How to become

How to Become a Nun

How to Become a Nun

Introduction About Being A Nun

Ever wonder if God might be calling you to become a Catholic nun or sister? Don’t know where to begin now that you feel drawn to looking into religious life?

A nun is a woman who has taken special vows and dedicated her life to the service of the church and its people. Nuns lead a totally religious life. Becoming a nun calls for chastity, poverty and obedience. Catholic nuns must be Catholic, but they do not need to be virgins. Many years ago parents hoped that their daughter would choose a celibate life and become a nun. That’s changed drastically over the years. Today very few women are willing to live a nun’s life, hence the current crisis in the Catholic Church. Becoming a nun involves an intense training period, as well as lots of personal sacrifice. You must take a deep look inside yourself to know if you’re cut out to be a nun. The nuns pray the Divine Office together in choir five times a day, spend an hour and a half daily in mental prayer, do spiritual reading for at least a half hour a day, observe silence except during Recreation which is after dinner and supper; and engage in a variety of work: maintenance of the monastery, gardening, correspondence, art work, computer projects, kitchen and sacristy work, needlework, and crafts. Nuns are women who devote their lives to the service of their religion. Nuns in the United States are typically practitioners of the Catholic faith, but other faiths, such as Buddhism and Orthodox Christianity accept and support nuns as well.

A nun’s duties depend on her religion as well as the order she joins. Nuns take vows that vary by faith and order, but often involve dedicating themselves to a life of poverty and chastity. Some nuns devote themselves to prayer, while others, known as religious sisters, serve their community by helping the poor, teaching in schools, or providing health care.

Nuns of each faith may identify themselves with a specific type of dress, and often live together with other monastics or religious in a monastery, abbey, or convent.

If you feel a strong calling of faith and would like to learn how to become a nun, then keep on reading.

What kind of training is required to become a nun?

Each faith and order sets its own requirements for those who want to become nuns. A woman who wants to become a Catholic nun, for example, must be at least 18 years old, be single, have no dependent children, and have no debts to be considered. Buddhist nuns face similar requirements when considering ordination. Buddhist monastics should be free from family and monetary obligations, such as marriages and debts.

Women who are considering becoming Catholic nuns go through a process of “discernment,” in which they spend some time, typically one or two years, speaking with nuns, visiting convents, attending retreats, and praying in order to determine if they will become a nun and what order they will join. It is possible now for women to undergo this process of discernment at least partly online by communicating with nuns from different orders through email, using matching services, or by attending virtual retreats.

Once a woman decides to become a Catholic nun, she applies to join a specific order by undergoing an aspirancy, which is a period of two to four weeks in which she lives with the other nuns of her order. If the nuns of her order determine she is a good fit, she will be accepted into a postulancy. After several months of living in the order and taking classes, a prospective nun then enters a novitiate. At this time, she will be assigned a new name. After two years as a novice, the nun then takes her first vows, and then after three more years, takes her final vows.

Nuns in the Orthodox church follow a similar path to the one taken by Catholic nuns, with some differences. In the Orthodox church, there are no distinct orders of monastics, for example. The different levels that nuns progress through do not have set time limits and nuns are not required to pass beyond a certain stage, but at least three years must pass between each stage. After the novice stage, nuns may become Rassophores, and then Stavrophore. At the Stavrophore stage, nuns make their profession and are given a new name.

There are few viharas, or Buddhist nunneries, in the United States where women can become novices and learn from teachers. Some novices choose to study at monasteries in East and South Asian countries, but the role of women in monasteries can vary by each nation and culture’s tradition. Aspiring nuns first request refuge, a ceremony of commitment, from their teacher. During this ceremony, they take lay precepts and live under these precepts for several years until they are ready to begin the process of ordination. Novice monks take a number of vows, and depending on their tradition, take 200 to 300 vows to become fully ordained.

Daily Schedule Of A Nun

  • 5:30 – Rise, followed by an hour’s mental prayer
  • 7:00 – Morning Prayer Office, followed by Holy Mass, Thanksgiving and Breakfast
  • 9:00 – Office of Readings, followed by work
  • 12:00 – dinner and recreation
  • 2:00 – Daytime Prayer Office, followed by work or rest
  • 3:00 – spiritual reading
  • 5:00 – Evening Prayer Office, followed by half an hour’s mental prayer
  • 6:00 – supper and recreation
  • 8:15 – Night Prayer Office, after which optional reading, writing, etc.
  • 10:00 – Lights Out


What is the difference between a nun and a sister?

