“My dad’s side of the family were all Mormons but my parents married in an Anglican church and we children were baptised Anglican. In terms of religion we didn’t do much and it wasn’t talked about. We never really practised anything.
“When I was about nine or 10 there was a Protestant church service on TV and they asked for an altar call – where a person comes forward and says that they want to give their life to Jesus – and I remember thinking that was what I wanted; I certainly wanted Jesus.
“A little later I was in Sydney, where a local convent had organised a procession in honour of Our Lady. We were trying to find our Italian Catholic friends and as we approached the church I could see the altar and a statue of the Sacred Heart. That’s when I said I wanted to be a Catholic and I wanted to be a nun.
“My dad hit the roof. He swore at me and said I didn’t know what I wanted from life. I didn’t realise how angry with religion he was, so I put the idea away from me.
“Then as an adult, living in Sydney, I started searching. I was talking with a woman at work about Christianity and she invited me to a Catholic prayer group and later I was received into the faith.
“Yet I was still unhappy. I was in such a bad state I went to a counsellor once a week and he helped me over rough stages, but I was still faced with the problem of which direction I was going in.
“In the end I got so cranky with God over what was happening. I blamed God because I felt I was going to go to hell because I didn’t know how to be a Catholic. I said, ‘How can You expect me to understand religion and religious life and walk in your Kingdom if I don’t know how to do it?’
“The agony and pain of not knowing where I was going had made me cry out to God. I was at my last tether and was so desperate wanting to know where to be and what to be and how to be, and that’s when God answered. When I was on my knees, bawling my eyes out and blaming him for everything, that was when God really moved to sort me out.
“During all of this time the nun business had been coming out again.
“I applied to join the Tyburn Nuns, and they asked me to ‘live in’ for three days. I went on the Friday and had to leave on the Sunday because the next day I had to work. But I just didn’t want to leave. I knew this was home, I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
As told to Simon Caldwell
Mother Hildegarde Bates OSB is general secretary of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre