FEMALE MONKS: are there Catholic ones?

****Is there such a thing as a women who is a Catholic monk? I just read about a woman who is referred to as such.

It might be a good idea to link to the article you read, or to let us know where you read it.

Mary Lou Kownacki, Benedictine Monk. Scroll down to the section on the left about Poetry. eriebenedictines.org/sites/default/files/pdf-files/seasons-2012.pdf

And here, scroll down to the book “between Two Souls”, where she is referred to as a Benedictine Monk.


Female monks :rolleyes: What’s next? Male nuns :choocho:

The Greek word translated as monk centuries ago could refer to men or women.

Apparently the Erie Benedictine Sisters started this monastery using as their guidance a work of Sister Joan Chisiter.

Seriously! :stuck_out_tongue:

Actually, she is a member of that community.

Their sit is confusing as it seems to use the words, nun, sister and monk interchangeably. No wonder the OP is confused - I am too. :confused:

Just a point Dom monk in many places in the Christian world refers to male OR female monastics in a similar style. Our Eastern Catholic brethren and Eastern Orthodox often use the term monastic regardless of whether it refers to male or female. We in our part of the world have developed differing words for male and female but in many places the same word covers both genders with only a slight modifier at the end of the word to indicate a male or female monastic.

For example in Russian the word for a monk is:-


The first word would be used for a male monastic and the second for a female. Thanks to Mrs. Carnelian for typing in the Russian there for us.

The words “monk” and “nun” are gender specific but refer to the same monastic way of life. Monks and nuns live in monasteries, are contemplatives, and usually have some degree of enclosure. Not sure about monks, but nuns make a solemn profession of perpetual vows, unlike sisters (consecrated women in religious congregations) who make a simple profession of perpetual vows.

A “female monk” is simply a nun who lives an enclosed contemplative life. Sometimes authors who do not fully understand the terms, or those who are trying to make a point, will refer to a nun as a monk – perhaps because the term “nun” is often misused to refer to all consecrated female religious. The author may simply have been trying to clarify the particular way of life (monastic) of this woman.


In many languages, including Greek where the word originated, the words for monk and nun are the same. Mary Lou Kownacki is one of the most famous nuns in the United States (she served as national director of Pax Christi and executive director of the Alliance for International Monasticism); she sometimes refers to herself as a monk because she lived as an ascetic missionary in the inner city, an image associated in the popular imagination with monks, whereas when she refers to herself as a nun people assume she was cloistered.

Well, I wish this were true, but it isn’t in this case. The reference to “monk” was by the community itself who made up the flyer. It’s also used by their own publishing house in regard to this same sister. I’ve been searching on the internet and have since found that in the Catholic Church, there are to be no female monks , and there is a difference between monks and nuns, not just as far as gender goes.

Then why doesn’t she put the word “monk” in quotation marks? It is very confusing.

Given the source, I think she may be using “monk” as a gender neutral descriptor - an attempt at inclusive language.

This is not true. The words ‘monk’ and ‘nun’ happen to be different in English but in many languages they are not. A male monastic may be ordained and serve as a priest, but beyond that there is no difference.

She often talks about how she “lived the life of a monk in the inner city”. If she said instead that she “lived the life of a nun in the inner city”, many would assume that she never left the confines of her monastery and never interacted with the population, which is not true at all. I agree that it is somewhat confusing, but she’s not trying to make any kind of radical political statement.

Greetings JharekCarnelian, may I ask please, do you think in this particular case (referring to the article cited,) that the writer is really meaning to say “cloistered,” in order to describe how much the contemplative life is a focus, rather than Sisters who serve "out in the world? I’m just wondering and appreciate any additional input here.
Kathryn Ann


The closest thing to a female Monk would be ladies who are typically referred to as Contemplative Nuns or Monastics. However, to be fair, the distinction in their manner of living isn’t that much at all. Both contemplative nuns/monastics and monks tend to structure their day around Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, Scripture/Lectio Divina, and Work. One of the major differences between Monks and Friars is that Monks tend to be bound to their monastery whereas friars can be sent anywhere their Order/Congregation is present. Contemplative Nuns/Monastics tend to be tied to one location and thus, more stable in a similar way as a Monk would be.

Some examples of female contemplative nuns/monastics might be:

If faithfulness to the Catholic Church is of any concern to you at all, I would urge you in the strongest terms to stay away from Sister Joan Chittister’s group that is being discussed above.

I hope that information is helpful.


From Wikipedia (Various Entries):

Monastery (plural: monasteries) denotes the building, or complex of buildings, that houses a room reserved for prayer (e.g. an oratory) as well as the domestic quarters and workplace(s) of monastics, whether monks or nuns, and whether living in community or alone (hermits).

Technically, a “monastery” or “nunnery” is a community of monastics, whereas a “convent” is a community of mendicants (“friary” specifying a male community specifically), and a “canonry” a community of canons regular. The terms “abbey” and “priory” can be applied to both monasteries and canonries and distinguish those headed by an Abbot from the lesser dependent houses headed by a Prior.

In English usage, the term “monastery” is generally used to denote the buildings of a community of monks. The name convent tends to be used (inaccurately) for the buildings accommodating female monastics (nuns). It may also be used to reflect the Latin usage for houses of friars, more commonly called a friary, or for communities of teaching or nursing Religious Sisters. Various religions may use these terms in more specific ways.

A convent is either a community of priests, religious brothers, religious sisters, or nuns, or the building used by the community, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Anglican Communion. In modern English usage, “convent” or “nunnery” almost invariably refers to a community of women, while “monastery”, “priory” or “friary” are used for men; but in historical usage they are often interchangeable.

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