How a nun and a monk ended up falling in love and leaving the church

The touch of love! Nun who barely spoke for 24 YEARS reveals how she gave up her life in the convent after falling for a monk when he brushed against her sleeve

  • Sister Mary Elizabeth, born Lisa Tinkler, left church for Friar Robert in 2015
  • Had belonged to Carmelite Roman Catholic religious order since she was 19
  • She lived monastic life in a convent in Preston, Lancashire when met Robert
  • Pair met by chance and he asked her to leave the order for him a week later
  • Read more: DR DEAN BURNETT is an expert on emotions but the trauma of his father’s death put his own feelings under the microscope

He didn’t know her name or the colour of her hair, but when a monk accidentally touched her sleeve, a nun who had dedicated decades of her life to God decided the spark was enough to leave her strict religious order.  

Sister Mary Elizabeth, 50, born Lisa Tinkler, led a quiet live at a convent in Preston, Lancashire, which belonged to the Carmelite Roman Catholic religious order, from the age of 19. 

In 2015, she met Friar Robert, a Carmelite monk visiting from Oxford, and they accidentally brushed sleeves – a small gesture charged with chemistry that caused them to leave their lives behind and chase love. 

Seven years on, the couple, who are now married and live in North Yorkshire, shared their story with BBC Radio 4’s Beyond Belief, revealing that although they struggled with their decision to leave the Carmelites, they don’t regret it. 

Sister Mary Elizabeth, 50, born Lisa Tinkler, left the Carmelite Roman Catholic religious order, which she joined aged 19 to become a nun in their convent in Preston, Lancashire, to marry friar Robert, who had been a monk of the order for 2013 (pictured last year)

Lisa revealed that the pair met by chance in autumn 2015 during Robert’s visit to her convent when the prioress took her to meet the visiting monk to see if he wanted anything to eat. 

They were left alone when the prioress left to take a phone call in another room, but didn’t speak. 

Up until then, Robert and Lisa had never interacted, and she had simply heard him preach at mass during his occasional visits to the priory.  

When Robert moved to leave the room, Lisa’s sleeve brushed against his, which she said unleashed a jolt of energy. 

Lisa joined the order at 19 and spent 24 years in service, only being allowed to speak for two half hour a day

The pair are now married and live in North Yorkshire, where Lisa is a hospital chaplain and Robert a Vicar 

While she is no longer a Carmelite nun, Lisa is still involved in her town’s religious community and works as a chaplain 

‘I just felt a chemistry there, something, and I was a bit embarrassed. And I thought, gosh, did he feel that too. And as I let him out the door it was quite awkward,’ she said. 

After Robert too had felt a spark, the pair began thinking about each other more and more and developed romantic feelings. 

A week later, Robert sent Lisa a note asking her if she would leave the order to marry him. 

Looking back, Lisa recalled the turmoil she felt as she tried to understand her feelings for Robert – not to mention the shock of receiving Robert’s message despite not knowing her birth name, nor the colour of her hair when he asked for her hand in marriage. 

Up until that point, she had been leading a solitary life as a nun in the convent for 24 years, after joining the order in her late teens. 

The strict order, which dates back to the 12th century, sees its nuns lead a reclusive life. 

Robert and Lisa have been together for seven years after meeting by chance in her priory during an occasional visit

The vicar asked Lisa to leave her order to marry him within a week or their sleeves touching by accident 

Lisa, whose interest in religion was born when she was six following a relative’s trip to Lourdes, recounted only speaking for two and a half hours each day when she lived at the convent. 

The rest of the time was spent on her own in her cell, in contemplative silence, which caused her vocabulary to decrease with the years. 

While she was content with her life in the convent, after her encounter with Robert, Lisa struggled with her feelings.  

‘I didn’t know what it feels like to be in love and I thought the sisters could see it in my face. So I became quite nervous. I could feel the change in me and that scared me,’ she said. 

Eventually, she confessed her feelings for Robert to her prioress, who couldn’t understand how she could have fallen in love with the monk in just a week and without any interactions.  

Lisa wondered how her bishop, the rest of her religious order and her own family would react to her decision to leave the church. She also was worried about how it would affect her relationship with God. 

While the pair went through their decision to leave their religious order to be together, they admitted they initially struggled with life outside the monastery 

Polish-born Robert, who was a monk for 13, was accepted by the Church of England after the Carmelites kicked him out for marrying Lisa 

However, the prioress’s curt reaction to her news convinced her to pack the few belongings she had and to leave the convent to meet Robert at a pub called Black Bull. 

She said she instantly began to struggle with her faith as she left the convent, admitting she even thought of taking her own life, but got the courage to follow through on her decision when she caught a glimpse of Robert through the pub’s window. 

Robert, who was born and raised in Poland but came to London and joined the Carmelite order in 2002, admitted that he shared her fears about starting a marriage in his fifties, but the couple went ahead with their decision. 

Robert in his vestments. The couple stressed that their faith is at the centre of everything they do and that they are both devoted to god 

Lisa,  in habit, admitted she draws on her faith to feel grounded in the modern world, after getting used to the silence of monastic life 

However, in spite of the connection they felt, they still struggled with life outside the priory. 

Lisa admitted the couple felt particularly low during the first Christmas they spent away from monastic life in 2015. 

She added the couple felt like Shakespearean star-crossed lovers and thought about ending it because the start of their relationship outside of the order was so hard to bear. 

She recounted a moment where the pair both cried at the job centre when they were asked if they had any transferable skills. 

They had another emotional moment when Robert bought and translated a book written in Polish about nuns who left their order. 

The couple stopped on the side of the M62 to cry together as they read the stories that they found were so relatable to their own situation. 

However, they managed to find balance in their new lives by reconnecting with their faith outside of the priory.  

‘All through your religious life, you’re told your heart is supposed to be undivided and given to God. Suddenly I felt like my heart was expanding to hold Robert, but I realised it also held everything else that I had. And I didn’t feel any different about God, and that was reassuring to me,’ Lisa said. 

Robert was told he could no longer be a member of the Carmelite order, but soon joined the Church of England and is now a vicar in the village of Hutton Rudby in North Yorkshire, where the couple live. 

Lisa worked in a funeral home before becoming a hospital chaplain and admitted she is now getting used to trying on different clothes and different hairstyles after spending 24 years in the religious habit.  

She admitted that if it weren’t for Robert, she would return to her convent life in a heartbeat, because she got used to the silence of monastic life and struggles to keep herself grounded in the modern world. 

The former nun said she looks at her life with Robert as two Carmelites living together and devoting their lives to God. 

She added that Christ is at the centre of her and Robert’s marriage and at the centre of everything the couple does. 

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