A lot of people use the terms ‘nun’ and ‘sister’ interchangeably. This is because a lot of nuns go by ‘Sister [Name]’. But there’s actually a major difference between the two.

The term ‘nun’ is applied to women who have taken serious, solemn vows to live a simple life in a convent or monastery. Their lives are dedicated to prayer and religious study. Sisters, on the other hand, take vows which are much simpler. Also, sisters mostly focus on ‘works of mercy’ like charity, outreach, and evangelism.

Are there different types of nuns?

Yes, there are several different kinds of nuns. First, nuns are divided by religion – Christianity (specifically Catholicism), Buddhism, and other religions may have their own nun communities. 

Second, nuns within a faith are further divided into ‘orders’, such as the Order of Saint Benedict, Order of Saint Clare, or the Sisters of Charity. While orders may share a general religion, each may approach the faith from a different perspective or with a different focus.

What do the different styles of nuns’ habits mean?

Nuns typically wear a religious ‘habit’ or clothing that distinguishes them as members of a specific order. These usually look like long robes or tunics, plus a headpiece to cover the hair.

Nuns’ ‘uniforms’ can come in a variety of colors – black and white attire is the most common, but colorful habits also exist, like in the case of the aptly-named ‘Pink Sisters’ or Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters.

With a bit of knowledge and a close enough eye, you can tell which order a nun belongs to (and, in some cases, if she’s a novitiate or full nun) based on the habit they wear.

How Nuns Work

If you only know about nuns through movies and television, then you might think that all nuns wield rulers while singing, dancing and flying. When the ruler comes out, beware — that’s a sign that the nun is mean or frigid. On the other hand, movies like “Sister Act” and “The Sound of Music” have shown that nuns have a soft spot for a good dance number and for families escaping from Nazis. And perhaps most bizarrely, Sally Field showed the world that nuns can actually fly, in the late-1960s sitcom, “The Flying Nun.”

It’s probably easy for screenwriters to ascribe such odd traits to nuns because many of us know so little about a nun’s life. By definition, a nun has set herself apart from the world in order to lead a more spiritual life, one with vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Such a remarkable stand can seem intimidating to people both religious and nonreligious. In this article, we’ll try to look under the habit — metaphorically, of course — to understand women who follow a call toward the divine.

First, though, some vocabulary. Many religious communities, including Anglicans and Buddhists, have nuns, but in this article, we’ll discuss Catholic nuns — as that’s what most people tend to think of when they hear the word “nun.” Interestingly, though, not every Catholic woman who takes vows and claims to be a “bride of Christ” is a nun. Women who retreat from the world to live in a convent or a monastery are nuns; whereas women who remain in the world, teaching in schools, working as nurses or staffing homeless shelters are, strictly speaking, sisters. In the Catholic community, the terms tend to be used interchangeably, but understanding the difference between a contemplative nun and a sister active in worldly ministry is necessary for appreciating some milestones in the history of these women

Three Main Types Of Catholic Nuns

There are three main types of Catholic nuns, which feed into countless orders around the globe. A nun is a woman who has chosen celibacy, poverty, and other human-denying virtues in order to commit her life to God. The Catholic nuns are divided into different orders to serve the church and people effectively and fully. Much like the different denominations of the Protestant faith, the various orders agree on basic principles but vary on such things as regulations, procedures and lifestyles.

The Three Main Types –

  1. Monastic

The monastic nuns are the most devout. They work and live in a monastery and recite the divine office daily. The divine office contains several prayer times each day including midnight, dawn, 6am, 9am, noon, 3pm, 6pm and 9pm. Examples of the monastic orders include Benedictines, Basilians, Trappists and Cistercians.


  1. Mendicant


The mendicant type of nuns support themselves off of alms but do not necessarily live at a convent or monastery. They also recite the divine office and work with charity, school groups and the church both locally and globally on a regular basis. Examples of the mendicant orders include Dominicans, Carmelites, Augustinians, Trinitarians and Franciscans.

