Rose Catherine Wakibiru, a nun with the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi, opened up about her experience and some misconceptions about nunship.
Why do family and friends get shocked when a woman in a Catholic home decides to become a nun?
You are right on that aspect, especially in our African families. There is a lot of value in marriage and growing of the family tree. When someone says she is taking a life contrary to the ‘normal trend’, it sounds abnormal and many do not allow it. Their argument is, failure to get married is wasting your life. However, there are those who do understand becoming a Catholic Sister is not losing your life. If anything, it is a spiritual investment since they get blessings due to her prayers and closeness to God.
Did the shock of family and friends bother you?
Yes, to a large extent. I joined the sisterhood immediately after clearing a secretarial course and getting a job. While in college, I knew I was to finish and then join the sisterhood. When I told my parents, they were perplexed and argued that they had invested so much in me and instead of helping my siblings, I was thinking about joining a life that was not understood. It wasn’t clear to them considering we didn’t have a nun in our area. Only my mother was supportive and she tried as much as possible to convince my dad and siblings about my decision. My dad and grandmother objected to the proposal. But my conviction could not be stopped. In the end, they had no choice but to accept, of course, shingo upande.
What one thing drew you to this calling?
Let’s take an example of this young man in the Bible, Samuel. When he was called, he did not simply respond or run or continue sleeping. Instead, he went to seek advice from Eli. As a Sister, once you know your calling, you seek spiritual guidance and direction from the various sisterhood congregations. Each called to serve God in a unique way, like in education, health ministry and other needs of the church as they arise. We also try to imitate Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who journeyed with Him from conception up to the cross. To Jesus we are like “spouses” that is why some people would say, huyo ameolewa na Yesu due to our closeness to Jesus.
Priest conduct the Mass but nuns don’t. Do you learn similar things at the Seminary?
Our training is very different from what priests go through. The vows we take is what makes us to be called religious nuns. The formation of any religious Sister takes basically four years. During the first year, which we call the year of Aspiracy stage, you will be communicating with the vocation’s promoter, a person who will be evaluating your worthiness on the sisterhood journey. If the vocational promoter finds you to be eligible after the first year, you will then move to the next stage, which we call Postulance stage. This is where you are taught about upholding Christian virtues and deepening your faith. After this step, you move to the Novice stage, which takes two years after which you qualify to become a Sister by taking vows including that of chastity, of poverty and of obedience.
What exactly do nuns do and why does the Catholic Church need them?
In the Catholic Church, we have roles for priests, brothers and sisters. As nuns, we are like those women in the Bible, who followed Jesus very closely, serving him quietly. Our greatest job is to pray. Pray for our souls, for the church and humanity. The second role is service to humanity. Like myself, I take care of disabled girls here in Limuru and through that I am serving God. We do believe that by serving humanity, we are serving God.
Those who leave the Convent halfway, what are their issues?
In every life, nobody knows what happens next. We live each day with the hope of a better tomorrow. Let me give you an example of marriage, there are many who drop out midway. It is the same case here. Sisters are human beings and there are bound to error change their minds.
However, some may have made a wrong decision only to realise it is not the life they wanted. For example, a girl has been seeing a Sister smiling all through and thought this must be a very happy life but finds that is not really the case. Those who change their minds are free to leave, nobody is forced to continue because it is a voluntary decision.
Those who get pregnant, is it out of a desire to have children or plain falling into curiosity?
I don’t really know about this because first of all, I have no experience and it’s a personal decision. I have never come to know why some nuns decide to become pregnant along the way.
What are some of the toughest challenges nuns face that outsiders have no idea about?
I think it is the inability to help your family because all our money are channelled to the congregation. Somebody knows that you may be doing a good job and expect you to help but sadly you don’t have money to do such.
Can a prostitute have a Damascus moment, change her life and join a Convent?
Yes it is possible. But before she is allowed, she will be under close scrutiny during the four years of formation from various quarters including your vocational promoter and other sisters.
This is to make sure that she doesn’t have an ulterior motive of joining a convent and that her attitude is right. It is not possible that one would pretend for this entire long. By the time of taking your sisterhood vows, you would have been looked at by so many people.
Do nuns have ex-lovers who bother them and cannot let go even after they gave themselves to Jesus?
Yes, they do, but such a nun need to tell them that they have now changed their lives and that they should just forget about them.
People don’t know that nuns, other than those in closed convents, lead normal lives, go to discos and party
As much as we lead normal lives as human beings, we also have to uphold ourselves as God’s witnesses that are in a dignified manner. If you find me in a bar with a bottle of alcohol, what will your attitude be? So we have to keep boundaries on what we can do or where we can go.
How do nuns deal with men who wait on the periphery to see if something ungodly forces them out?
Yes, we have come across some men who make moves but I wouldn’t blame them. Instead, I would blame a Sister who chooses to fall into such a temptation because one has the power to resist.
Nuns are also human beings, so how do you deal with sexual urge?
The Holy Spirit helps us to control that urge.
Catholic priests have more sex scandals than nuns. What are usually their issues…
As I said earlier, priests and nuns are also human beings who are vulnerable to temptations. There are those who manage to triumph over them and there are those who fall off. The challenge is everywhere in society. I mean it’s part of humanity.
There have been calls to allow priests to marry. There are even orders of married Catholic Priests. Why don’t nuns demand the same?
Personally, I would love to remain to be what I’m today even if allowed to get married. This is because once I made a decision to become a nun, I knew I was to remain single thought my life, that is why I took the vow of chastity, obedience and poverty. It is also easier to dedicate your life in ministry when single than when married to avoid divided attention.
What secular things do nuns miss?
Functions like a birthday bash but hold back because we are held in high esteem….of course there are places you won’t expect me to be, like in a bar drinking.
What is your view of prosperity gospel, which has moved young people from traditional churches?
It is sad that many preachers have delved into prosperity gospel for their own gain. The most important thing is God, wealth does not take you anywhere.
Just preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the rest will come. You will still lead a miserable life with wealth and no God in you.
There was a priest accused of raping in Western Kenya, who was defrocked for singing to attract the youth. Your views…
Personally, I watched it in the media. But what was the motive of that priest? Was it to make those young people feel good? If it was, then that could be an issue.
However, if it was to nourish the spiritual lives of these people, then there was no problem in that. So the motive of that priest was very crucial.