Today’s Religious Sister
There are two things I love most about being a woman religious. I love being part of a community of women who share a common charism for the mission and with whom I can pray, share friendship and support at times of joy and sorrow. I also love the freedom to be of service and to partner with other church members to bring Christ more fully present to many people. – Sister Virginia West, SND de N
What I love the most about having responded to Jesus deeper invitation to become a Missionary sister is the growing awareness that in loving and serving others I am loving and serving God. – Sister Teresa McElwee, SND de N
Religious Sister FAQ’s
Why Do Young Women Choose Religious Life Today?
Because God continues to call! The needs of this world’s homeless, hungry, lonely, ignorant, and oppressed cry out for the presence of religious Sisters. Sisters are women who publicly profess vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience to God in the context of a life in religious community. They assist the mission of the Church in a wide variety of ministries. Their witness to the joy, beauty and viability of community living gives hope to the world in search of unity and reconciliation.
What Personal Qualities Are Needed to Become a Sister?
A great love for Jesus Christ and the life of the gospel! A good candidate shows a great desire to “give back” through service to God’s people, a habit of prayer, an ability to live with others in community (or a willingness to learn), and a burning desire to spread the love of God!
What Are the Age and Health Requirements?
Women desiring to experience the life of a religious must be single (with a church annulment if divorced), 20 – 45 years of age (for most communities), with good physical, mental and emotional health.
Will I Be Able to Keep in Touch With Friends and Family?
Yes! The support and prayers of your loved ones will give you the courage and energy to continue to follow Christ wherever he calls you. Your care for them will speak to them of the love which God has for them.
What Are Some of the Joys and Struggles of Religious Life?
The Joys – Living totally for Jesus Christ with the support of a prayerful, caring community is the greatest joy for a religious woman. But her ministry, whatever the form of her of service with God’s people, is an essential part of her loving relationship with the Lord. Scripture, spiritual direction, spiritual reading, and growth in prayer contribute to the joy she finds in her call. The people with whom she ministers in parishes, schools, health care, the arts, prison ministry, counseling, liturgical involvement, and peace and justice service bring her much joy! “The apostolate is inseparable from the path of transforming union!” (Sr. Rose Hoover, rc)
The Struggles – As women living in community with other women, brought together by the call of Jesus Christ, a Sister soon experiences the frustration of living with others who do not share the opinions and ways of doing things to which she has become accustomed. Opportunities to “die to self” abound as she strives to focus more closely on the needs of others than on her own needs. She will, from time to time, experience the pain of her sacrifice of marriage and family, the demands of community living, and material luxuries.
How Can I Find The “Right” Community / Order For Me?
Visit several religious communities, asking for the grace to find the community where your special gifts may be best used for God’s honor and glory. Reading a national vocations magazine may be helpful in locating communities to visit. (Contact our Diocesan Vocation Office for a catalogue). Many times women read about so many communities that they begin to feel anxious. They begin to worry, “What if I don’t find the “right” community and so fail to answer God’s call?”
Read about the basic types of religious community (cloistered and apostolic) and then visit with several. Prayer for discernment and complete openness will be needed. This will help you to choose one community in which you feel a “kindred spirit.”
At this point you will need to request acceptance as an Inquirer in order to come to know that community more fully. If accepted, you will begin a spiritual formation process, without a live-in experience. It will give you the information and experience you need to make a choice either for or against continuing in formation with that community.
What Are the Differences Between Cloistered and Apostolic Religious Communities?
Cloistered Sisters (Nuns) – Most cloistered women profess solemn vows and are called nuns. They profess vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience to God in the person of their superior. They pray in community throughout the day, as well as cherishing time spent in personal prayer. They are not “sent” outside their monastery, but serve within as artists, writers, gardeners, creators of vestments and altar breads, or special food products which are sold to maintain the monastery.
Cloistered Sisters may be spiritual directors, but they meet others from behind a grille which separates them from non-members. They do not leave the monastery grounds except in special circumstances (doctors, etc.). Cloistered Sisters profess solemn vows.
They are committed to praying for the needs of the world beyond the monastery grounds.
Apostolic Sisters – Women who are accepted as members of apostolic religious communities are called to bring their contemplative hearts into the world. They are willing to be “sent” wherever they are most needed and able to serve according to the talents which God has given them. They profess simple perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience and live in community. Daily Mass and daily prayer together, as well as time spent in personal prayer, are essential to the formation of a contemplative heart.
Most apostolic religious women live under a common roof with other members of their own community. A small number live with religious women of other communities, and some Sisters, for various reasons, have received permission from their communities to live alone. In each case, community is the style of their lives; they meet regularly with other members of their community to share their faith, their vision, their friendship, and their dreams!
What is the Process for Becoming a Sister?
Through the various stages of spiritual formation (Inquirer, Affiliate, Postulant, Novice, Initial Profession and Final Profession) a young woman comes to know and love the Sisters in her chosen community. She receives spiritual, scriptural, and theological instruction. She is offered assistance in prayer, and experiences the joys and struggles of community life.
Inquirer – A young woman who begins discernment prayer and the search for information about religious communities of women may be described as an Inquirer (Candidate/Associate). She is encouraged to speak to her pastor, spiritual director, and religious whom she knows about her questions and prayer. She attends retreats where discernment of vocational call is an emphasis whenever possible. She looks for materials which will give her a wider view of what is possible for her, and continues to pray each day to know God’s will for her life.
Affiliate – When an Inquirer finds a community in which she feels a “kinship”, she seeks to be accepted as an Affiliate (Candidate, Associate) so that she can begin a structured time of spiritual formation which will enable her to spend time with this community, getting to know the Sisters, their charism and ministries. She spends time with them in prayer, discussion, meals and recreation. She lives at home and continues with her career during this time. She has a director who helps her to know the community sisters and their “spirit.” She meets regularly with her Director (or Contact Sister) who provides her with spiritual guidance, spiritual reading and opportunities to spend time with the Sisters.
Postulant – When an Affiliate desires to experience life in community, and is accepted as a Postulant (Associate/Candidate), she begins her life as a member of a local community, united with the sisters in every facet of their lives. She is not yet a Sister, but is fully engaged in testing her own ability to live community life and ministry with this community to which she feels called. She meets regularly with her director who assists her and guides her through this process. She begins study of scripture, theology and community history.
Novice – A Postulant may request permission to begin her novitiate when she feels ready to prepare for vows and life as a Sister living in community. Her first year is a year of spiritual studies and spiritually-based ministries. It resembles a long retreat in that sense. She begins an in-depth study of the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. She continues with her study of prayer, scripture, theology and the history of religious life. She prays, plays and ministers with the sisters, beginning to test herself as a member of this community.
In her second year of novitiate, a novice is given the opportunity to enter into several of the ministries of the community for shorter periods of time in a learning capacity, thereby expanding her own experiences of Church ministry. These ministry periods are balanced by theological reflection on her growth as a minister and their effect on her life of prayer and community living. She continues her preparation for profession of vows, her spiritual direction, and study of scripture.
Profession of Vows – At the close of her second year as a novice, she may request permission to profess vows of chastity, poverty and obedience in her community for a temporary period of time. When both she and the community feel she is called by God to continue her life as a religious, she may be accepted for Final Vows.
Who Should I Talk With About My Vocation Discernment?
Start with your closest friends whom you think will be open to understanding your desires for union with God and service for and with others. Talk with your parents, your pastor, and the vocation director of the communities in whom you are interested.