  1. Canons Regular & Clerics Regular

The canons regular includes nuns who recite the divine office and may be in charge of a local parish. However, the parish is almost always run by a priest with few exceptions. Nuns instead may be in charge of other things. They also take three vows — chastity, poverty and obedience. In a similar category, there are the clerics regular, which include the Jesuits, Barnabites and Somascans.


Each of the three main types contain several orders that fall under their jurisdiction and rule set. The Carmelite order for example, also known as Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, is one of the orders that fall under mendicant. They are known among the Catholic orders as having a very high ratio of visions of Mary and Jesus, and have written many of the integral Catholic devotions.

The Benedictines, formally known as the Order of Saint Benedict, are a monastic community that observes the rules set forth by St. Benedict. These rules include devotion to their community, surrendering full jurisdiction to the abbots and abbesses living in their abbey. This includes being instructed on which books may be read, activities regulated, and punishments received when appropriate. They follow a tight timetable each day, and have hours of silence.

The First Nuns

Saint Scholastica, who lived from 480 to 547 A.D., is the patron saint of nuns.

In the very earliest Christian communities, there were women who dedicated their lives to emulating Jesus Christ. These women tended to be virgins or widows, and they called themselves “spouses of Christ” or “brides of Christ.” They began wearing veils to symbolize their marriage to Jesus; the earliest habits were also made of very rough cloth, out of solidarity for the poor. Women who elected to live in this way spent their days in prayer, made penitent acts and performed manual labor. Even in the first century, the women’s choice to remain chaste was seen as radical, though these early religious women did command respect for their choice among fellow Christians.

In the fourth century, monks began living in community with each other, and the brides of Christ followed suit, often forming a joint partnership with local monks so that their convent would sit next to a monastery. Each community was — and remains — different from another. Some monks and nuns vowed never to leave their cloisters so that they could dedicate themselves more fully to prayer, while some orders took on apostolic work beyond their gates. It was during this time period that the first official vows of poverty, chastity and obedience were taken, though the women had been upholding these standards from the beginning.

For some women, entering a convent was a good way to avoid marriage; some feminist scholars have interpreted these women’s vow of chastity as a means for pursuing leadership and individual interests that they wouldn’t have been allowed otherwise. Convents may have also been a convenient escape for battered women and former prostitutes who would have been shunned by society, and a convent usually provided fairly advanced education for girls at the time. For other women, the choice to enter a convent wasn’t theirs to make. Parents would often offer a young daughter to a convent as an oblate, or as a promised nun. This practice would continue for several centuries; the dowry that parents paid to a convent was usually just a fraction of what would be paid to a prospective husband, so convents became dumping grounds for the more unmarriageable ladies of a large family.

Women who were sent to the convent who would have rather become wives and mothers were often put in charge of dolls that looked like Jesus, which they would take care of on certain holy days. Meanwhile, there were plenty of nuns that did experience motherhood, thanks to the convent’s close association with some monasteries. But in 1298, a pope would put a stop to all that.

Hard Times for Nuns

In 1298, Pope Boniface VIII issued a papal bull decreeing that complete enclosure with cloisters was a requirement for all nuns. In his pronouncement, Boniface VIII said that nuns should never see the secular world again, so that they could live more holy lives. His text, however, also included some back-handed digs at the nuns — he said that women were unable to resist tempting men (i.e., the priests who lived nearby) and for their own safety, and the safety of all men, they should be removed from any situation where they might get into trouble. The Vatican set very specific rules about nuns’ dwellings, including dictates that windows couldn’t overlook public roads. The male priests who had conducted affairs with nuns were spared any punishment.

The pope’s announcement had little effect on the communities that already lived contemplatively, but the orders with active ministries were in trouble. Some orders elected to claim that they weren’t religious, so that the monks and sisters could continue to work with the public. Other orders fought with the Vatican for recognition of validity; in trying to prove that nuns could perform community service while remaining devout, the sisters of such orders were often denounced or excommunicated. Mary Ward is a notable example of a woman who tried to maintain her status as a nun while ministering to the public. Born in 1585, Mary Ward traveled Europe on foot, opening Catholic schools and helping persecuted Catholics; she was deemed a heretic and imprisoned.

Ward’s work was all the more difficult because it was conducted in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, a tough time for both cloistered and active nuns since they were visible symbols of the Catholic Church. Convents were denounced by Protestants as unclean and unholy places more akin to brothels. Nuns were beaten and some nuns were beheaded.

