Scotland has one of the lowest rates of women entering religious life in the world. Sr Mirjam Hugens FSO explains why she is determined to change that.
I was studying engineering at the University in Wageningen in the Netherlands when the thought of becoming a religious sister came to me. At that time, I could not picture myself as a nun so I dismissed it. When the thoughts kept returning, I kept saying ‘no’!
I wasn’t convinced that this desire in my heart was actually God’s voice. Was it really His invitation to follow Him more closely? Despite dismissing these thoughts, they remained with me. It was a quiet desire.
The big issue for me was this: could the religious life be something I could commit to for the rest of my life? Like so many people, men and women alike, I struggled to discover God’s will.
My older sister Karin had already decided to follow God’s call to religious life. I was happy for her, but I still kept saying ‘no’ to the Lord. One day she gave me a prayer card of St Thérèse of Lisieux and I still remember the French saint’s words: “Aimer c’est tout donner et se donner soi-même [“To give everything (to the Lord) and to give oneself”].
That really made me think. I knew that while I was ready to give everything to the Lord, I was not quite ready to fully give myself! My journey discerning a religious vocation raised questions and doubts, but eventually led me to joyful discovery.
How did I start? I prayed more. I asked the Lord to show me His plan for me.
In the beginning, I did not want to share these thoughts with anyone.
But I realised I could not figure this out on my own—I needed support. I spoke to my parish priest and he became my spiritual director.
Through regular meetings he helped me discover where the desires of my heart were. Most importantly, he encouraged me to trust the Lord.
The result? I am happy in my vocation as a religious sister! I’m based at St Columba’s in Edinburgh and work in the curia for the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh. I was asked by Archbishop Leo Cushley to become the director of religious vocations in 2019.
That means I have the privilege of helping young women discover what their vocation is, through prayer and gentle encouragement, just like my parish priest gave to me.
God calls women to follow him in different ways. It may be in the sacrament of marriage, in the single life or as a religious sister. Whatever the vocation, I help young women say ‘yes!’ to God.
The fact there are few religious sisters in Scotland now can be a barrier: There aren’t as many examples with which young women can identify. It also shows how great the need is.
The Church here needs religious sisters desperately.
My tips? Begin with prayer. Then have a conversation with someone you trust for advice. God sends us His help; we need to look for it.
I’m starting a group in Edinburgh in January for young women to explore how they can discover God’s will more deeply. Our starting point is this: God has a plan of love and happiness for each person.
It is a unique plan for you and where you will find fulfilling happiness. The foundress of our religious order (The Spiritual Family The Work), Mother Julia Verhaeghe, often said: “God wants your happiness and we do too!”
Join other young Catholic women to chat and explore God’s will for you at St Columba’s Church, Upper Gray Street, Edinburgh, from 4-7pm on the following dates. January 29, February 26, March 26, April 30, May 28. Contact Sr Mirjam Hugens at firstname.lastname@example.org