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?
- The idea of public speaking is very challenging to me and I avoid it if possible. How can I be a priest when I hate public speaking?
- If I request information about joining a religious organisation, will I be pressured into joining?
- Why are there so many different religious orders?
- What can I do as a priest that I cannot do as a layperson working for a charity or NGO?
- As a priest, will I get to see and talk with family and friends regularly?
- I read stories of religious communities merging or closing down. Are religious organisations dying out?
- Why are there so many different religious organisations?
- Would entering a religious community mean that I would have to sever my relationships with family and friends?
- I’m very attracted to women. Will this pass with time and training or will I always be tempted?