What’s the difference between a sister and a nun?
The terms ‘nun’ and ‘sister’ are often used interchangeably today. In Roman Catholicism, however, there is a subtle difference between them. Here’s a summary.
A Catholic nun is a woman who lives a contemplative life in a monastery, which is usually called cloistered or enclosed. This means secluded from the world, or ‘sheltered’, as in deliberately given over to silence and prayer. Her ministry and prayer life is based within the monastery and her mission is to pray for the good of the world. She makes perpetual vows living a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
A Catholic sister is a woman who lives, ministers, and prays in the context of ordinary parish and community life. A sister’s life is often called ‘active’ or ‘apostolic’ because she is engaged in helping others, taking the Gospel message to people where they are. She professes perpetual simple vows, living a life according to the evangelical ‘counsels’ of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Both nuns and sisters can be referred to as ‘women religious’ and may be addressed as ‘Sister’.
Most popular questions
- I feel I have a specific charism to youth outreach. Can I live this charism out as a priest, or must I follow the charism of the order I join?
- If I request information about joining a religious organisation, will I be pressured into joining?
- Can I become a bishop or cardinal and not a priest?
- I read stories of religious communities merging or closing down. Are religious organisations dying out?
- If I take a vow of celibacy, will I get very lonely?
- Can a gay man become a priest?
- I do not consider myself to be exceptionally holy, I try to pray every day and follow the commandments. I have always been very interested in the priesthood but I have never felt a burning passion for it. Could I still be called to the priesthood?
- Why are there so many different religious orders?
- What’s the difference between a diocesan priest and a priest in a religious order?
- Can I still join the priesthood if I have personal debts?