Pope nuns
Nuns attend the Epiphany mass led by Pope Francis in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Reuters

The number of women becoming nuns has reached a 25-year high, according to the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Forty-five women took their chastity vows last year compared to only seven in 2004 – it is the highest number since 1990. It was most popular during the 1980s when around 80 women a year decided to consecrate their lives to God.

The main reason for this resurgence of interest comes down to more Catholics re-evaluating their lives "in the context of prayer, discussion and scripture", said Sister Cathy Jones, from the National Office for Vocation.

"It is also significant that in recent years many religious congregations have grown in confidence in proposing their way of life, both through offering taster weekends and by participating in youth festivals, enabling potential 'discerners' to easily encounter religious and take the first steps to find out more about religious life," she explained.

Sister Cathy said women were also drawn into doing God's work after being moved by the increase in poverty in the UK during the economic crisis and wanting to help trafficking victims. "It doesn't tend to be those who are coming from quite vulnerable places who become nuns, but there are people who want to be reaching out to those on the margins, who join," she said.

Theodora Hawksley, 29, who used to be a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh, has recently joined the Congregation of Jesus. She is now in the process of making her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

She said: "Entering religious life was a decision born of love. It was an acknowledgement that my life has slowly and concretely rearranged itself around the love of God, and around that relationship as the one I prize above all else."

She told the BBC: "I don't have to worry now about practical things like making a career for myself. I'm free to go where I'm needed and meet people at the margins.

"You are not on your own. It is an unusual life choice, but you are not the only one making it. There are plenty of people asking themselves the same questions."

One of the BBC's most high-profile journalists Martina Purdy left the media industry after more than 20 years to become a nun. She entered the Adoration Sisters in Belfast last October.