Frequently Asked Questions (Religious Life)
I have been asked many questions by friends and family about the process of entering religious life. These may help others interested or just curious about the process...
1. Do you wear the traditional habit?
The order that I belong to (Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart) and many other apostolic congregations do not require that members wear a habit. Some more conservative and monastic-based congregations do still wear the traditional habit. The Sisters of St Joseph wear 'regular' clothes. Sisters basically dress simply. The reason for this is that Sisters want to be 'with' people. We are all called to holiness, we walk the same streets that everyone else does and believe in being part of the community. Sisters will wear a broach or necklace with a symbol that represents their congregation.
This short video also answers some common questions about > Sisters, Nuns, habits and even toothbrushes!
2. How long does it take to become a Sister?
There is no set-in-stone timing to this journey. Every congregation is a little different and many congregations now cater for the discernment journey for the individual. An approximate breakdown is below:
1. There is an introductory time when the person gets to know about the Congregation and its ministries, and religious life in general. This takes as long as is necessary and for a time the person may live in a community of the Congregation. This time of living used to be called Postulancy (approx 1-2years).
2. The person then applies to begin a stage of serious discernment and takes time as a Novice to further develop her own spirituality and a deeper understanding of Call (vocation). This time is usually known as the Novitiate (approximately 2years). A Spiritual (Canonical) year is first and is followed by one of wider involvement in the ministries of the Congregation.
3. The first Profession of Vows occurs (generally for 3 years) and is then followed by a renewal of vows (generally for another 3 years).
4. Taking vows as a Life Commitment would generally follow approximately 6 years after First Profession.
5. In Summary; From beginning Postulancy to Final Vows the time frame would be approximately 10 years.
3. Can Sisters still use email, Facebook etc?
Yes, absolutely. Most modern congregations encourage modern media & connecting with others in a modern and normal way. Some more monastic/cloistered-based congregations do not use the internet & social media (their focus is primarily on service through prayer). Even the Pope has a Twitter account! @Pontifex
4. Why did you choose to become a Sister?
In a way I don't think that each calling // my call to religious life is something you choose either, it chooses you. When you listen and find your calling you find inner peace, your heart is happy, you have a sense of 'home'; that's when you know it is right for you. It's similar to when you seek // are finding the right congregation... you don't choose the charism, it chooses you - it is your gift from God, just as a vocation to married life or parenthood.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” ~ Jeremiah 1:5
To learn more about my discernment process view Listening to the Depths.
I feel strongly called to live a life of service, a life of love. Essentially, I'm like a pencil, God is writing the book. No matter what religion, God = Love and inclusion. It does not matter what your background is, how much money you have or your history. We all deserve to be loved, forgiven and treated with respect - Just as Jesus would. I feel called to live out a vocation of serving God and communicating God's all-inclusive love... "You shall Love your neighbour as you love yourself"
No choice is superior to another.
We all have a personal calling, all people are called to live life as either a married person or as single or as a consecrated person. This choice is also about my personal relationship with God. Through prayer I feel that this is something that I am being called to live (Jn 10:10). Our journey in life is to search, to listen and to answer the call within your heart, to follow what you are truly called to. Each calling is as righteous as the other.
5. What is the difference between a Nun and a Sister?
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 that is usually cloistered (or enclosed) or semi-cloistered. This is referred to as "monastic". Her ministry and prayer life are centred within and around the monastery for the good of the world. She professes the perpetual solemn vows of living a life according to the evangelical counsels of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. Check out the Carmelite Nuns of Baltimore for example.
- 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, celibacy, and obedience.
View the Sisters of St Joseph or Sisters of Mercy or Mission Sisters as apostolic examples. Plus find more resources via A Nuns Life.
FYI: Male religious orders such as the Jesuits also profess public vows; discover a video series on the vows.
6. What type of work will you do as a Sister?
My ministries have included Pastoral Care and design within High School contexts and I also continue to develop artwork and digital communication with schools. I am currently working part-time for NCRS (Graphic Design and illustration), and am studying counselling part-time.
Many sisters in the past have been teachers or nurses. Ministry/employment for sisters has dramatically changed. Sisters work in administration, law, spiritual direction and many other ministries. This is something that will be determined with more personal and communal/congregational discernment. We are called to continue to listen and discern where the needs are each day. From first to last breath ministry is something that continually evolves with the signs/needs of the time.
7. Where will you go?
Sisters of St Joseph have sisters in Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Peru, Brazil, East Timor, and Ireland. I could be asked to discern a placement in any of these countries and there may be a need for me to study or minister in another country in the future. Part of saying 'YES' to consecrated life is trusting, letting go of my 'wants' and opening to my heart to the unknown path ahead... living in the NOW, not worrying about tomorrow and taking things one step at a time.
Many congregations are worldwide. Some cater to particular areas/countries too.
8. Is becoming a Sister the only way to become involved with a congregation?
Becoming a Sister is just one way to be involved and part of a religious congregation. SOSJ has three expressions of consecrated life or pathways to living as a Josephite (one who is drawn by the charism of Sisters of St Joseph, of Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods). More info HERE.
As well as these three pathways (Membership, Affiliation and Covenant), most Religious Congregations have Associate Groups made up of men and women who live the charism in their daily lives. With Associate membership, you can often be married, have your own job etc., but make a commitment in some way to a congregation. A good idea is to be open to the charism that attracts you, that feels like home and then discern the right pathway for you.
9. Are you available for hire as an Artist?
During the semester (late Feb - early Nov), I'm pretty booked up with study and NCRS ministry. But I do take on projects as time permits. Therefore my time is limited. However, I am available part-time (depending on the project). Any funds received would go directly to the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart to help with ministries in Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Peru, Brazil, East Timor, and Ireland. Contact me (Jane) for more information. Also, view the FAQ - Art + Shop page.
10. Any articles you might recommend?
New articles are coming out all the time. I highly recommend Global Sisters Report as a window into international religious life. I have also listed a few articles below that I have been involved with. More can be found on my Blog.
- NZ Catholic > 2022: Books of the Bible + SOSJ > 2022: Biblical Light
- Global Sisters Report > 2020: The gift of freedom in ‘I don’t know’
- The 'Yes' to first profession > 2017: Surrender, Home, Joy
- First Year of Vowed Life > 2018: Listening, Doors, Merry-go-rounds
- Technology and Teenagers > 2018: Love or loathe?
- A day in the life > 2019: Sounds of Pastoral Ministry
- Tui Motu: Listening to the Depths
- The Daily Telegraph: Why young people are lining up to...
- The Wireless (includes video): Taking a leap of faith into religious life
- ABC Radio: 2017 Interview
More can be found via designjane.com/blog