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?
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- What can I do as a priest that I cannot do as a layperson working for a charity or NGO?
- What if as a priest I need to take time out to care for a relative or family member?
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- As a priest if I decide that I no longer want to do something, such as work in a specific parish, do I have any say or is it all out of my hands?
- If I request information about joining a religious organisation, will I be pressured into joining?
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- Are religious orders different from one another? If so, how are they different?
- School was never something I really liked. Is the study part of formation very hard?