MUMBAI – In the West, there are constant reminders of the dearth of women in the sciences and repeated calls to boost their numbers, both for their own well-being in term of employment and financial opportunities, and for the sake of diversity in the sciences themselves.
Yet there are some interesting exceptions, occasionally in the places one might think least likely to find them.
A 32-year-old woman in India gives diversity a new spin entirely. Not only did she just receive a prestigious doctoral degree in aerospace engineering from India’s “Defence Institute of Advance Technology,” she’s also a cloistered Catholic nun.
The institute is not exactly a place one would expect to find a plethora of women, as it specializes in training officers of the Indian armed forces, paramilitary forces, defense organizations, weapons factories, and other central and state government agencies.
Yet Sister Benedicta of the Holy Face, formerly known as “Rochelle,” who was born in Kuwait in 1983, is no ordinary woman.
She graduated from St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, and received a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Pune University before entering her doctoral program at the defense institute.
Her doctoral work focused on scramjet engines, which are used mostly for hypersonic vehicles and also for space vehicles. Theoretically, such vehicles can drastically reduce the air travel time anywhere on Earth to just 90 minutes.
While that seems like it would have led Benedicta to a promising and possibly lucrative career as an engineer, the twist is that she felt “called by God” while attending a retreat in Pune.
She told Crux, “I encountered God through my doctoral studies.”
She went on to say that it was her “love for Jesus,” and the idea that she decided to “give Him the first priority in my life over my studies,” which helped her to “encounter the Love of God, who facilitated everything.”
Benedicta took the decision to enter religious life one step further than most by joining a cloistered order, thereby upping the “diversity” ante one step further.
“My family had an inkling that I might join a religious order, but when I took the decision to join a contemplative order they were shocked,” she said.
In fact, after she entered the cloister, her graduation was the first time she stepped foot outside the convent since going in.
“I received encouragement from my prioress, Mother Teresa Margaret, who gave special permission to attend the convocation ceremony,” she said.
Benedicta joined the cloistered Carmelite convent in Pune, located in India’s Maharashtra state, on February 2, 2015, on the feast of the Presentation.
The Carmelite provincilate based in Bangalore, India, sent out an e-mail to their members congratulating Benedicta.
“You have made the order proud,” it said. “God bless you!”