By Sean Ryan - 13 November, 2016
A Cork-born Irish nun is back on the BBC with a new series showing herself and a team of helpers in a community in Manchester.
Sister Rita Lee’s new series – ‘Sister Rita to the Rescue’ – follows the Presentation Sister and her team around the Manchester suburb of Collyhurst as they try to help people struggling with a range of difficulties, including debt and managing on benefits.
The series shows the Irish woman setting herself a new challenge. Determined to establish a way of supplying the Lalley Centre’s food bank with a continuous supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, she sets up an allotment to get the community eating more healthily.
Speaking to the Irish Post newspaper about her new series, she said, “It was wasteland owned by the council. We didn’t have enough space to grow vegetables for the food bank so we decided that we’d ask permission to use it and they gave it to us.”
Sister Rita, who is sometimes called ‘Attila the Nun’, says her reputation is down to her personality and her hatred of exploitation on any level. “I didn’t even know who Attila the Hun was,” she explained. “I thought he was a Disney character. When I found that out I thought, ‘wow, I’ve got a name to live up to here.’”
She added: “We’re all given a personality when we’re born and you can’t just change it like you can have a face lift, can you? You have to put up with it and use it. That’s me. I’m very straight with people and I know exactly what they’re up to.”
Sr Rita notes: “I think when you’re very young, you’re a bit cautious about what you’re saying, as you have a fear of authority or a fear of people who are somebody and think you’re nobody. Then as you get a bit older you think well, we’re all created by God, why should I be cowering down to anyone, so I don’t.”
Viewers will watch Sister Rita see red this series as she hears rumours that some of the food from the food bank is being sold at a local market, forcing her to introduce a new system to stop people taking advantage. “I hate exploitation on any level and I won’t allow it,” she said.
Sister Rita – who celebrated a milestone 50 years as a nun last year – explains that not just anyone can “roll up in a car” to the food bank. There is a process. “If you roll up in a car don’t come looking to me for food. You won’t get it,” she said. “If it’s a disability car that’s different, but if you can afford to pay tax and insurance and upkeep and petrol or diesel or whatever, you shouldn’t really be coming down to us.”
A native of Cork city, Sister Rita left her hometown in Ireland at the age of 17 and headed to Britain, where she joined the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an order originally started in her home county by Nano Nagle in 1775.