How Nuns Work

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.

To learn more about religion and spirituality, please see the links on the next page.

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