The Boston Globe has profiled Sr. Olga Yaqob, the only canonical hermit in the Archdiocese of Boston, who is also a campus minister at Boston University. She was born in Kirkuk, Iraq, as a member of the Assyrian Catholic Church. She contemplated switching to the Latin rite in order to become a nun because the Assyrians did not have them, but later the bishop in Baghdad asked her to start an order.
Yaqob, 40, is the only canonical hermit in the Archdiocese of Boston, remaining in solitude and contemplative prayer every Saturday while conducting a public ministry the rest of the week. Yet as metaphor, hermit fits her life story as Yaqob tells it. She has often stood outside the community, be it growing up in Iraq’s microscopic Christian minority or leaving her family and their ancestral church to become a nun.
Just 4 feet 10 inches tall, Yaqob has been an outsized presence at BU, says Lydia Longoria, a graduate who was Yaqob’s first spiritual advisee, an unusual request on Longoria’s part, as Yaqob spoke little English then.
“I didn’t need someone who could understand my words; I needed someone who could understand my heart,” Longoria says.
She talks about her parents’ opposition to her desire to become a nun; how their culture saw women as only called to family life, not religious life; and how they repeatedly attempted to subvert her attempts to obey them while also listening to the vocation call in her heart.
Her parents sent her to university, hoping she would meet a man and fall in love. When she graduated, around the time Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, and informed her father that “God is still jealous for my heart,” he told her to take her younger brother to London, ostensibly to save him from mandatory military service and the Gulf War. Her father agreed that if she did that, he would let her become a nun.
But he had also arranged a marriage for her through family in London, something she didn’t learn until her brother told her the night before they were to leave Jordan for London. She prayed a lot that night and recalls thinking: “How this is happening? I did obey my parents for years. I obeyed my culture. I obeyed the tradition of my ancestors.”
The next day, she put her brother on the plane, but did not board. Her parents disowned her, and she took a bus to Baghdad.
She eventually ended up in the US just before 9/11 because her affinity for the Roman way of faith and devotion over the Assyrian caused friction with her bishop.
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