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
- Why are there so many different religious organisations?
- I’d like to join a religious community but I like living in Ireland. Can I be sent anywhere or do I have a say in the matter?
- Are religious orders different from one another? If so, how are they different?
- 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?
- If I don’t believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, can I still become a priest?
- 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?
- I’m not a native of Ireland, can I still join the priesthood in Ireland?
- What if I change my mind about being a priest during training or things just don’t work out? How do I pick my life back up again?
- What if as a priest I need to take time out to care for a relative or family member?
- 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?