10 Awesome Nuns

The Coolest Nuns

1. Meet the Iron Nun: 86-Year-Old Triathlon-Running Sister Madonna Buder Stars in New Nike Ad

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Don’t ask 86-year-old Sister Madonna Buder to slow down – she won’t.
The nun is the star of Nike’s new “Unlimited Youth” ad, where she shows off her impressive athletic skills.

Narrated by Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ Oscar Isaac, the clip features Buder in her habit at church, on a morning run, swimming in open water, bicycling on mountainous terrain and taking part in an Ironman triathlon – she’s finished 45.

Despite Isaac’s increasing concern over how hard Buder is pushing herself, the sister keeps on going.

Eventually, after learning her “Iron Nun” nickname, Isaac contends, “Do your thing sister, do your thing.”
In behind-the-scenes video from the shoot, Buder reveals that she wasn’t introduced to running until age 47 or 48, when a priest suggested it.

“There was a point where I did not want to see a pair of running shoes, then triathlon came in,” she explains. “That was the salvation.”

Buder is the oldest woman to ever complete an Ironman triathlon, a feat she accomplished four years ago, according to Nike. The race requires participants to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles – Buder holds the record for best finishing time in the 80 to 84 age group.

“There were a lot of times where I had to think about failures and not reaching the goal that I set for myself,” she said. “Then I realized, the only failure is not to try.”

The ad is the latest in Nike’s Unlimited campaign, which has spots that include Serena Williams, Mo Farah, Gabby Douglas and transgender duathlete Chris Mosier.

2. Talitha Kum: Nuns Pose as Prostitutes to Rescue Human Trafficking Victims

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An international network of crime-fighting nuns known as Talitha Kum has announced plans to expand its anti-human trafficking and slavery organization from 80 to 140 countries.

If this is the first time you’re hearing about Talitha Kum’s organization, I’m not surprised. The reported 1,100 nuns that make up the low-key operation have gone under the radar since first organizing in 2004, using their anonymity to often pose as prostitutes in order to infiltrate brothels and buy children being sold into slavery. Sometimes the women shed their habits and work alongside locals for as little as 2 U.S. cents an hour in order to uncover human rights abuses.

“These sisters do not trust anyone. They do not trust governments, they do not trust corporations, and they don’t trust the local police. In some cases they cannot trust male clergy,” explained Talitha Kum chairman John Studzinski. “They work in brothels. No one knows they are there.”

According to Studzinski, the religious sisters often rely on fundraised money to buy children out of slavery, before placing them in a network of housing they’ve set up to shelter them in countries in Africa, as well as the Philippines, Brazil, and India.

Studzinski also detailed the horrific conditions some of these enslaved women endure. In one case, he recounted an female prostitute being starved of food for a week, and then forced to eat her own feces after failing to have sex with her quota of 12 clients in a day. In another horrific instance one woman was forced to have sex with a group of 10 men at one time.

Combating the world’s human trafficking epidemic is becoming harder and harder, making Talitha Kum’s need for expansion more important than ever. According to Reuters, current estimates claim that a total of one percent of the world’s population is trafficked in some form or another. That number has been roughly translated into a staggering 73 million people being sold. And of those 73 million people, 70 percent are women and half are ages 16 or younger. That being said, the 60 additional countries being served by this courageous network will have a great impact on this crisis.

3. The Last Nun in Europe Who Is an Active Brewmaster

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Pictured above is Mallersdorf Abbey, a Franciscan convent in southern Germany. 490 nuns live there. They all have different jobs to make the abbey a self-supporting home. Sister Doris Engelhard, 65, is among them. Her job is to make beer. And she's really good at it.

From an early age, Sister Doris wanted to become a nun. She needed a trade to offer the community, so she apprenticed with another nun who was a brewer and took a course on the subject. Once she had become a master brewer, she took her vows and went to work. Tracy Brown Hamilton of The Atlantic describes her work:
The abbey makes a different beer for each season, including maibock, a doppelbock, a dark zoigl, and a copper-hued lager. But given that the beer is made with natural ingredients and is not treated with preservatives, it doesn’t travel well—you can only find it in the vicinity of the abbey. “It’s a fresh product,” Sister Doris says. “Beer is not supposed to be left sitting. It changes the taste. It should be enjoyed as soon as possible.”