For centuries, religious women grappled with whether their community and their work was recognized by the Vatican (and it wasn’t until 1900 that Pope Leo XIII acknowledged that active sisters had earned the distinction). Though the 20th century dawned with good news for all Catholic nuns and sisters, the coming decades would test them still further.

Nuns and the Second Vatican Council

After Leo XIII recognized both active sisters and contemplative nuns as valid forms of religious life, sisters embraced their missions and became more active in ministries in schools and hospitals. In the 1950s, however, Pope Pius XII began to raise questions about nuns’ habits. He had concerns about the hygiene of the long, flowing robes, and he was also concerned that the amount of time necessary to ensure clean robes would take away from nuns’ prayer. He urged sisters to consider modernizing their look and dress like those in the communities they served.

The Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, cemented this trend toward modernization. Vatican II first convened in 1962 in an attempt to contemporize and open up the Catholic Church. After Vatican II, nuns quickly jettisoned their habits, and one order even consulted the design house of Christian Dior about what they should wear next.

Following swiftly on the heels of Vatican II was the women’s movement in America. Nuns who’d just given up their habits in favor of modern wear decided to give up the convent altogether, and membership in religious orders declined. With more women entering the workforce, women felt empowered to leave a place that they may have entered because it was their only career choice, or because their families had placed them there. Catholic families also tended to become smaller after Vatican II, which meant that parents no longer had a few extra children that they could “donate” to the church as a nun or a priest, a practice that was common right after World War II.

The Second Vatican Council and the modernizing of the Catholic Church allowed for more lay ministers to take part in services and ministries, so donning a habit and becoming a bride of Christ was no longer the only path to church leadership. More women elected to serve God without taking vows. As a result of all these changes, the number of nuns has plunged dramatically in recent decades, particularly in the United States. In 1965, there were approximately 180,000 sisters in the United States; by 2009, there were fewer than 60,000, and the median age for remaining nuns is in the 70s. Yet we needn’t write the obituary for nuns just yet; on the next page, we’ll examine the type of woman that shows up at the doors of a convent today.

Nuns Today

Women who remained nuns and sisters after the changes sparked by Vatican II have followed remarkable paths. Sisters work in hospitals, prisons, schools and shelters. They might work as lawyers, political activists, artists and scientists. Many of these women manage to work a full day while also completing several hours of prayer with their communities in the morning and the evening.

Today, women who seek to become nuns may do so after raising kids and pursuing a career — once a woman’s children are no longer her dependents, she is free to become a nun so long as she isn’t married. But an increasing number of younger women are also reporting calls to become nuns. In both cases, these women cite a desire for something more meaningful than a secular life, a search for something “more.” Interestingly, though, the younger women differ from the older ones in that they’re more likely to take a traditional habit and hold traditional views than the older ones.

Those traditional views may serve current nuns in the United States well. In 2009, the Vatican ordered an investigation of all active sisters in the United States. Many sisters interpret this investigation as a form of punishment, given that these types of inquiries are only conducted when someone is already in the wrong. Since contemplative nuns aren’t subject to the investigation, the sisters worry that their ministries are seen as too liberal in the eyes of the Vatican.

One example of this liberalism came in 2009, when a group of nuns wrote a letter in support of health care reform, despite ambiguity about abortion coverage; the nuns told Congress to not dither about language regarding abortion, as supporting reform was the “real pro-life stance”. In praising the nuns, Maureen Dowd called for a “nope,” or a nun who was pope (there is some speculation that having more women in positions of church leadership might help with the church’s sexual abuse crisis). And even if nuns don’t foresee ascending to the papacy, there have been whispers for decades over whether nuns and other women might be ordained to the priesthood. Currently, nuns perform all the same ministries as a priest does — except for saying mass. The Vatican says that scripture prohibits ordination of women.

In an analysis of the investigation, Sister Sandra Schneiders compared the nature of the investigation to one chemistry professor being asked to write a report on the state of every university in the country — individual orders are simply too broad to summarize in this manner.

Is the current investigation harkening back to the days of Pope Boniface VIII, whose rules about enclosure were meant to force nuns into submission and keep them out of the world? Will this affect the number of women who serve as sisters and nuns? We won’t know until late 2011, when the investigation is completed. But in the meantime, let’s take a look at what women go through to become a nun in the first place.

