Many myths and misconceptions surround nuns, priests, and other religious people in the Catholic Church. It has always been a fascinating concept to me, mainly because I grew up Catholic. I have always wondered what it takes to become a consecrated nun. So, how do you become a nun in the Catholic Church?
To become a nun in the Catholic Church, you must spend time to discern whether or not it is their vocation. You will then be allowed to visit various convents to speak to other nuns and live with them to experience their daily life. Once you settle on a congregation, normally referred to as a Religious Order, you will then go for training for several months. After this, you will become a novitiate, a position held for two years. After spending two years as a novice, you will take your first vows. The final vows will be taken after another three to six years.
In this article, I will delve into the process of becoming a nun from start to finish. Join me as I try to answer such questions as what rules one must follow as a nun, what requirements one must meet to become a nun, what it means when a nun breaks her vows, and many more.
Prerequisites for Becoming a Catholic Sister or Nun
You must be a Catholic woman
This is likely one of the very first things that will be required of you if you wish to become a Catholic nun. This is to mean that, as a Christian, you profess the Catholic faith and are baptized in the church. You should also be able to demonstrate that you are part of a Parish community and that you participate in the same.
You must be between 18 and 40 years old
To qualify as a candidate, a lady who wishes to become a nun must have attained the legal age of 18. In the past, the maximum age limit was set at 25, but Religious Orders are now accepting women below 40 as long as they meet the other requirements set by the church.
You must be a single woman
Becoming a nun means giving up wanting to have a husband and children. For this reason, anyone who is married or in a relationship cannot become a nun. Women who have been married can, however, be considered if they are widows or if their marriages are annulled by the Catholic Church.
You must be debt-free when you become a novice
All women looking to become nuns are encouraged to clear all their debts before joining a religious order. They are most especially asked to do this before they reach the novitiate stage. However, if this is not possible before then, you are encouraged to speak to the vocation director, who will advise you on how best to proceed.
You must not have children who are dependent on you
It is possible for women who have children to become nuns. If you do, they ought to be in a position to sufficiently provide for themselves. They need to be of legal age so they can find jobs and care for their own needs in all aspects of their lives.
You should be in good health of body and mind
While this can be grossly misunderstood to mean that one must be in perfect physical health, it does not necessarily exclude people living with manageable health conditions. It simply means that you should be in a position to handle the engagements that come with missionary work in both a psychological and physical sense.
Unlike priesthood, becoming a nun does not require one to hold a university degree. It, however, plays to a great advantage in case you have one. Professional experience of any kind is also highly encouraged, but it is not a mandatory requirement for one to become a nun.
Stages of Becoming a Catholic Nun
The stages of becoming a Catholic nun may vary from order to order since each stage may take a different length of time to complete. In addition, stages can have different names depending on the Religious Order or Congregation you join, but the steps are almost always the same across the board.
Candidacy/ Aspirancy/ Pre-Postulancy
This period refers to the time you became aware that you want to become a nun. During this time, an aspirant takes the time to research and find out all they can about being a nun, the requirements, and day to day lives of various religious orders.
After you choose your preferred religious order, you will then be allowed to join the community. The postulancy stage marks the official entry into a religious order or congregation.
During this time, a postulant gains experience in life in the congregation by participating in all activities. You will learn about the order’s prayer life and join in their community and apostolic works. You will also take classes to learn more about the congregation. This stage takes 12 months to complete.
Once you have gone through a few months of the above stage, you are then allowed to join the novitiate. Normally, this stage takes up to two years in various congregations.
You will learn more about the spirituality and charism of the order, as well as the three main evangelical counsels of religious life, which are chastity, poverty, and obedience.
When you have completed the novitiate period, you will then go on to profess the temporary vows, which are also known as first vows. They are known as temporary or first vows because they are only biding for a period of time which ranges from 1 to 3 years, depending on the religious order you join.
Perpetual or Final Vows
Once a candidate and the religious order confirm that a novice is sure about her vocation as a nun, she is then allowed to profess her final vows. The Final Profession is done in a public setting in the presence of Priests, Superiors, and fellow nuns. During your final vows, you will pledge to live by the three evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience.
Preparation Steps to Becoming a Catholic Nun
Here are the steps a lady is encouraged to take before starting the formation process of becoming a nun.
Pray for discernment
Becoming a nun is a deeply spiritual affair, and it is not considered a temporary state of life.
It is believed that prayer gives you a deeper connection with God and allows you to hear Him more clearly. This period may be very confusing for a lot of young ladies, and this is why they are encouraged to try as best as they can to spend more time in prayer ad reading Scripture.
Meet experienced nuns (Nun Surveillance)
Most religious orders encourage young aspirants to meet and interact with nuns. Try and find a nun in your local Parish, school, or place of work and observe the way they live.
Here are a few ways you can conduct nun surveillance;
- Volunteer at a convent near you
- Attend Mass or prayer sessions in the said convent (with the permission of the superiors)
- Volunteer at schools, hospitals, libraries, and other establishments run by nuns
- Invite a nun over for dinner or a walk
- Join social media groups run by nuns
- Read books, magazines, watch documentaries and films that surround the lives of nuns
- Go through various congregation and religious order websites to see what activities they participate in and what their life entails.
Journey with a mentor
Find a spiritually mature person who will be able to walk this journey with you. They will help with answering your questions and praying with and for you. Your mentor could be a Priest, a nun, or the Catechist in your local Parish.
Join a Congregation
When you feel convinced that this could be your vocation, you can approach a congregation around you, even if it is not the one you aspire to join. Being around other nuns in their day-to-day activities will give you a practical sense of what becoming a nun is all about.
