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Sr Mary Thomas (Helen Brown) recalls her conversion, CSU memories and her call to becoming a nun

The CSU was part of my life from my arrival in Edinburgh as a postgraduate in 2001, to my departure from academia in 2008 to enter the Benedictine monastery of St Cecilia’s, Ryde.

It was only in 2005 that I actually became a Catholic, and although the CSU wasn’t the only instrument God used to bring me into the Church, it was definitely an important one. I felt at home in its special atmosphere – it was a real community, and a wonderfully diverse and international one. The Faithgroup (ecumenical Bible study group) became especially important to me, and the praise songs we sang still come back to me quite often! There are so many happy memories of the CSU that it’s hard to pin down just a few – the special events (from Stars in Their Eyes to Fauré’s Requiem), the Sisters of Mercy and the Homeless Project, and above all the friendships...

My ‘conversion story’ would be rather long, but perhaps I can mention the last step. In the end, at Adoration in Sacred Heart Church, I found myself thinking something like, ‘If Jesus is here,’ – because I definitely did believe in the Real Presence – ‘I should be here too.’ And I resolved to become a Catholic. Walking through George Square afterwards, I thought, ‘I really hope I can tell someone before I change my mind!’... and Fr Martin Ganeri popped out of the door of the priory a moment later. He instructed me, and I was received at the Easter Vigil 2005. My sponsor was a friend I’d met at Faithgroup... and now she’s a nun at St Cecilia’s too!

The idea of a religious vocation in some ways followed naturally from the faith. I loved my work in history, and the idea of marriage was far from unattractive, but everything I read about nuns – a life of total commitment to adoration and worship – made complete sense to me as a way of loving God. I think it was a leaflet in the CSU that had given me the idea of visiting the Benedictine monks of Pluscarden. When I did, I loved their liturgy and its Gregorian chant, and I was convinced that real life, in a strong sense, was being lived there. I’m not the only member of our community who could summarise the attraction of Ryde by saying that it’s ‘Pluscarden for girls!’ Rather to my surprise, once I visited Ryde I realised that the attraction was not for sometime in the future, but for now, so I gave up the postdoctoral project I was about to begin, and entered the monastery. I made First Profession in 2010 and Solemn Profession in 2013, with CSU friends at both!

Sr Mary Thomas was a student from 2001-2008. She is now the Mother Sub-Prioress, at St Cecilia's Abbey on the Isle of Wight, as an enclosed Benedictine nun.


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