The number of Catholic nuns in Australia has hit a hundred-year low, but of those choosing to enter religious life, a growing number are from multi-ethnic backgrounds.
Rhiannon Elston has the details.
Vietnamese-born Sister Clare Dang had never met a nun before she decided to become one.
For Lucy Vo, an early experience boarding with nuns at a convent lead her to aspire to become one.
Both women belong to the Missionary Sisters of Mary Queen, a convent with Vietnamese origins in western Sydney.
Aged 34 and 33 respectively, they are among the few choosing to enter a life of religious devotion in modern Australia.
Although the two women had not met before entering the convent, they have similar backgrounds.
Both were born in Vietnam, and moved with their families to Hong Kong before boarding a boat to Australia.
It’s an experience both women say drew them closer to their faith.
“Many of the boat people do think they owe God something.” // “I think that journey, just fleeing Vietnam and the hardships that my family has faced, it certainly has strengthened our faith.”
It was trauma that led Cambodian-born sister Hun Do to discover the Catholic faith.
Now living as a Josephite Sister, she sees her journey fleeing her home country as a key part of her decision to join them.
Fleeing the Pol Pot regime, she says she didn’t know much about Christianity in the refugee camp in Thailand
“In the camp I worked with a Jesuit priest, and I remember at the time when I heard people call him ‘father’, I didn’t know what it was about.”
The number of Catholic nuns in Australia peaked in the 1960s, and has been in decline ever since.
There are fewer than 6,000 left in Australia, and with an average age of 74, the church is at risk of losing one of its most devout populations.
Around the world, the Catholic Church is experiencing a clear shift in demographic, moving away from its traditional European roots to a more multicultural following.
The Church’s new Pope Francis the First, a break from the centuries-old line of European-born pontiffs. brings another sign the Catholic Church is changing.
In Australia, more than 22 per cent of the Catholic population were born overseas.
Sister Ailsa Mackinnon has been with the Sisters of Mercy for more than 50 years and says the future of the Church lies in recognising diversity.
She says Australian Catholics are once again recognising that the Church is, as its name suggests, universal.
“Certainly the church has tried to accommodate the waves of migrants who have come to Australia. It’s only been since the second World War, and the stopping of the White Australia policy and the waves of migration since, that we’ve come to realise this.”