Sister Doris says she never expected that her call to serve God would lead her to brewing beer, but she loves her work and will do it until her health prevents her from doing so. “You can serve God everywhere, no matter what profession or job you have,” she says. “As Saint Benedict wrote, ‘in all things God may be glorified,’ and that is also true of beer.”

4. The 'nuns' who grow medical marijuana

The Catholic Church often teaches that there is redemption in suffering, but the spiritual Sisters of the Valley hope to alleviate suffering through a centuries-old tradition familiar to many cloisters and abbeys.

They make salves and lotions and tinctures from plants that are lovingly grown on their California land, harvested around the lunar cycle and cultivated during prayer.

Their main ingredient, though, is decidedly more modern. The sisters grow potent varieties of medical marijuana they say are rich in cannabidiols, the chemicals thought to reduce nausea, suppress seizures, lower inflammation and help with anxiety and depression. They say their products have little or no THC, the chemical that gets users high.

While they wear habits and modest clothing, the two religious sisters who are a part of the business have no official connection to the Catholic Church. Their allegiance is to a feminist ideal, to each other, and to a mission they describe on their website: to "respect the breadth and depth of the gifts of Mother Earth, working to bridge the gap between Her and her suffering people."

Photographers Shaughn Crawford and John DuBois first saw the sisters' story on the local news around Thanksgiving. They knew immediately, without a doubt, what their next project had to be, even if they didn't initially have a commission for it. This would be the perfect passion project if they could talk the sisters into it.

"We are drawn to stories, the ones that personally interest us, that focus on the unique people out there that you won't know a lot about but should," DuBois said. "People have an idea about people who grow cannabis and people may think they know about nuns, but it is in this place where the two intersect -- this thin area where there is crossover -- that's interesting. That's where we try to jump in."

Convincing Sister Kate and Sister Darcey to let them in the door wasn't easy. The product demand was so high it was hard to keep up with it, and local media attention further increased demand. Keeping up with business left the sisters little time to talk.

But "we got there and they were really welcoming and transparent about everything they did in their lives," DuBois said. "Sometimes people are guarded and don't know if they can trust you, but sitting with them confirmed this was the right project."

The sisters walked the photographers through their operation as they used simple crockpots and coffee filters to create the special mix that goes into their products.

"We asked them to do what they normally did, and from time to time (we) would ask them to do things again or to slow down so we could capture it well," DuBois said.

What some may consider the best shot though -- the photo of one of the sisters smoking marijuana -- was all the sisters' idea.

"It's one of my favorites, and it was unexpected," DuBois said. "Sister Kate mentioned this photo they had: It's an old Victorian sort of print with this woman sitting in a rocking chair smoking a joint." It inspired the sisters to suggest the shot. Crawford said he noticed the art in the house was a fascinating mix of Catholic items and tchotchkes that hint at cannabis culture.

"When we do these projects, we are not just trying to capture the people, but we are also trying to show a glimpse of the places and things that go on around them," DuBois said. "And the detail like their calendar with the water and growing cycles on the wall are all interesting details that really tell their story."

The two photographers only had one day to shoot, but they hope to go back. The sisters have since moved to new land to expand their operation, and they've created their own website. They also hope someday soon to have enough money to roll out a wholesale operation and get their products into stores.

"These were two really interesting women, and we so enjoyed getting to hang with them," Crawford said.

5. The Kung Fu Nuns of Nepal

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For centuries, Buddhist nuns have been banned from practicing the deadly martial art of kung fu, but a few years ago the Druk Amitabha Mountain nunnery in Nepal became the home of the world’s first first order of kung fu nuns.

