Joy as new sisters welcomed at Swaffham convent
A Norfolk-based vice-province of Catholic nuns has received a huge boost with the addition of five new or prospective young sisters, almost doubling its previous total of seven, and the first from England in almost 40 years. Keith Morris reports.
In an extremely rare public ceremony, the Daughters of Divine Charity, whose mother house is in Swaffham, welcomed a postulant, two novices and two sisters on August 28.
The two novices – Sr Mary Goncalves and Sr Anna Yeo – were admitted to the order and two sisters – Sr Renata Pivarnikova and Sr Michaela Switaj – took their first vows at a Mass presided over by the Bishop of East Anglia, Rt Rev Alan Hopes, at Our Lady of Pity church in Swaffham.
Such ceremonies usually take place in private inside a convent but a special exception was made this time because the two different steps of formation taking place on the same day is very rare.
Senior members of the order, which is based in Austria and has over 1,000 sisters world-wide, were present at the Mass.
In the English Sacred Heart vice-province, the sisters run the Sacred Heart school in Swaffham, a nursery in Chesterfield and a small care home in Hunstanton.
Sr Anna explained: “In the parishes where our convents are situated, many of the Sisters are Eucharistic ministers, visiting the sick, the elderly and housebound, working in youth ministry such as confirmation groups, university, parishes and youth events among other needs. All our work is to make God’s love visible.”
Prospective novice, postulant Judith Charmak, was welcomed into the congregation in a simple and private ceremony inside the convent before the Mass.
After two years in noviciate, sisters profess the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity for the first time, as Sr Renata and Sr Michaela did on Sunday.
The very joyful ceremony was witnessed by a packed congregation including members of the sisters’ families from Poland, Slovakia, East Timor, Derbyshire and Yorkshire.
Before the current group, the order had not seen new sisters in England for decades, which is why it was such a special occasion.
Sr Anna said: “Wearing a habit, we are such a visible sign of God that people stop us and tell us that it is so nice to see us sisters because they do not see them very often. Some people are scared to take the step to religious life because it involves a lot of sacrifice. However, they will never discover how joyful it is to become a sister until they try it. Not only do they miss out on gaining happiness but they miss out on giving the joy God gave them to pass it on to others.
“It is unexplainable how rewarding it is to give joy and make a difference in the world. If you think God is calling you, give it a go because it is worth trying it. God needs labourers in his vineyard,” said Sr Anna.
Bishop Alan told the congregation: “It is a special joy to be here to share this special occasion with the sisters who play an important role in the Diocese of East Anglia and also in the Catholic Church in UK. This occasion is a witness to the strength and vitality of religious life.”
Following the Mass there was a celebration lunch where the sisters spoke and cut a celebration cake.
Pictured top are the five new Daughters of Charity sisters cutting a celebration cake and, above, Bishop Alan with, from the left, Sr Anna, Sr Michaela, Sr Renata and Sr Mary.
For a full picture gallery of the event see below.