Becoming a Nun

The process of becoming a nun or a sister takes almost a decade. Though the precise process differs according to the particular community that a woman tries to join, we can provide a little insight about what happens.

It all begins with “the call” — a message from God that a person is called to lead a more spiritual life. When a woman believes she is being called, she is urged to pray about what she’s being asked to do. She also can begin checking out different religious communities, which can slightly resemble sorority rush. Sometimes, communities sponsor “nun runs,” in which women who are in the process of discerning their call travel from convent to convent to talk to the sisters and figure out where they belong. If there are no official events, a woman might call an order’s vocation director and set up some time to come see the community. This part of the process might take a while — women are encouraged to see many communities before settling on one.

Once a woman settles on the community she’d like to join, she becomes an aspirant, or a pre-candidate. This stage involves a lot of paperwork — aspirants must be deemed fit in mind and body by psychologists and doctors, and they must complete essays about their call and their relationship with God. Aspirants are advised to spend a lot of time with their potential sisters, but they tend to live on their own and support themselves.

After the woman and the religious order have mutually agreed that they’re a good match, the aspirant becomes a postulant, or an official candidate. Though the postulant takes no vows, she might start living with other sisters and participating in the activities of the order. This stage may last for a couple of years, as will the next stage — novitiate. At this point, the woman is a novice member who lives as a sister while studying subjects outlined by Canon law and by her order. At this point, a woman gives any salary she receives to the community and gets what she needs from it as well. After about two years of study, she takes a spiritual retreat to prepare for her vows.

There are two sets of vows: first and final. The first vows are renewed on a year-by-year basis, and the final vows are considered binding forever. At the second vow ceremony, the woman receives a ring to wear on her right hand, marking her as a bride of Christ. The nun or sister joins a long history of religious women, and she may play a part in the direction this vocation takes in the future.


How to Become a Catholic Nun

1. Pray

The most important place to begin is to pray (or continue praying) about this call you sense. Your feeling that God is calling you is not some fluke or self-conjured up idea; it is a gift from God, an invitation into a deeper relationship with God. No matter how your vocation ends up expressing itself (nun, spouse, parent, teacher, advocate, etc.), you are being called right here, right now, to draw closer to God.

Be open to listening to God, no matter how crazy or confusing it feels. Embrace the possibility of whatever God has in mind for you. It may be a radical shift to a different way of life than you imagined for yourself, or it may be something you’ve kinda known all along. And it could be both!

Remain faithful to pray even when it is difficult or feels like it is going nowhere. Spend more time in prayer and/or be more intentional in the prayer time that you already have. If you are used to praying first thing in the morning, consider praying again before you go to bed. Review your day and ask God to help you see how God has been with you in the daily stuff of life. If you are drawn to the Rosary, consider praying the Rosary with the specific intention of knowing more deeply how Mary and how Jesus responded to their calling.

Read scripture, particularly the stories of people trying to figure out how God is calling them and how they can respond. Here are some of those stories (for more check out this listing of Bible stories from

  • Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
  • Ruth (Book of Ruth 1:15-18)
  • Disciples (John 1:35-50)
  • Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1: 4-10)
  • Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-10; 49:1-6)
  • Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-21)
  • John and Peter (Matthew 4:18-22)
  • Paul (Romans 1:1-7; Acts of the Apostles 9:1-19)

Imagine yourself in the story. How would you respond? What words is God speaking to you?

Pray with others. Participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy, attend a bible study or faith-sharing group, pray with others who can encourage and support you.

2. Meet Nuns

Do you know any real nuns? Do you have nuns at your parish or school? Do you work with nuns? Getting to know nuns personally is a very important step in becoming a nun because each one is an example of how to live religious life “for real”. Also, interacting with nuns gives you a chance to begin to imagine yourself as a nun and see how it “fits”. You don’t even have to tell the nuns that you are scoping them out! I spent a good amount of time doing “nun surveillance” before ever saying anything to them (well, just one of them) about what I was thinking. Some nuns “fit” with how I felt God calling me; others, while stellar examples of religion, didn’t quite fit me. I learned that that was okay and that religious life is very diverse, and along the way I found that I was called to the IHM way of religious life.

