Deciding to become a nun is a path that combines inspiration with experience
After years of dire predictions that the end of the American Catholic nun was in sight, there has been a surprising rise in interest as young Catholic women are once again investigating the possibility of becoming religious Sisters. But many women who feel a calling aren’t sure how to become a nun.
Whether you’re thinking about becoming a nun, or are just curious about the process, here is an overview of the steps from that first feeling of being called to taking final vows.
If you’re feeling that you may be called to be a Sister, the first step would be to sincerely pray about it. Use a rosary to direct your prayers, and pay attention to the feelings you have. Could this feeling of being called be a result of something happening in your life, such as a family problem, a break-up or a job loss? Or does it feel like something larger?
Reading about vocations and the process of understanding a calling is the next step. There are some excellent books on vocations available. And individual orders may have written material as well.
If prayer and reading has strengthened your feeling of being called to a religious life, the next step would be a period of discernment. Most orders offer opportunities for young women to visit a convent for a initial brief visit (using a week or two) to determine if there is a possible match between her and the Sisters already there.
During that time, a visitor would live with, pray with and work with the professed Sisters to get a feeling of the lifestyle and spiritual focus of the community.
If you cannot stay with the community because of work obligations, you may still be able to learn more about the order and the Sisters through day visits, phone calls or attending Mass at the convent.
Once you have decided that a certain community is the right one, the next step would be to ask the Vocation Sister (and possibly the Reverand Mother) for permission to enter the convent.
Candidacy (or Postulant)
Once you have chosen an order and a community, you will be consider a candidate for the Sisterhood. This time (which can last from 6 months to a year or more) is spent determining if you are a good fit for the religious life. In most cases, a candidate will be given a specific role within the community’s ministry. Candidates are expected to observe the rules of the convent, although they are not yet full members.
After the candidacy period has ended, you will begin your period as a Novice. The Novitaite, which begins with temporary vows, is a period of intense study and contemplation. In larger orders, all Novices may study and pray together in a certain community. Smaller orders may have novices among the regular Sisters in each community.
You will probably study the history of the order, religious doctrine and the lives of the Saints, especially those connected to your chosen community.
Prayer will become an even more important part of your daily life, as you meditate on the meaning of your vocation and consider the purpose of your calling.
The length of the Novitiate varies by order, but generally lasts from one to two years.
First Vows (or Temporary Profession of Vows)
At this point, a woman moves from being an investigator to being a full-fledged member of the community of Sisters. You will live with and as a Sister, participating in every aspect of daily and ritual life.
But there is one critical difference. First vows are for a specific period of time, and must be renewed to remain in effect. Renewal is voluntary, and a Sister under temporary vows can elect to not renew if she wishes to leave the community and follow a life elsewhere.
Final Professed Vows
Once a woman has completed a certain number of years (this varies from order to order) of First Vows, she has reached the point of making final, perpetual vows. Final vows, like marriage vows, are intended to be for life.
At this point, a woman commits the remainder of her life to the Church and promises to remain faithful to the order she has joined.
Although it is possible to leave the sisterhood after taking final vows, the process is complicated and can be as painful as a divorce.
If you feel a calling to become a Sister….
Start your journey by contacting Sisters in your area. Learn about the different orders, their ministries and their lifestyles. Pray for guidence and then begin the process.
You may need to visit several convents before you find the right one for you, so don’t get discouraged if the first one you visit doesn’t seem like a good match. If your vocation is genuine, there will be a religious home for you.