What are nuns in training called? (stages in formation)

As a theologian, I am always excited to learn about different Christian religions and how they operate as a whole. Years ago, back in theology school, we were sent on a mission that involved different Christian denominations. While there, I interacted with nuns from the Catholic church and learned more about their training process and the vows they take before becoming professed nuns. Last week, one of my theology students wanted to know more about catholic nuns and what they are referred to when they are still in training. Having interacted with the nuns, I had the answer at my fingertips. So, what are nuns in training called?

Nuns in training are known as novices. For women to qualify to be in nun training, they must be of the Catholic faith and single. Most catholic denominations require the woman to have had no kids, while others accept women with kids, except the kids must not be dependent on them. They must also be eighteen years and above.

So, join me until the end as I explore more about this topic. I will discuss the period the nun training takes, the stages of nun formation that a nun undergoes, and what happens in each stage, among other interesting topics.

How long does nun training take?

Nun training may take between seven to twelve years, depending on the Catholic denomination. Being a nun is considered a divine calling from God in the Catholic church and must be taken seriously by whoever is taking up this path. Before deciding to join the monastery for the training, a woman who is aspiring to be a nun is always advised to inquire or get more knowledge about this position while in the outside world so that she can be fully informed on what she will be signing up for. She is also advised to meet women who are already nuns through charity activities led by the nuns or visit any event that nuns attend. The physical interactions will help her make informed decisions and hopefully serve God one day in this capacity.

How many stages of nun formation are there?

What are nuns in training called?
How many stages of nun formation are there? Image source: Pinterest

There are four to six stages of nun formation, depending on the catholic church. There is a famous saying that says Rome was not built in one day. This literally applies to the stages a woman must pass before becoming a nun, as it is not something that takes a few months or a year. All of these stages are important for every nun, as each stage strengthens her faith in God and her practice. She will also learn important prayers and even take different vows until she becomes a professed nun.

The nuns in training will have to take different religious vows, which are usually made in public. The vows that are required to be taken by the nuns may include the vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These vows are seen as a response of the nun to God’s calling. The nuns will also have two take two types of vows towards the end of their training, the temporary vows and the solemn vows.

What happens at each stage of nun formation?

What are nuns in training called?
How many stages of nun formation are there? Image source: Pinterest

Inquiry stage

This is the very first stage of any nun formation. The inquiry stage usually involves the woman inquiring more about what she is supposed to have to qualify as a nun or to be accepted in the monastery and undergo nun training. During this stage, the woman may reach out to the church or speak to a nun friend, if she has any, to submit her request. If the church sees that the woman is serious about this and it may truly be her calling, they may accept her into the second stage of this formation, known as the aspirancy stage.

Aspirancy stage

The aspirant stage is the second stage, followed by any woman aspiring to be a nun. During this stage, the woman will be in communication with the nuns in a monastery or convent through phone calls or emails. The woman may also be allowed to visit the monastery to be familiar with the setting or the activities that usually take place. This stage usually takes place while the woman is still in the outside world and is not considered to be a nun at all. Depending on the order or the particular church, the aspirancy stage may take one to two years to be fully completed.

After a certain period, the aspirant may request to enter the monastery as a postulant. This process will involve the aspirant writing an application letter to be accepted into the monastery. The aspirant may be allowed to live inside the monastery for up to a month while taking part in different prayer sessions and knowing the community around her better. This is also the best time in which the community and other nuns will know the aspirant well and make the decision of whether to take her in as a postulant or not. The aspirant will return home after the visit and await her official acceptance letter.

Postulant stage

If the nuns evaluate the aspirant and see her fit for the calling, they will write back to her and invite her back to the monastery as a postulant. This stage is important as the aspirant will now learn to do away with the outside world as she adapts fully to living and doing what is done in the monastery. The postulant stage will take between one to two years, depending on the order. The aspirant may be given some kind of uniform at this stage. For instance, an aspirant in Passionist Nuns of St. Joseph Monastery will be given a simple black jumper and a veil to put on during this stage. An aspirant taking her nun training through handmade vocations will be given a rabat, usually a waist-length cloth worn over the back and chest. She will also be required to wear a black cap, with a black mantilla with blue stripes as a tribute to Mother Mary.

Novitiate stage (novice)

This is the main training stage for a woman to become a nun. The Novitiate stage lasts up to two years, depending on the order one is in. This stage focuses more on teaching the woman the meaning of leading a religious life and the community’s charism around her. This stage also helps the woman explore and understand the meaning of different prayers and vows, including sacred scripture, church history, liturgy, spirituality history, and order, among other topics. The novice will receive her religious name at this stage. She will also be given the habit to put on. In most churches, the novice will wear a white veil instead of the black one that professed nuns wear. It is also important to note that a nun can leave the monastery at this stage. The nuns in charge of her training can also dismiss her from the novitiate. If the nun successfully passes this stage, she may then go ahead and take her temporary vows.

Temporary vows/junior professed stage

This is the stage after the novitiate stage. During this stage, the nun pronounces five vows for three years. She will then renew these vows yearly for at least two more years. This stage is also called the junior. The nun can then petition to take her perpetual profession vows after completing this stage.

Solemn professed/final professed vows

This is the last stage in the nun formation. During this stage, the nun is required to take their final vows, which are known as perpetual vows. The vows taken include poverty, chastity, and obedience vows. Let us take a look at what these three important vows stand for;

  • Vow of poverty

A nun takes the vow of poverty to show that she gives up any right to be in control of any material possessions, including any property she owns, before becoming a nun. The aim of the poverty vow is to help the nun focus her whole life on serving others and her community. This vow also commits her to emulate the life that Jesus lived on Earth. Although he could own anything on Earth, Jesus lived a simple life like a poor man on Earth.

  • Vow of chastity (celibacy)

This vow is taken in reference to the purity and chaste the nun must maintain. The chastity vow means that the nun cannot engage in romantic relationships or marry. This enables her to give her whole self to God and his work. The only relationship that the nun is allowed to have is with her community or the church.

  • Vow of obedience

The nun always takes this vow as a reminder to follow Christ and his teaching. This vow will also remind her to always obey those above her, according to the constitution of whichever group she is in. Obedience is a moral virtue required in every nun, as they also act as role models to the outside world.

Does nun training end with the taking of the solemn vows?

What are nuns in training called? 
Does nun training end with the taking of the solemn vows? Image source: Pinterest

Nun training continues after taking the solemn vows. Lifelong formation and training continue for the nun through community classes and personal study. She will receive more training from her superiors daily to expand her knowledge. Deciding to become a nun is a lifetime commitment, and one is encouraged to be open in any future training so that she can remain steadfast in her journey.

Are nun formation stages the same in all churches?

Nun formation stages are almost the same in all churches. The difference may come from the duration which each stage takes or how they dress their novices on each stage. Other catholic churches also subject their nuns to the vow of stability, which calls them to remain members of one monastic community. Although there is a slight difference, all the nuns in training in any church must pronounce their temporary and solemn vows, as they have the same calling.

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