What are some ways you can do nun surveillance or interact with nuns?

  • attend Mass or a prayer service at a religious community’s Motherhouse or convent
  • go on retreat held by or led by nuns
  • participate in a “nun run” (an event in which you travel from convent to convent with other discerning women in order to check out communities and get to know a variety of nuns)
  • take a course or workshop taught by a nun
  • pretend you have a problem with a paper you’re writing for your nun professor so you get one-on-one time (I had this mastered, but then I think she figured it out — she never let on!)
  • invite a nun out to dinner or a movie
  • help a nun fix her computer or start a Facebook page
  • volunteer at a convent by helping with transportation needs or by organizing a craft experience or by shelving library books or by participating in some kind of social justice advocacy with them
  • get a spiritual director who is a nun
  • attend an event at which there is likely to be a high population of nuns

If you are in a place where there are no nuns around, you can do online nun surveillance.

  • read A Nun’s Life and check out other Blogs by Catholic Nuns and see what the nuns are like — lurk all you want
  • learn the vocation stories of sisters and nuns who have responded to God’s call — every story is unique and full of wisdom
  • visit religious communities’ websites (VISION Vocation Network has a great directory of Catholic religious communities online) — many sisters’ websites feature personal stories as well as info on the community itself
  • sign up for Facebook and friend a nun (I’m on FB and would be happy to be friends!)
  • find websites of ministries run by or sponsored by nuns to get a feel for their ministries

3. Talk with a Mentor

There’s nothing like saying something out loud to make it really real! So start talking to trusted people about your attraction to religious life. These mentors could be family or friends. You might have a dear aunt or a close cousin that you can share your thoughts with without fear of being discouraged. Talk with friends whom you know that will be supportive of you while you explore religious life and this feeling of being called to become a nun.

You may also consider talking with someone like a nun or a priest or a chaplain. There are many leaders in parishes and schools that are there to listen and encourage you on your spiritual journey. A more intense way of doing this is by looking into spiritual direction. A spiritual director is someone who is trained to help you discern, think, and pray about how God is moving in your life. Most are familiar with religious life (many in fact are religious) and can be great mentors and sounding boards as you consider where you are and where you are going.

4. Contact a Religious Community

You’ll know when it’s the right time for you to move from learning about nuns and religious life to formally exploring religious life with a specific community. It can be a leap of faith making this transition, but remember, just because you contact a religious community doesn’t mean you are signed up for life. Religious communities know that it can take a while for people to get to know them and religious life in general. They welcome you where you are at and are there to help you discern if God is calling you to their particular community.

So how do you contact a religious community? If you know a nun in the community you are attracted to, ask her. She’ll be a good companion (if you want her to) along the way and will introduce you to the Vocation Director and other sisters if you so desire. If you don’t know a nun personally in the community, contact the Vocation Director of the community directly. You can find her name and contact info on the community’s website. You can also contact the Vocations Office in your diocese. They have tons of info to help you discern and find a community that “fits” for you. To find your diocese’s vocation office, consult the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ directory of dioceses.

VISION Vocation Network also has their directory of Catholic religious communities which you can use to find contact info for Vocation Directors. They also have a very innovative and helpful online Vocation Match feature.

5. Work with the Vocation Director

The vocation director of a particular religious community is the official person who helps you to get to  know the community and to discern God’s call in your life. The Vocation Director is a member of the community that you are considering joining. Her job is to help you get to know the community and to help the community get to know you. She’ll be the one that leads you through all the formal steps of becoming a nun within that particular religious community. While you are relating with the vocation director, you are not under any obligation to stay with that community. You may decide to look into other communities or to date someone. Don’t be afraid to do this. Explore and experience the things you need to in order to find out if religious life with a particular community is for you. Vocation directors are very understanding of this and know that it is a normal part of discerning.

As you come to your own sense of commitment to becoming a nun, you’ll grow in your own sense of wanting to be committed to this particular community. That’s when you move toward “breaking up” with other communities you’ve looked into or with the person you’ve been dating. You’ll know when the time is right.

