Saturday, October 22, 2011

Upcoming vocations documentary on BBC television


Readers of this blog, especially those in Ireland and the UK, might like to know of an interesting vocations documentary to be shown on BBC1 on Tuesday next at 22.35.

Entitled Young Nuns, the documentary follows the stories of two women in their mid-twenties who are considering becoming nuns. The producer/director of the piece, Vicky Mitchell, gave an interview recently to The Tablet in which she gives some background and insights to those she interviewed in the making of the programme. She noted that one of the reasons for undertaking the project was because of a study by the National Office for Vocation of the Church in Engalnd and Wales in 2010. That study revealed that a small but significant incresase in the number of women joining contemplative communities. Ms Mitchell states: "I am ashamed to admit that when I started the project I had all sorts of preconceptions about the type of women who would choose to enter a convent, and conversations with colleagues and friends revealed that I was not alone. Most people assumed they would be either women who had led enormously cosseted lives or (and this was by far the most common myth I encountered) that they must be suffering from a broken heart or some other such trauma and looking to somehow escape the world. Both of these stereotypes were well and truly undrmined as soon as I started to meet the women in question."

During her research, the producer spoke to approximately 15 women who were actively discerning a vocation to reigious life. Ms Mitchell says that, without exception, they were all bright, independent, sociable and had great career prospects. Their backgrounds varied significantly - some were cradle Catholics, some were converts. When she asked the women what they were looking for in a community, they explained that, rather than fulfilling a list of their own criteria, it was about working out where God wanted them to be.

Those interviewed admitted that some congregations were more attractive than others. The majority wanted to wear a habit as a sign that procalimed their commitment, and they wanted to be part of communities that had an emphasis on daily community prayer. In trying to discover why women would make this radical choice in 2011, Vicky Mitchell concludes that these women feel called by God to devote their lives to him and that in so doing they will find a deep happiness and fulfillment that transcends all that they have given up.

Vicky Mitchell's interview in the preparation and promotion of the documentary gives me some hope that it will not set out to stereotype entrants and discerners to religious life at this time. I look forward to watching it.

Incidentally, in my eleven years as vocations director, I have been approached by a number of documentary makers who wanted to do something similar to this BBC programme. Unfortunately, religious orders in Ireland found it very difficult to consent to such requests. I am not sure of the reasons but one can speculate that there is a fear in exposure, a fear that religious would be shown in a negative light and an overarching fear that religious would not be able to control the content of the outcomes of such programmes. That is such a pity. I wish a similar type of documentary could be made in Ireland if for no other reaon than to put to bed the lie that those joining religious life and priesthood today are mad!
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