Is life in Carmelite monasteries very physically demanding and just exhausting?


I’ve visited a Carmelite monastery overnight and the nuns did seem peppy enouh but they fast and they have other penances and their work. I’m just wo dering how physical monastery life really is for nuns. I’d visit for a week or a month amd find out for myself by living the life for a short time, but this monastery does not allow any discerners inside the cloister until AFTER you apply and do the medical/psych tests and are accepted. Once they accept your application you can then enter the cloister for your three month aspirancy, when thats finished you can become a postulant right away without leaving if you want.

So I have some health issues, the mother prioress knows all about them, and they are still fully supportive of me continuing discernment with them. I’m just wonderig
…can I actually live the life. Isn’t their life EXHAUSTING?? One thing my health problems causes is exhaustion, and I cant imagine the difficulty of monastery life on top of my health issued. Or maybe being a Carmelite nun isnt THAT physically challenging.

Help!! (and prayers…) please!!!


Perhaps you can discern if that life will be okay for you during your three-month aspirancy?


Mother Prioress must think it’s possible for you, since she’s supporting your continued discernment with them. I would think she’d know. :slight_smile: Maybe you could discuss it more with her?


I dont think it is physically demanding----- they do all of their own traditional household chores like cooking, cleaning, laundry and gardening.

I think it is more spiritually and mentally demanding, rather than physically exhausting.


If you were completely or mostly disabled, it could be very difficult, if not impossible. However, there are several hours in every day of quiet time, reading spiritual books or Scripture reading alone in your room. There are also usually two Recreation periods each day to balance work and community sharing. If the Prioress thinks you are physically capable, you probably are. Remember, there are often Nuns in a Carmelite monastery who are elderly, and they continue with the full life - usually into their 80’s and 90’s! If they can continue with the full schedule, I would think most young women certainly could. They do grow their own vegetables and some fruits, usually, so all spend an hour or two several days a week doing gardening, or picking tomatoes, etc. for the Community during the growing season. They also do their own dishes (assignments are moved around) and some do the cooking or otherwise assist in the kitchens. Most work is done in silence, to maintain an attitude of prayer. Recreation, and time spent with the Novice Mistress or Prioress are times for speaking and sharing… Answering the phone or the Portal (door) is usually reserved for the Nuns who have had some years there, since this involves contact with the outside world, and is not considered appropriate for the young Novices or young Nuns with only a few years experience of Religious life.

If you are seriously interested, try the 3 month Aspirancy program. If you do, both you and your director (like a Novice Mistress) will discern then if this is the calling of God for your life, and if it is not, you would be free to leave without going further. In fact, I believe you can leave at any time until you make your permanent Vows, which would give you a few years before an irrevocable decision. The physical and psychiatric tests used now are for the same purpose – to be certain you are physically able and mentally stable for a religious life of being Cloistered. If you feel strongly attracted to this life, then perhaps God is calling you to it. The Carmelites are most highly regarded in the Church for their life of prayer and withdrawal from the world. I have admired them all my life, and often wish I had chosen that path when I was young.


It also depends on which rule of life they are going by. Here are two different ones I found online, from St. Agatha’s, Ontario and Sioux City, Iowa (respectively) :

Daily Schedule:

5:30 a.m. Rise
6:00 a.m. Angelus followed by one hour silent prayer
7:00 a.m. Lauds (Morning Prayer of the Breviary) after which Grand Silence ends
7:30 a.m. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass followed by 15 minutes silent Thanksgiving Terce (Midmorning Prayer)
8:45 a.m. Breakfast
9:30 a.m. Novitiate lessons, or half an hour of Spiritual Reading
10:00 a.m. Manual Work
11:45 a.m. Sext (Midday Prayer)
12:00 p.m. Angelus followed by Dinner
1:00 p.m. Recreation
2:00 p.m. None (Midafternoon Prayer) followed by singing practice
3:00 p.m. Manual Work
4:30 p.m. Vespers (Evening Prayer) followed by one hour silent prayer
6:00 p.m. Angelus followed by Supper
7:00 p.m. Recreation
8:00 p.m. Compline (Night Prayer) followed by Grand Silence until after Lauds the next day
Free time in your room
9:30 p.m. Matins (Office of Readings)
10:30 p.m. Retire