Some things that you might do as you work with a vocation director:

  • meet regularly in person or by phone
  • attend a vocation retreat with other women that the vocation director is working with
  • go to the sisters’ community events such as Mass, particular meetings or workshops just for the sisters, etc.
  • explore the community’s motherhouse and campus
  • learn about the community’s charism, spirituality, history, and mission
  • visit organizations and ministries sponsored by the community
  • attend vocation-oriented events within the diocese
  • help her get to know you by having her visit your school or job or taking her to your favorite hang-outs
  • discuss religious life and the vows

When you and the vocation director are ready to officially move forward with your desire to join the community, you’ll probably move more into working on the formal steps for joining the community:

  • address the practical requirements to enter the community (Canon Law, finances, property, psychological and physical assessments, etc.)
  • envision your transition into the community (when, where, how)
  • formally meet with other members of the vocation team and with the congregational leader (General Superior)

The vocation director will lead you through all of these things and is there as your advocate. She’s there to encourage you, challenge you, and pray with you. Although she is the official link to the community, you are encouraged to befriend others in the community.

6. Join the Community

Once you and the community have discerned that yes, in fact, God is calling you to one another, you go through the formal steps of joining. These include:

  • Aspirancy / Pre-Candidacy (more to come on each of these)
  • Postulancy / Candidacy
  • Novitiate
  • First Vows
  • Final Vows

Prerequisites for Becoming a Catholic Sister or Nun

a. You must be a Catholic woman.

If you are not Catholic, there are other forms of religious life in Christian communities that are not exclusively Catholic (e.g., Benedictine Women of Madison) as well as in other religious traditions (e.g., Buddhist nuns). If you wish to become a Catholic, talk with a pastor at a local Catholic parish.

b. You must be single.

You cannot be currently married in the eyes of the Church. If you are, you must obtain an annulment in order to consider becoming a nun. Widows may validly become nuns.

c. You must not have any dependent children.

There are many women who have children who become nuns. The children, however, must no longer be dependent.

d. You must not have any debts upon entrance to the novitiate.

Novitiate is usually a year or two into the formal process of becoming a nun. If you do have debts, work to eliminate them. Don’t stop looking into a religious community because of a student loan or something similar. Talk with the vocation director about how to proceed.

e. You must be healthy.

It’s important that you be physically and psychologically able to engage in the mission of the religious community. However “healthy” is a relative term and doesn’t automatically exclude people with managed illnesses or disabilities. This is an important thing to discuss with the vocation director.

f. You must be 18 to 40-ish years old.

Although the age limit used to be confined to 18-25, communities accept women up to age 40, and many accept women beyond their 40s and into their 50s. If you are in the higher range of age, don’t be discouraged from pursuing religious life. Often this is addressed on a person-by-person basis.

g. Other considerations

A college degree is not an absolute prerequisite; however, many religious communities do encourage that you have at least a bachelor’s degree prior to entering. Professional experience (not necessarily a full-fledged career, though that is welcomed too) is also encouraged prior to entering.

Nun Rules To Follow

Nun rules you must follow

Since orders can determine their own guidelines, there’s no single set of rules that all nuns must follow. Below are just a few of the most common restrictions nuns (especially within the Christian tradition) have to follow:

  • You must take a vow of chastity, which means you cannot get married or have sexual/romantic relationships.
  • You must take a vow of poverty, which means you must live a simple life. In most cases, this means giving up your personal possessions (and any sense of ‘ownership’) and sharing what you have with your community. Nuns do not get paid, either; anything you earn (even from outside work) goes back to your order, unless otherwise permitted.
  • You must take a vow of obedience, which means you commit to following the faith and your religious leaders.
  • You may be required to take a vow of silence.
  • You must wear modest clothing when not wearing your nun’s habit.
  • Catholic nuns, as decreed by Pope Francis, are not allowed to use smartphones or social media.
  • You cannot become a nun if you have been previously married. Your marriage needs to be annulled (not ‘divorced’) first.

What happens if a nun breaks her vows? Or get pregnant?

Technically, a nun can break her vows and/or leave the order whenever she wants. There are also plenty of opportunities to ‘drop out’ of becoming a nun, such as when you’re in the earlier stages and you’ve only taken your ‘temporary vows’. 

Unfortunately, the process of breaking your vows is a long and complicated one. If you do not follow that process (which involves dispensation from a bishop or other leader), it’s considered a sin or betrayal of the faith. Nuns who break the three main vows (chastity, obedience, poverty) may be dismissed from their community.

What Happens to Nuns After They Retire?