Traditionally, the inherently patriarchal Buddhist monastic system has nuns performing only the most meanial of domestic tasks, while the monks can lead prayers and occupy powerful positions. Nuns are perceived as inferior to monks and usually spend their time working in the kitchens and gardens of Buddhist monasteries. Learning ancient martial arts is definitely off limits for them, so how did the nuns of Druk Amitabha Mountain nunnery come to practice kung fu up to two hours every day?

Roughly 26 years ago, members of the of the 800-year-old Drukpa order rebelled and formed the Druk Amitabha Mountain nunnery, a place where women are treated with the same respect as men. “When I was very small, I was already thinking that it was not right to suppress women in our society,” His Holiness The Gyalwang Drukpa, leader of the Buddhist sect, says. “But then when I grew up, I started to think what can I do for them? Then I thought what I can do is to build a nunnery and then give them an opportunity to study and practice spiritually.”

Chores at the hillside nunnery just outside Kathmandu are split equally, and women get to lead prayers, practice meditation, take English lessons and classes in managerial skills. But the Gyalwang Drukpa took things even further in 2008, when he introduced kung fu to the nunnery, after seeing nuns from Vietnam receiving combat training that was previously used by Viet Cong guerrillas.

Every day, the nuns put on the same style clothing made famous by classic martial arts movies in the 70’s and 80’s, and engage in an intense two-hour training session complete with hand chops, punches, high kicks and exagerated kicks. The benefits of training in kung fu are many-fold, according to the nuns. “It’s good for our health. Meditation is very difficult and if we do kung fu, then afterwards meditation becomes much easier,” 16-year-old Rupa Lama told the BBC.

“It’s excellent exercise, secondly it’s very good for discipline and concentration, thirdly it arouses a sense of self-confidence which is very important for nuns, and fourthly when any young men in the area know nuns are kung fu experts, they keep away,” Buddhist nun Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo adds.

The progressive views of the the Gyalwang Drukpa have boosted the number of young women who want to become nuns dramatically. “Many of them say, wow, if I become a nun I can study, I can practise, I can do these rituals, I can live together with all these other lovely nuns and lamas will visit us and give us teaching,” Jetsunma says. “It’s a beautiful life option to getting married, having a baby every year, working in the fields, doing the cooking, doing the cleaning. You know for them this is a huge opening up in a whole world that had previously been closed to them.”

Indeed, the kung fu nuns of Druk Amitabha Mountain nunnery get to experience things other Nepalese women never even dream of. “His Holiness wants the nuns to be like the men, with the same rights in the world,” 18-year-old Jigme Konchok Lhamo told AFP. “That is why we get the chance to do everything, not just kung fu. “We also have the chance here to learn many things, like tennis and skating. And we have the chance also to learn English and Tibetan, dancing and musical instruments.”

“I am not saying that I am a great teacher or a great leader but the path that I have decided to take in order to promote gender equality, so as to bring about the nuns’ improvement, gives me great encouragement to work harder and live longer,” the Gyalwang Drukpa said a few years ago.

6. The Pop Nun

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During its 2014 season, The Voice of Italy had an unlikely winner in Sister Cristina Scuccia, an Italian Ursuline nun who won the judges over from the moment she first stepped onstage and auditioned with the R&B hit "No One" by Alicia Keys.

Since winning the competition, Sister Christina has recorded an album of covers, one of which includes a version of Madonna's racy 1984 pop hit "Like A Virgin."

Regardless of her secular success, the nun remains faithful to her vocation. She still wears a simple crucifix around her neck, black shoes and an ankle-length black habit, and plans to make her perpetual vows in 2018.

7. Calendar Posing Nuns

Ever since launching the first edition, these entertaining nuns were called "funniest of the year" (according to Gene Shalit), "irresistible" (USA Weekend), and "habit-forming" (Maxim magazine) with their Nuns Having Fun calendar. They even inspired a book of endearing nuttiness. Written by Maureen Kelly and Jeffrey Stone, pitch-perfect co-authors of the nuns calendar and the New York Times bestseller Growing Up Catholic, Nuns Having Fun, it features hundreds of sisters in full habit, cutting loose and having a hoot. As Sister says, "To err is human. To laugh is divine."

