Radio provides opportunities for Sunday outreach

Dr Gemma Simmonds CJ with Fr Provincial, former General Nicolás and Fr Michael Holman SJ at Heythrop College
Dr Gemma Simmonds CJ with Fr Provincial, former General Nicolás and Fr Michael Holman SJ at Heythrop College

Yesterday’s radio airwaves had no shortage of participants from the British Province. On BBC Radio 2, Fr Damian Howard SJ was Clare Balding’s guest on Good Morning Sunday. He had been invited as a guest onto the programme to talk about Martin Scorsese’s film Silence, about 17th century Jesuit missionaries in Japan.

Meanwhile, on BBC Radio Wales, Roy Jenkins’ award-winning programme All Things Considered was given over to Sr Gemma Simmonds CJ of Heythrop College, University of London, whose Welsh links were that she was “one of five children of a Welsh Congregationalist policeman from Bridgend, and a French Roman Catholic” [they had lived through the Nazi occupation of her homeland and met in the ruins of Berlin in 1945] and her retreat work at St Beuno's in North Wales.

Dr Gemma Simmonds was educated by the Congregation of Jesus from the age of three and a half, she explained to Revd Jenkins, and she entered the order at 18. As a student in Cambridge, she was known for flying around the streets on her bike in full habit (dressed, as she put it, like a 17th century widow) and, from then on, Revd Jenkins described her schedule as seeming “pretty breathless”.

Recognising women’s role in the ChurchBBC Radio Wales' Roy Jenkins

Over the past 40 years, Sr Gemma has been a teacher and university chaplain, worked with street children in Brazil and spent 26 years as a volunteer chaplain at Holloway Prison.  She is in demand as a writer, translator and broadcaster, and lectures and leads retreats around the world, for people from a range of traditions - Salvation Army officers in Canada, Pentecostal and Lutheran pastors in Sweden, and Catholic teachers in the United States. Naturally, on BBC Radio Wales’ All Things Considered, Roy Jenkins was particularly interested to hear about her work at the Jesuit retreat centre of St Beuno’s near St Asaph in North Wales.

Specialising in the spiritual formation of priests and of women entering religious orders, Sr Gemma is passionate about promoting the recognition of women in the Catholic church, and is currently a senior lecturer at Heythrop College in the University of London, and director of the Religious Life Institute.

The full programme is available on the BBC Radio Wales website.