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?
- Why are there so many different religious orders?
- Are religious orders different from one another? If so, how are they different?
- Why are there so many different religious organisations?
- Why would anybody become a priest nowadays?
- 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?
- 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?
- As a priest, will I get to see and talk with family and friends regularly?
- What does discernment mean when we’re talking about vocation?
- School was never something I really liked. Is the study part of formation very hard?