28th May 2024

Changing Habits: My Sabbatical with the Newnham Nuns


Having recently visited Newnham College as part of a cultural exchange with the Vatican, Sister Maria writes about her experience.


On arriving at Newnham, I was struck by the similarities to my convent, with the oppressive lighting and lack of male faces making it the perfect place for a group of likeminded Christians, intent on a pure and simple lifestyle.


Having arranged to meet the Newnham Nuns at a suitably godly hour of the morning, I progressed through the college and knocked on the door of the convent, or ‘JCR’ as they called it.

When the door opened to reveal the Newnham Nuns, the differences were immediately apparent. I was at once impressed that their vows of poverty extended to giving up opaque clothing, while the unusually short habit could clearly be explained by a desire to save material. “How resourceful,” I thought, “maybe the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism are greater than I realised.”

“Nice costume,” said one of the sisters, “How did you get it to look so realistic?” However, before I could reply, my attention was caught by three crates of red wine across the room. They were clearly going to be sharing more of Christ’s blood than I’d anticipated, although, curiously, the bread was missing.


The sisters took mass with the greatest enthusiasm. I was intrigued that a Holy Order so economic with their vestiture would be so generous with their provisions of Eucharist. But it was not over yet.

12 noon

“Time for the spirits!” called one of the nuns. Here, at last, was a practice I am familiar with. “The Holy Father, the Holy Son and the Holy Spirit?” I enquired.

“No,” came the reply, “vodka, rum and gin!”


“Where to now?” I asked, as the nuns left the JCR.
“Jesus – do you know your way there?”

I was confused. If anything, it is Jesus that finds you, not you that finds Jesus.


It was beginning to get dark on Jesus Green. “Now for Life!” cried one of the nuns, her voice slurring slightly.

“Eternal life?” I enquired.

“Yeah, I much prefer it to Cindies!” the nun affirmed.


Stumbling out of Life with the other nuns, I was caught unawares by someone dressed more sensibly than the other revellers.

“Would you like a toastie?” the stranger asked – “they’re free!”

“Who are you?” I said.

“The Christian Union!” came the reply, “Christ has compelled us to be here tonight.”

This was infuriating. Jesus had been very definite about sharing his blood and body, but he had never mentioned anything about toasties.

“How dare you mock the Christian faith!” I scolded, knocking the offending item out of the stranger’s blasphemous hands before returning to my sisters in the Newnham Nuns.