What Was the First Order of Nuns? (Preparation and Prayers for a Dead Nun)

Church History was one of my favorite subjects as a theology student. I was particularly interested in the religious orders among the Catholics. During a study session, I got curious about the order of nuns in the church. To find out, I visited the local catechist and inquired about this. He happily shared the history and organization of the religious orders in the church. He also offered some reading materials to supplement our conversation. This information proved helpful decades later when one of my theology students asked me about the first order of nuns. He worked on a term paper on the medieval church. I shared what I learned from my research and suggested some books he could use. So, what was the first order of nuns?

According to Catholic tradition, the Benedictines were the first recognized order of nuns. They trace their origins to AD 529 under Saint Scholastica, the twin sister of Saint Benedict. Tradition has it that St. Scholastica established a hermitage outside Monte Cassino, where St. Benedict’s monastery was. The siblings met annually to discuss spiritual matters. Consequently, Benedictine nuns were heavily influenced by the rule of St. Benedict.

This article explores different orders of nuns. Join me in finding out how many orders there are, what they’re known for, and which are the oldest.

How many orders of nuns are there in the Catholic Church?

There are roughly 36 orders of nuns in the Catholic Church. From these orders, thousands of convents and congregations spring across the world. For instance, the Benedictine order has over 470 monasteries and over 10,000 members. Surprisingly, new orders aren’t common owing to the strict laws regulating their formation. As such, existing orders establish convents and monasteries in various dioceses globally.

What are the oldest orders of nuns in the Catholic Church?

Preparation and Prayers for a Dead Nun
What are the oldest orders of nuns in the Catholic Church? Image source: Pixabay

Order of Saint Benedict

The Catholic tradition maintains that the Order of Saint Benedict is the oldest in the church. This order traces its origins to AD 529. The Benedictines live a monastic life characterized by contemplation, prayer, and liturgy. Additionally, you’ll notice their participation in education, scholarships, and missionary work globally.

The Carthusians

The Carthusians were founded in AD 1084 by Saint Bruno of Cologne. The life of a Carthusian nun combines hermetic and community living with extended periods of silent contemplation and community prayers and work. Carthusian nuns emphasize solitude, contemplation, and prayer.

The Cistercians

Cistercians trace their origins to AD 1098. The nuns got their first monastery in 1125. Like the monks, Cistercian nuns follow the Latin rule and the rule of Saint Benedict. They are known for their emphasis on contemplation, manual work, and liturgy.

What are other orders of nuns in the Catholic Church?

What Was the First Order of Nuns?
What are other orders of nuns in the Catholic Church? Image source: Pixabay

The Poor Clares

The Poor Clares are officially called the Order of Saint Clare. They are a group of Franciscan nuns who trace their origins to AD 1212 under St. Clare of Assisi. The Poor Clares are devoted to prayer, penance, contemplation, and manual work. They adopt an austere lifestyle marked by severe fasts.


Dominican nuns were founded by Saint Dominic de Guzman in 1206. They received approval in AD 1216 from Pope Honorius III. They emphasize preaching the gospel, prayer, penance, silent contemplation, study, and work.

Carmelite sisters

The Carmelite sisters were founded in the 12th century and formalized in 1452. The sisters are devoted to contemplative silence, prayer, and liturgy. Carmelite sisters follow the rule of St. Albert.


The Ursulines were founded in 1535 in Italy by St. Angela Merici. They dedicate themselves exclusively to teaching girls and young women church doctrine. Interestingly, the Ursulines didn’t live in communities until 1572.

Daughters of Charity

The Daughters of Charity were founded in 1633 by St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac. Nuns in this order take their vows annually, which frees them to leave whenever they want without ecclesiastical permission. They’re devoted to serving people in need by establishing schools and hospitals in their neighborhoods.

What is the youngest order of nuns in the Catholic Church?

The Trappists are the youngest order of nuns in the Catholic Church. They were founded in 1664 because of reforms by Abbot Jean de Rance. Trappists strictly observe the rule of St. Benedict. Despite being established in 1664, the Trappists were formally constituted as a religious order in 1892. The Trappistine nuns emphasize contemplation and manual work. You’ll often find Trappistine candy, cheese, and honey online or at your local farmers’ market.

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