Van Kerrebroeck, known to one and all as Sister Monica, has been a city councillor in Ghent since 2001, and from 2004 to 2009 was also a member of the Flemish Parliament. So, roughly at a time when most people are considering retirement, she was holding down two public positions, and that was after a long career as a nun and director of the Sint-Bavo school in Ghent.
“I started in politics too late,” she told Het Nieuwsblad in 2004. “On one hand, I regret that, but, on the other, I can’t be sorry for what I’ve achieved during my long career.”
Van Kerrebroeck was born in Ghent in 1939. After studying history, she went on to teach at the Sint-Bavo school she would eventually run. Only later did she take her vows and join the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, dedicated to helping the sick and needy. The order’s most famous sister was Sister Marie Louise Habets, fictionalised in the novel and film The Nun’s Story.
In Belgian electoral politics, with its system of party lists, each list has its puller (lijsttrekker) and pusher (lijstduwer). The puller is the candidate most likely to succeed on the basis of list votes, and it’s a plum position for any politician. The pusher is at the bottom of the list, and the place is usually reserved for prominent personalities who do not expect to be elected but who help out by lending their public recognition to the campaign.
Van Kerrebroeck is widely respected across party lines and is something of a bekende Vlaming from appearances on TV programmes like De slimste mens ter wereld (The Smartest Person in the World). She’s also outspoken when she feels she needs to be. In 2010, when the new Archbishop André Leonard described Aids as “immanent justice” from God, she responded: “I can’t go along with this. These words are harsh and conflict with my own feelings. God is not a vengeful God; he is a God of love.”