4:45 am Rise, Breakfast
5:30 am Mental Prayer
6:30 am Morning Prayer
7:00 am Mass, Midmorning Prayer
8:00 am Work
12:00 pm Midday Prayer, Dinner
12:45 pm Recreation
1:45 pm Midafternoon Prayer
2:00 pm Free Hour
3:00 pm Spiritual Reading
3:45 pm Rosary (optional)
4:05 pm Evening Prayer
4:30 pm Mental Prayer
5:30pm Office of Readings
6:00 pm Supper
6:30 pm Recreation
7:30 pm Night Prayer
7:45 pm Retire to cells, Spiritual Reading

God bless!


Life in a religious order isn’t easy. No one will ever tell you that. But is it worth it? Oh, yes!

Religious life does require a certain level of health to begin with. They don’t want an aspirant who will only demand service of the community and not give any service. You need to be able to contribute: wash the dishes, read in Chapel, work in the garden, clean the bathrooms, do the laundry. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete. You need to pull your weight. This is only fair.

I was in a contemplative Benedictine monastery for two and a half years. My health was not the best. I would faint nearly every day. I was still healthy enough to continue. It was my choice to leave, before I took vows, and it had nothing to do with my health. Nuns are the happiest people I’ve ever seen. I was happy, too.

I found religious life to be tiring. We were always busy, as the horarium posted above shows, although we didn’t have a ‘free hour’ and our ‘recreation’ was often communal work in the garden or chopping fruit and vegetables for the kitchen, simply because it had to be done. Three hours for recreation and free time every day seems an awful lot. Recreation periods aren’t like recreation at home. It is recreation in community and you are expected to socialise with the other nuns- and remembering to socialise equally, not just with particular friends. Many nuns are glad on Fridays (and Wednesdays in Lent and Advent) when there is no community recreation. Finally, a time to get things done! And you don’t have to chat with old Mother Mary X who doesn’t believe that nuns should discuss their employment (chores in the monastery), their past lives, their interests, anything personal, anything secular or anything religious. Now imagine having that conversation about the weather every day for an hour.

In the novitiate we were supposed to do two hours lectio divina every day and it was a rare day that you could carve out enough small blocks of time to make two hours. We never, ever had two consecutive hours free to do whatever. Our horarium provided for eight hours rest, if we were on our beds half an hour after Compline and up two minutes before Nocturns. My novice mistress pointed out that the Book of Customs said ‘Rest’ not ‘Sleep.’ Then there was also an hour, twice a week, in the night taking our turn at Adoration.

Even though our time was so full the Office was never a chore. We were for 5.5hours a day in chapel (not counting Night Adoration) and every single time it was like an oasis. It wasn’t unusual to see nuns in the Chapel outside of these times, as well.

You mention that the monastery requires medical tests. Couldn’t you trust your Prioress to assess the results of your health inspections and then decide for herself if you are strong enough?

There is a story of the desert fathers where a very faithful brother was found not to have even completed all the strokes of a single letter in a sentence when the bell rang and he obediently put down his pen and hurried to the Chapel. I suppose most nuns have done this. You have to get used to putting one task down without complaining, to attend Office.
St Teresa of Avila said that when she entered the convent it felt as though a lion were breaking all her bones.

There is a story about St Mary of Egypt who lived a life of sin then went into the desert to live a life of penance. She found the first seventeen years very hard, the next seventeen less so. She later told her story to a monk who found her in the wilderness, not long before she died. A Poor Clare nun summed up the story this way. “The first seventeen years are the hardest. Go for it.” We used to encourage each other with this in the novitiate.

You will never know unless you try it. If you try it, what’s the worst that can happen? Would you be happy the rest of your life if you said ‘No’ to a call from God?


You won’t know until you try.



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