Ask a Carmelite — Is There a Difference Between a Nun and a Sister?

by Carmelite Sisters | September 29, 2013 12:01 am

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Dear Sister Timothy Marie,

Sister Timothy, are you a nun?

Dear Friend,

Well, I do wear a long brown habit and I have professed three vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty, in consecration to God forever. But am I a nun?  My name is SISTER Timothy Marie. But am I a nun?

Here is the answer. In a practical, everyday sense people have no hesitation about identifying me as a Catholic nun. Yet, in the technical sense of the real definition I am not. So, what am I? I have entered a consecrated life, and I am a woman religious. I am a sister. I’ll explain. The terms “nun” and “sister” are often used interchangeably. However within Roman Catholicism, there is a difference between the two. Here’s a simple summary of the differences.

A Catholic nun is a woman who lives  a contemplative life in a monastery which is usually cloistered (enclosed). Her ministry and prayer life is centered within and around the monastery for the good of the world. She professes perpetual solemn vows, living a life according to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Saint Therese, the Little Flower, was a nun.

A Catholic sister is a woman who lives, ministers, and prays within the world. A sister’s life is often called “active” or “apostolic” because she is engaged in the works of mercy and other ministries that take the Gospel to others where they are. She professes perpetual simple vows living a life according to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was a consecrated woman religious, a sister.

Because both nuns and sisters belong to the consecrated life, or religious life, we are also called “women religious.” In ordinary conversation the terms “nun” and “sister” are used interchangeably. Both nuns and sisters are addressed as “Sister.” In popular culture, the term “nun” is often more widely accessible and immediately understood to refer to women who have professed the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

So, there you have it. Now you know something that most Catholics don’t – the technical difference between a nun and a sister.

Have a good day,

Sister Timothy Marie, O.C.D


Send your questions for Sister to asksister@integratedcatholiclife.org[1].

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Endnotes:
  1. asksister@integratedcatholiclife.org: mailto:asksister@integratedcatholiclife.org
  2. here: http://www.carmelitesistersocd.com/giving-opportunities/
  3. vocations page: http://www.carmelitesistersocd.com/vocation/

Source URL: http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2013/09/ask-a-carmelite-nun-or-sister/