Did you know?

There is a difference between nuns and sisters

Nuns and Sisters are women who have chosen to live vowed religious life within the Catholic Church. There are a number of different orders, each with its own charism or special character. For centuries, Nuns, robed in black veils and long sleeved and full length dresses called “habits,” have given their lives to help others in the name of Jesus Christ. We live our lives totally dedicated to God, and we offer ourselves in service to others as an expression of our relationship with God.

Habits originated as common dress of the day and became institutionalized

For many years, Sisters wore the long habits which were fashioned after the common dress of pious women in medieval times. Even those Congregations founded in more modern times adopted similar styles of dress as that style of dress became institutionalized. The styles were handed down for generations, with only a few modifications, until the renewal of religious life following Vatican Council II in 1965. Since then Sisters have had the option of retaining the traditional habit or changing to a simple, modest contemporary style of dress. Some Sisters still prefer the traditional habit. You may recognize a Sister who does not wear a traditional habit by some small sign, a cross or pin that is a distinctive emblem of her Congregation. Many people say that they can still spot a Sister by the way she relates and her simple dress.

That vowed religious life is a life not a job

A vow is a sacred promise that a woman takes for her entire life. Being a Nun or Sister is not a job. As women religious in the Catholic Church, we make public vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to God for life. Nuns and Sisters give our entire lives to God forever. We vow consecrate is to live for God alone and to serve God’s people for the rest of our lives. Our vows free us for this life through which we hope to express God’s love, mercy, compassion and care.

That there are many Congregations of women religious

There are more than 450 separate Congregations of Women religious listed in the 2012 – J.P. Kennedy Official Catholic Directory. Congregations were founded in different centuries to attend to the needs of the Church. While they may have similar names, they may be very different in the way they go about attending to those needs. Much depends on their particular historical understanding of the purpose of their foundation. All women religious (Nuns and Sisters) are called to be a total gift of self to God and to the Church. The official Catholic Church lists all approved communities in the J.P. Kennedy Official Catholic Directory. Each community contributes to the building up of the Church in different ways.

The meaning of the vows

The vows are a free expression of the religious vocation: They are a public witness of Jesus, who lived chaste, poor and obedient to God’s will.

Chastity/ Consecrated Celibacy

Church documents make clear, that chastity, more specifically consecrated celibacy, is an explicit sign of the desire to be totally conformed to Jesus. Only the love of God calls to religious chastity (consecrated celibacy). It uniquely frees the hearts of human beings for God, His church and humanity. Chastity/consecrated celibacy is a reflection of the infinite love which links the three Divine Persons. Chastity, which is most perfectly embodied in Our Lord Jesus, is conferred as a gift by His Spirit in the hearts of those He has called to a life of total consecration. “Chastity frees the human heart in a remarkable manner, so that it burns with a love for God and for all people” (Directives on Formation, 13; Perfectae Caritatis, 12).


To vow poverty is not to despise the goods of creation, but to commit oneself to dependence on God and the just distribution of the goods of the earth in order to be free from the burdens which come with the amassment of wealth and which may distract a person from the development of the spiritual realities of life.” So the religious should put their trust in God, in His Providence rather than in material goods, richness or worldly influences. They put their trust in a Father who knows their every need. They choose to be poor to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Like the first believers, they bring what they have to their brothers and hold everything in common with them (Acts 2:42-47).


The common or the simplest understanding of obedience is the submission of oneself to God’s will. Religious obedience is generally the submission of a religious to be governed by God’s will discerned with legitimate authority– listening to the Word of God, to the signs of the times in events and in society, and to Catholic Church teaching in order to discern the will of God. On the personal level, the vow of obedience requires a prayer life that cultivates a listening heart.

Community life is a human experience

Gathering in a group enables us to achieve more than we could do alone. By choosing religious life, we join a community whose members work together to take on the challenging tasks of helping the poor, the underserved, the voiceless and those who have lost hope. That is not to say that every Sister has a perfect relationship with every other Sister. We are human. But, we willingly joined the group to witness the fact that God’s love calls some to go beyond blood relationships, ethnicity, and nationality, to be sisters to all.

Religious belong to congregations

Religious sisters are as varied as all human beings. Congregations, based on the purpose of their foundation, may also be very different. Yet each Congregation is the same in that the way of religious life focuses on what matters most: God’s all-embracing love.

   Photo Credit: Sr. Germaine, high five. Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