27 March 2018, The Tablet

Polish nuns turn to boxing to raise funds for orphanage

'We hadn't had much luck collecting funds for the renovation and needed some way of attracting public interest'

Polish nuns turn to boxing to raise funds for orphanage

While Poland is home to thousands of Catholic nuns from dozens of orders, they rarely attract attention like the country's male clergy.

That may be changing since a convent of Capuchins took up boxing to raise money for their orphanage.

"We'd like to stress no one was knocked out or injured," explained Sister Cecylia Pytka, local superior of the Capuchin Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Siennica.

"We hadn't had much luck collecting funds for the renovation and needed some way of attracting public interest. That's when a friend arranged for us to get into boxing," she told Catholic News Service.

A tongue-in-cheek video on the sisters' Facebook page shows five veiled nuns heading to the Walhalla sports hall at Minsk Mazowiecki, 20 miles east of Warsaw and near their convent. They're shown limbering up in their habits before strapping on gloves and slugging it out to the theme song from "Rocky."

When the workout finishes, the sisters high-five each other, knotted girdles jangling, to the apparent consternation of other hardened gym-goers.

As of March 26, the sisters had raised about one-third of the $88,000 needed for the orphanage upgrade, Sister Cecylia said. Work must start by June to comply with safety regulations.

"Of course, we're pleased with the publicity and hope we can reach our target," she said.

"The orphanage children, who know us well from daily life, say they're not the least surprised about the boxing, since we're always having crazy ideas. But local people have been supportive too, recognizing our input into the community here," she explained.

While few nuns have become public figures in Poland, a member of the Daughters of Divine Charity, Sister Anastazja Pustelnik, sold more than 4 million recipe books before announcing her retirement in 2016.

Formed in Italy in 1897, the Capuchin congregation founded their convent at Siennica, near Minsk, in 1989. They minster to poor children, teach catechism and prepare children for their first Communion, and maintain local churches.

The Mother Weronika Orphanage has provided a home for about 100 abandoned youngsters since opening its doors in 1996.

Sister Cecylia told CNS the Capuchins had routinely kept fit by exercising with their orphanage charges, making the switch to combat sports easier.

However, she cautioned that some had had trouble with a "tendency to giggle" while making the video.

"Of course, nuns don't really need to know how to box or floor each other," she said.

"This was a spontaneous idea, which took shape as we did it. Convents like ours are free to come up with ways of publicizing their work, and this seems quite a promising one. If people trust us and wish to help, they'll be assured of our thanks and prayers."

Besides laying into each other with right jabs and left hooks, the nuns lift weights, hit punching bags, beat tires with heavy mallets, heave ropes and work out on rowing and cycling machines.

The video ends with a warning, "We will fight -- check what for" before outlining the orphanage renovation scheme.

Sister Cecylia said she regretted she was too old to join the boxing bouts herself. Asked if the initiative might lead to a nationwide boxing contest for Polish nuns, she said the sisters had not yet "thought that far ahead."

PICTURE: ©Facebook 

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