I don't think anyone goes to hell who wants to be with God. I would dread going to hell, but I take comfort in the words of John's Gospel that God is love; also St John's words that "perfect love casts out fear". I trust that Jesus, who was tortured, died and rose for me, will shield me from hell. A holy man once said to me: "Love is not a coward." Love and life are inextricably linked.
Q. Do you believe in a resurrection? And, if so, what will it be like?
A. For me, Heaven is life, love and joy without limit. St Basil described Heaven as "luxuriating in the inconceivable beauty of paradise". But, in truth, we can't conceive of it.
Q. What do you think about people of other faiths or denominations?
A. Every faith has some truth in it, but obviously I believe that my Catholic faith offers the fullness of truth and I long for the day when all Christians can share a common Eucharist.
Q. Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith and trying to learn something from other people?
A. There's always something to learn. I met a lovely Muslim doctor in Paris called Rauda and I remember her saying: "It is sometimes very difficult to live with God. But it is impossible to live without him." Words to live by.
Q. Do you think that the Churches here are fulfilling their mission?
A. If they were, the churches would be packed.
Q. Why are so many people turning their backs on organised religion?
A. One reason is that people think God wants to take their freedom, when, in fact, He offers us perfect freedom from our own selfish addictions, our disordered desire for money, pleasure, power and prestige.
The message of love and life, that God loves us so much He sent His only son, Jesus, to save us and to offer us a share in his divine eternal life, is often overshadowed by the rules. The message is mind-blowing.
Q. Has religion helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?
A. Christianity is always a help, when it is truly lived. In terms of the Troubles, the problem was not religion per se; the problem was that our cultural and political ties were stronger than our ties to Christ Jesus.
Q. Your favourite film, book and music, and why?
A. I love Anne of Green Gables, because it is about the transformative power of love. One of my favourite songs is Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen. I love films … too many to mention.
Q. Where do you feel closest to God?
A. Eucharistic Adoration when I kneel before the Living Bread, Blessed Sacrament in silence and know that I am in the presence of the Living God, body, blood, soul and divinity. I am just still and I let Him breathe His Divine life into me, just like Adam in Genesis. And, whenever I experience beauty, or goodness, usually on a mountain top, by the sea, or watching the sun set or rise.
Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone?
A. John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whomsoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
Q. Finally, have you any major regrets?
A. Yes, regrettably. I rely on God's mercy and thank God for the sacrament of confession.