Axel Carlberg was a monk, a brother of the Dominican order, and lived with other brothers in Lund, when he met Agneta. She was a student at Lund University, and Axel was her teacher in ethics.
At first they were just teacher and student, but something happened and their relationship deepened.
“She sat there during the lectures and was very attentive, and of course I couldn’t help but notice how pretty she was,” says Axel, who was born in Mexico to a Swedish father and a Mexican mother. When Axel went to study in the U.S. they wrote to each other, and Agneta confessed that she was in love with him.
“And I couldn’t deny that I also felt strongly for her,” says Axel. “But it was forbidden, it was so forbidden.” Axel had already passed several obstacles for his faith and his desire to serve God in celibacy. His parents weren’t too happy about his choice, neither were his childhood friends, who gave him porn magazines and got him drunk. Still he persisted, and took the holy orders in Lund in 1987. When he realized he was in love with Agneta, he did something unusual: He confessed to his superiors and asked to be transferred away from Lund – and Agneta. Yet, he came back to Lund a year later. And there was Agneta waiting for him.
“She wanted me to leave the order, to give up my vows. I kept on working, harder and harder, thinking everything would be all right in the end. It was probably an immature reaction.” In 2004, while Agneta was in England on a study trip, Axel moved to a Dominican convent in Helsinki.
“It was very surprising,” says Agneta. “Everything between us had felt so good before I left.” Their life was a roller-coaster. Six months later, when Axel had to go to Lund in order to give a lecture he met Agneta again. And a mere month later, she called him up at the convent in Helsinki with the news: “I’m pregnant and you are going to be a father. Don’t say anything now that you will regret later.” Axel only said he needed time to think, and that he would call her back.
“I was happy that day,” he says now. “And when I called Agneta again I told her that. I knew then that all my guilt was gone, there was no turning back. I couldn’t possibly be both a Dominican brother and a father. Yes, I had broken my vows, but I had done so for love.” At the end of that conversation he added: “Tell our child ‘good night’ from Pappa.”
Axel told his superiors what had happened and asked to be relieved from his vows, which took a long time. He went to France and wrote, in French, a hand-written letter to the Pope asking him to be dismissed. A year later he got the answer from the Vatican: He was relieved from his vows. By then Nils had been born.
Says Agneta: “When Nils was born, one of Axel’s brothers from the Dominican convent in Lund came with baby clothes that he had bought. Isn’t that amazing?” A year later Axel and Agneta got married and then along came baby number two, Astrid. Axel is now a lecturer at Lund University but works mostly as a coach for people. Agneta is a pastor in the Swedish Church. Axel keeps in touch with his former Dominican brothers, but says: “I’m happy in my life with Agneta and our children. Happy to have a family.”
Axel Carlberg had been a monk living in a convent for 23 years when he married Agneta and became a father. “I’m happy in my life with Agneta and our children," he says. "Happy to have a family." But the road to that happiness wasn't easy.
The Dominican order showed up in Sweden as early as the 13th century in Visby, main city on the island Gotland and an important trading point during The Hansa. The monastery in Visby, shown here with drawings to make it a 'culthedral' by Exners Tegnestue A/S, Denmark, seized functioning as a convent after the reformation.