Talk to the Vocational Director
Once you have joined a congregation, you can journey more closely with its vocational director. Their main work is to help you discern your vocation and to guide you in learning what you need to know about the life of a religious nun.
Begin your postulancy
When you are sure that this could be your vocation, you can join the congregation of your choice and begin your formation, which will take the next couple of years.
Nun Rules You Must Follow
As a nun, here are a few rules you must follow in your day-to-day life.
- You must live a chaste life. Once you take the vow of chastity, you are not allowed to marry, have a partner, or engage in romantic relationships, both emotionally and sexually.
- You must live a simple life in line with the vow of poverty. As a nun, you cannot hold any personal property, such as a house, a car, or run personal businesses. You are also not entitled to a salary, and everything you make is sent to a common pool to be used by the order for all its members.
- You must observe the vow of obedience, which means that you must listen to the church and your superiors at all times.
- You should be in modest attire every time you wear your habit.
- You are encouraged to take a vow of silence. Keep from gossip, grumbling, and other derogatory actions through word of mouth.
- If you had been married, you must attain a valid annulment from the Catholic Church.
How long does it take for someone to become a Catholic nun?
This is mainly dependent on the religious organization you choose to join. There are those that take 6 to 7 years, and there are those that take up to 12 years.
The difference in the length of time is largely dependent on the formation set by each congregation. As mentioned, there are those congregations that do not require a novitiate to have a college degree. In such instances, the period taken between the first vows and the final vows can last only 3 years.
On the other hand, some congregations encourage their candidates to get professional training in various backgrounds. This means an additional 4 years for the candidate, meaning that it can take her anything between 3 and 7 years before she professes her final vows.
What is the difference between a Nun and a Sister?
A nun is a consecrated woman who gives her life to prayer and contemplation of God. Most nuns rarely leave the convent, and their main vocation is to serve through prayer. Sisters, on the other hand, work closely with communities as teachers, nurses, and other professionals. Their lives are mostly outside the convent.
In most instances, nuns join contemplative orders. Their work is to contemplate church teachings and mysteries and to immerse themselves in prayers. Their interaction with the general public is kept at an absolute minimum.
Sisters, on the other hand, fulfill their order’s roles by interacting with the communities around them. They work to alleviate poverty, care for the sick, feed the hungry, and do other works of charity.
Can someone live in a convent without being a nun?
Yes, you can, but under special permission from the convent’s superior. You can join a convent as an Oblate, a lay associate, or as a permanent guest.
It, however, is extremely rare. In most cases, people who live in convents get a recommendation from a Priest, and when they do, they are only allowed for a few weeks to months. This is mostly because the lives of nuns are considered very private, and their interactions with lay people are mostly maintained outside of the convent setting.
Do all nuns have to live in a convent?
Yes, a nun must live in a community of other nuns. They cannot have their own homes away from the congregation. Their training, work, and daily lives are done in a communal setting, and this is why they are encouraged to live together.
There are, however, certain exceptions to this. Some nuns may be allowed to live with individual families if their mission needs them to work in remote regions that are removed from their convents. If their assignment is set to take days, weeks, or months, the congregation may request a family to host a nun for the aid period. It, however, is extremely rare and only happens when no other options are considered available.
Are there different types of nuns?
Yes, there are three types of nuns, as explained below;
- Monastic – They live and work in a monastery and devote their lives to prayer. They recite the Divine Office daily.
- Mendicant – They work closely with communities and run schools, hospitals, and charity organizations. They also recite the Divine Office daily.
- Clerics Regular or Canons Regular – They are mostly attached to Parishes and are in charge of various roles. They work under the priest in charge.
What happens if a nun breaks her vows?
When a nun breaks her final vows, she loses her right to be a Catholic nun and will be asked to leave the religious order. The process can be very lengthy and may require dispensation from a Bishop or other church leader.
A nun’s vows in the Catholic Church are considered irrevocable, and the sacrament of Holy Orders is considered irreversible. This is the main reason why dismissing a nun can become a very lengthy affair. The church tries to find ways to maintain them as nuns without requiring them to leave the religious order altogether.
The church also takes a good deal of time before it approves the dismissal of a nun when she is the one desiring to leave on her own accord. She is asked to take her time to think over things and to journey with her superiors and directors before making the final decision to leave.
Can you become a nun if you have a child?
Yes, you can. However, the child must have attained legal age and should be in a position to provide for themselves without needing your assistance. You are discouraged from leaving a child that still needs maternal care, especially where basic needs are involved.
In the past, this was not allowed at all. Anyone who had been previously married was not allowed to become a nun. The formation process was only available to ladies who were between the ages of 18 and 25.
In recent times, however, the church has started to open its doors to lay women who have had families. Most of these women are widowed and would want to serve in the church as nuns. They must, however, make sure they are without debt before they profess their final vows.
Can I become a nun if I am not Catholic?
No, it is not possible. To become a Catholic nun, you must profess the faith and live a sacramental life. This means that you need to be baptized, confirmed, and able to receive Holy Communion to take your vows as a nun.
If, however, a lady expresses a strong desire to serve as a nun and she is not Catholic, she may be allowed by a priest to start by joining catechism classes. Here, she will learn what the church requires her to learn about Catholicism. She will then be baptized and receive the sacrament of Confession, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation. Once these are done, she can be allowed to start her formation.
They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, right? Being raised by Christians significantly impacted my life since I started professing Christ from a young age. My passion for the Christian faith made me pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology. I am a believer and pastor dedicated to spreading the word of God. I have been in the Christian ministry for over a decade and am currently ministering in Life Christian Church. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Please check the About Us Page for more details.