8. Four nuns have formed a band at Catholic U. It’s called Force of Habit.

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One Saturday afternoon this month a band gathered to jam at the Dominican House of Studies, not far from the Catholic University of America.

The drummer, a Dominican friar, counted them down.

Brother Brad Elliott, dressed in a habit behind his drum kit, was joined by Sister Miriam Holzman on the piano. Sister Peter Grace Weber was off to the side, with a bass guitar. Sister Louis Marie Zogg, on the saxophone, stood next to Sister Mary André Thelen, on the trumpet.

As the session continued, Brother Brad bopped his head, grinning. The sisters kept giggling, as they worked out timing and tempo and little blips. There was joy in the room, and what they played.

Which was not church music. The band played “Unforgettable” and “What a Wonderful World,” because sweet jams are not just for the secular.

Sisters Miriam, Louis Marie, Peter Grace and Mary André are members of Force of Habit, a band led by nuns who live and study at Catholic University. The band is rounded out by Brother Brad and Father Jude DeAngelo, the university chaplain and director of campus ministry, on vocals. And, actually, they’re not bad.

“It shows that we have completely natural, normal, human personalities,” Brother Brad said. “And we don’t really cease being human beings when we put on the habit. We don’t cease to be normal, and lovers of fun and music when we put on the habit. The habit is just a different aspect of who we are.”

The sisters, and those who know them, note that the band is part of a larger mission — to be a presence on the campus, connect with other students, and share and demonstrate their faith. It also serves as a reminder of what makes Catholic, the Vatican’s university in the United States, unique.

“It sort of started out as something that we could do for the students, to show them that we love them, that we want to be a part of their community,” Sister Louis Marie said. “But then it’s also just fun for us, as a group of sisters, to be able to share that and have fun together.”

Before Force of Habit, the sisters had a singing group called Nun of the Above. (These nuns, it seems, like to pun.) That morphed into a band in August.

“I knew that the sisters had musical talent and I thought that with the inclusion of Brother Brad on the drums and Father Jude as a lead singer, that it would be a great way for us to participate on campus,” said Sister Miriam, who grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada.

The band has performed at four campus events this academic year, developing a bit of a following at the private university of about 7,000 students in Northeast Washington.

“I am like, one of Force of Habit’s biggest fans. I love Force of Habit,” said Amanda Martin, a freshman. “There is something incredibly funny about four religious sisters in a blues band. They’re really good.”

Martin, 18, a theology and religious studies major from Lancaster, Pa., was such a groupie that she designed and sold band T-shirts. She thinks of the sisters as friends, she said, so of course she’d try to support them.

“And when you watch them perform with Brother Brad, who is the drummer, and one of our priests, Father Jude, who sings for them, they’re always just smiling and having a good time. They just love doing it,” Martin said. “They take it seriously but they do it for fun, they do it to play and be good. They’re just so fun to watch, they really are.”

9. Super Fun! These Awesome Nuns Totally Rock Carpool Karaoke!

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A few Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (ASHJ) made an awesome carpool karaoke video, and it’s as fun as you’d expect!

In the video (which you can watch below), you can see these great religious sisters have some fun and sing along with some songs from the movie Sister Act.

They’re not the only people in a religious vocation who have made a version of this fun Internet trend: recently, Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, IL and a few of his priests made a fun carpool karaoke video, too.

What is “carpool karaoke,” you ask? The idea was popularized by The Late Late Show with James Corden on CBS. It involves the host, Corden, picking up some celebrity in his car and having a casual conversation interspersed with them singing along to songs playing through the car’s stereo system.

10. The Most Beautiful Nun

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In 2008, Father Antonio Rungi from Mondragone, announced his intention to hold an online beauty contest for nuns. It seemed quite reasonable. "Nuns are -- above all - women, and beauty is a gift from God," he explained. Sadly, not all members of the clergy were so enlightened, and almost as soon as his plans were revealed to the world the Church rammed them back into the closet. (Rungi quickly canceled the competition, describing his superiors as "not happy.")

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