Swaffham church welcomes order’s first new nuns in 40 years

The five new Daughters of Divine Charity sisters at Swaffham cutting a celebration cake
The five new Daughters of Divine Charity sisters at Swaffham cutting a celebration cake

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.

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.

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 but a special exception was made 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: “Many of our 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. ”

Prospective novice, postulant Judith Charmak, was welcomed in a 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 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.

Sr Anna said: “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.

“It is unexplainable how rewarding it is to give joy and make a difference in the world.”

Bishop Alan told the congregation: “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.