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
- If I request information about joining a religious organisation, will I be pressured into joining?
- 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?
- Are religious orders different from one another? If so, how are they different?
- I read stories of religious communities merging or closing down. Are religious organisations dying out?
- Why do we have priests? Can’t lay people do the work of priests?
- What does discernment mean when we’re talking about vocation?
- Why are there so many different religious orders?
- Are there any books I should read to help me discern my vocation?
- What if as a priest I need to take time out to care for a relative or family member?
- Can I become a bishop or cardinal and not a priest?