Reverend Sister Maria Renate: Out of the Twilight and into the Sunshine

Reverend Sister Maria Renate describes herself as a Franciscan nun and ordained priest. She was born into a caring loving working class family in a suburb of Liverpool on August of 1957.


Her family are very close and as children they were mischievous as usual children. Things started to change around the age of 10 or 11 years old when Sister Maria Renate was in the process of moving to another school, this was a single sex secondary school. In her words

I was terrified to be perfectly honest with you, and my hair started to fall out with the stress of going to a school, which was a single sex school as that was the only school in the district and I  instinctively knew that I wasn’t going to fit in and I was a very feminine child, very quiet in some respects, slight build, so I suppose I was an easy target for those who viewed difference as a sign of weakness and something to be ridiculed and set about. I am an intersex child which wasn’t acted upon till my teens, so needless to say, I was presenting as a little boy, which created its problems, as one develops as one reaches puberty and so fore, all the little changes that should happen to a little boy wasn’t happening to me, and that was a cause for concern for me in respect. My parents didn’t really have a clue they just thought I was different. Erm, but the other school children readily picked up on it and I was treated accordingly”.

Sister Maria Renate during her teenage years attended hospital and met with a psychologist and had many meetings and then had an appointment with a physiologist and had lots of physiological testing family relatives had a rare genetic condition and chromosomal disorder and other members on both sides of the family had what the medical profession at the time referred to as genetic disorders, or as Sister Renate states “ So we weren’t without our genetic abnormalities”…

There were lots of hospital visits and copious amounts of testing which continued into the beginning of her twenties and eventually she was diagnosed as what she refers to as an intersex state:

a gender variance of androgen insensitivity syndrome. I can remember my dad’s words when the consultant said to my dad, you don’t have a son you have a daughter”, and my dad’s words to this lady consultant was, I known that, but what are you going to do about it? so then it began, the inevitably journey to surgery the correct hormone therapy and that was it”…I would say that because…I would say that the surgery for me was of a corrective nature to bring everything into its own alignment, I would say, because structurally I was female anyway, the wide hips the wide pelvis and so forth, it was very difficult, for me to be anything other than female. The problems lay with respect to being outwardly female or anatomically female structural wise, but being genitally in some respects the opposite, was hard. I wasn’t fully equipped genitalia wise to be a fully functioning male, so that was never ever going to be something that I would be able to continue with, as it was beginning to make me quite ill. So the surgery was, I would say, the outward cosmetic aspect and made everything tidy and that was fine. I was able to get on with my life and pursue the career I wished too.

Sister Maria Renate decided to travel the world after her transition, eventually coming to join the religious life in 1987, she stated that she was drawn to the Franciscan way of life. This was called the ‘Carrism of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Claire’.

So I was able to pursue a form of religious life that meant living in my own home and working in a community for Lesbian, Gay , Transgender and Gender Inter-Sex People in an environment of faith” In the eighties I had already linked up and was working with those who had Aids and HIV to get information out there and so forth, so that was my beginnings of Pastoral ministry but within the Aids and HIV which brought me into the LGBT community at the beginning, which, was wonderful for me, because it allowed me to interact with people at a grass roots level where it actually mattered. Those people who were really in need of being for the acceptance for the love of god, which the love of god was always with them, the fallacy that they are not part of God’s plan was soon dispelled and we worked happily in that ministry of bringing people to the love of god and allowing them to express themselves and not to be afraid of who they were, and who they are. It was a great joy for me and enabled me to develop the ministry which I never thought I was really going to have and I did. I am grateful for the people of Merseyside and beyond, that have allowed me to be in their lives.