Laura Husar Garcia has always been fascinated with nuns. While working in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she snapped a photo of them mowing lawns. While living in Mexico and Ecuador, she photographed them outside of convents. In 2002, while working as a photo editor for the Chicago Tribune, Husar Garcia spent a year with photographer Iwona Biedermann documenting the daily lives of nuns inside three convents in Chicagoland; together they created the series “Beyond the Veil: Nuns at Home,” which was funded by the Illinois Humanities Council and exhibited in the Polish Museum of America.

Thirteen years later, Husar Garcia continues to shoot off and on about life inside the convents and doesn’t think her intimate series will ever be completely finished. An edited collection of her work titled Beyond the Veil examines the rarely asked question about what happens to nuns after they retire.  

Husar Garcia said the “career” of nuns is often long and arduous: They enter convents as teenagers, and throughout their lives help to build schools, hospitals, orphanages, retirement centers, and churches. The ways in which they provide support to their communities is made even more demanding by their shrinking population.

“Due to the growing shortage of nuns across the country, nuns often work well past the average retirement age, often into their 80s,” Husar Garcia wrote via email. “When they can no longer work outside the convent, they still serve through prayer, making rosaries for missionaries and participating in the daily chores of their convent until they can no longer work.”

how to become nun

The Thankful Receiver. Bowing her head before lunch, a sister gives thanks. Many sisters say their goal is to find holiness in the ordinary.

Photographed in black-and-white—“There is nothing more beautiful than a gorgeous silver print”—the images are intimate, humorous, and poignant in their subtlety. One adjective Husar Garcia said she doesn’t want to be used when describing the work is kitschy.

“The intent was to show the women behind the veils, and also visually tell their stories of humor, love, sickness and grief. To show how similar they are to the rest of the women in the world, that they experience the same emotions as the rest of us.”

Husar Garcia points to one of her images of a nun putting on her veil as symbolic of that idea.

“It’s a simple, everyday moment for her, much like the moment each of us puts on our clothes in the morning,” she wrote. “The difference is that she is putting on a veil which is an external reminder of her lifelong faith. The intimacy of that simple act is something that has stayed with me over time.”

how to become nun

Morning Veil. As she dresses for the day, a sister flips her veil onto her head. The majority of elderly sisters continue to wear their habits, even though it’s no longer mandatory since Vatican II.

For the most part, the nuns have welcomed Husar Garcia into their world. Although some of them were cautious at first, the more Husar Garcia got to know them and shared her vulnerable side with them, the better things went.

“In order for photographers to capture vulnerability, it’s sometimes important for us to be more transparent. This is when relationships can form with our subjects which enable more visual intimacy.”

how to become nun

Now I Remember. A nun who loves sharing stories about her life poses for a portrait in her room.

how to become nun

Evermore. Retired nuns continue to serve through the ministry of prayer. A willingness to remain active reflects the years of busy lives they lived. Most will serve until they no longer can. Sisters are constantly praying for those in need, often taking turns on the hour during times of crisis.

how to become nun

Till We Meet Again. A sister kisses an earthly goodbye to a nun who had been her teacher earlier in life. Many of the women who became sisters were inspired to do so by their teachers. 

Nun Salary

How much does a Nun make?

The average Nun in the US makes $43,736. Nuns make the most in Austin at $43,736, averaging total compensation 0% greater than the US average.

The average nun in the US makes $43,736

Salary Ranges for Nuns

The salaries of Nuns in the US range from $24,370 to $69,940 , with a median salary of $41,890 . The middle 60% of Nuns make $41,890, with the top 80% making $69,940.

How much tax will you have to pay as a Nun

For an individual filer in this tax bracket, you would have an estimated average federal tax in 2018 of 22%. After a federal tax rate of 22% has been taken out, Nuns could expect to have a take-home pay of $38,174/year, with each paycheck equaling approximately $1,591*.

* assuming bi-monthly pay period. Taxes estimated using tax rates for a single filer using 2018 federal and state tax tables. Metro-specific taxes are not considered in calculations. This data is intended to be an estimate, not prescriptive financial or tax advice.

Quality of Life for Nun

With a take-home pay of roughly $3,181/month, and the median 2BR apartment rental price of $2,506/mo**, a Nun would pay 78.78% of their monthly take-home salary towards rent.