Most 86-year-olds might be content with a weekly trip to the hairdressers, or an afternoon at the discount store, but not Sister Madonna Buder. She competes in Ironman athletic endurance competitions, biking hundreds of kilometers, swimming vast distances, and pounding the streets.
Buder competed in her first Ironman World Championship triathlon at age 55 in 1985. She's competed in 45 more since and is the oldest woman ever to complete an Ironman triathlon, a feat she accomplished in 2012. 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 80-84 age group. The nun is also the star of Nike's new “Unlimited Youth” ad, where she shows off her impressive athletic skills.
An international network of crime-fighting nuns (known as Talitha Kum) has announced plans to expand its anti-trafficking and slavery organization from 80 to 140 countries.
If this is the first time you've heard about Talitha Kum, there is a reason for that—the reported 1,100 nuns that make up the low-key operation have gone under the radar since first organizing in 2004. They often pose as prostitutes to infiltrate brothels and buy children being sold into slavery. The women shed their habits and work alongside locals for as little as two cents an hour 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 a Talitha Kum spokesman, John Studzinski. “They work in brothels. No one knows they are there.”
The sisters often rely on fundraised money to buy children out of slavery, before placing them in a housing network they've set up in Africa, the Philippines, Brazil, and India.
3The Brewmaster Nun
Mallersdorf Abbey is a Franciscan convent in southern Germany, home to 490 nuns. They all have different jobs to make the abbey a self-sustainable.
Sister Doris Engelhard, 65, is among them. Her job is to make beer.
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. The abbey makes a different beer for each season, including a 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.
4The nuns who grow marijuana
The Sisters of the Valley are hoping to alleviate suffering through a centuries-old tradition familiar to many cloisters and abbeys. They make salves, 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 is decidedly more modern—the sisters grow potent varieties of medical marijuana 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.
The pair, who consider themselves nuns but not in the traditional or Catholic sense, are licensed growers, but their business has recently come under threat from California municipalities looking to outlaw what they do.
5The Kung Fu Nuns of Nepal
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 order of kung fu nuns, a place where women are treated with the same respect as men.
Chores at the hillside nunnery just outside Kathmandu are split equally—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.
6The Pop Nun
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.
7Calendar 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."
8The Band of Nuns
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.
9The Carpool Karaoke Nuns
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! You can see these great religious sisters have some fun and sing along with some songs from the movie Sister Act.
In case you have been living under a rock, “carpool karaoke” was an idea 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.
10The Most Beautiful Nun
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.")