It has always been my role in life to be in pastoral care ministering and that’s where I have found my greatest joy in the pastoral role. It’s not been without its problems, because people then not so much now weren’t ready to accept that LGBT people had a place within the pattern of god. It was very hard to bring people to the understanding that Christ does not look at ones genital if you like, he looks at the heart and it is the heart in which he lives. Because every human being and creature alike hold the spark of God. Everybody has the spark of god a spark of the created the one who breathed life into them in the beginning. Whether they accept god into their lives is for them, it’s their journey. If they come to a fullness of god in respect of their gender or the sexuality, then praise god. It gives them a deeper understanding of their humanity and that’s were the joy lies.

My own priesthood is very important to me, I’m grateful and I’m privileged to have such a ministry and gift from god. I’ve enjoyed religious life with all its twists and turns. It’s been a source of enrichment both physically, emotionally and psychologically. It’s rewarded me in many ways, I couldn’t really imagine life outside of being a person of faith. It’s too much part of my fabric, with all its struggles and so forth, I honestly believe that there is nothing worth having if there isn’t a struggle attached to it and it means it’s worth fighting for. I would say every step of my life has been worth fighting for, with all its craziness with all its sadness, I’d say with all it ridicule one could almost ask why that I am outwardly a visible religious nun.

I wear my habit, I wear my veil and it is a sign of my consecration, it is a sign of service and it is received in good and bad alike. People will feel and do feel much easier to approach me and talk about the issues that bother them. They open their heart which is for me it’s very humbling  and very…how can I say, erh, I am privilege in many many ways for this confidence that people have in me, and all because of my outward appearance and that people can home in on you and open up. They can discuss their faith, whereas they may feel reluctant or it may take a longer time for somebody to open up to someone in secular clothes, I don’t know, that’s a contentious point, especially in today’s religious life where many sisters do not wear a habit and they don’t wear a veil, so it sort of makes them invisible, almost like social workers, which is great to be a social worker, I’m not decrying them in any shape or form. It’s just that it’s a woman who has concentrated their lives to god and you live a particular rule. Mine is the rule f St. Francis and St. Claire that rule dictates a form of religious identity, be it the habit or some symbol and that does set you apart for services and your life is marked by service. So it’s great for me the area in which I live and work is and has its issues it has its problems, I get the odd character who will ask me silly questions like…Oh sister do you have sex?, which happens too frequent for my liking, but, all part and parcel, on the whole you don’t expect the respect that you are given from the quarters that you get it. It’s amazing, it really is, its truly amazing, it shows you never to read a book by its cover, because  you see people who are into drugs or into drink, and you think as they are coming towards you Oh No is this going to be a confrontation or is it going to be ok. Believe it or not it’s usually non-confrontational and brings something from inside of them whether from their youth or, but it brings out a gentleness and the respect is almost palpable and it’s quite beautiful.

I remember attending an evening with April Ashley, in Liverpool  I’ll never forget it, (laughs) I met her at the ‘Joiners’ evening she had at the George’s Hall and we talked and she was amazed at the fact that there was a Catholic nun attending her talk which was a delight on both our parts. But, it was when she came to open her exhibition in Liverpool for ‘Homotopia’ that I attended the museum for the opening and she was talking, she was talking about when she first came to Liverpool and how she had met this Franciscan nun at the event and she said “Oh, it would be lovely to see her again”, and of course everyone was shouting ’April she’s here, she’s here’ and of course I stood up, you know!, and they applauded and so forth. She was thrilled, as I was thrilled to have such recognition, it was lovely.

There is an unseen beating heart in Liverpool which is full of faith and full of love and I have been rewarded by that outpouring of love, and acceptance in many, many ways and many times. I’m grateful. I’m truly grateful to the people of Liverpool for their warmth towards me, because, they’ve gone through a lot in respect of their exclusion and being shut out so it’s been an honour that they have accepted me a Catholic nun, to walk amongst them and to serve them.

The honour is really mine to be asked to be part of such a project because in respect we are or we have been Twilight People for many years even though the indigenous American Indian have always honoured twin gender and twin spirited people and it’s good that we have come out of Twilight and into the sunshine.’




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