Keeping God on the Streets

From Our Franciscan Fiat
Please don’t take me wrong – I’m not thinking I’m better than anybody else…I am simply reflecting on something that’s been on my heart a little bit after a recent experience.

I was a bit disturbed by something I saw, although it is not new to me. I saw some religious Sisters not wearing their veils. I have asked myself, “Why should this disturb me? Why do I react to it interiorly? Why does it bother me and even weigh on my heart when I see this?” (In fact, there was a time during my discernment of religious life, in which I did not have my same convictions about this.)

In reflecting and then sharing my thoughts on the matter, I want to clarify that I do not see the religious habit or the veil as a way of saying “I’m better than you.” I don’t think that at all. Far from being used to insinuate superiority, if anything, it can be seen as a sign of a servant. In fact, among the functions of the religious garb, Vita Consecata names its being “a sign…of poverty.” More importantly, it is a sign of consecration, as this same ecclesial document reminds us.

Wearing a veil tells people something; we don’t have to say a word. When people see a Sister in her veil, they see a servant, one dedicated entirely to God. Actually, they are reminded of Christ and see Him. Wearing our religious garb is a way of “keeping God on the streets.” St. John Paul II shared these sentiments, as is seen in one of his addresses to religious. He encouraged them (and us):

“Do not hesitate to be recognizable, identifiable, in the streets as men and women who have consecrated their lives to God and who have given up everything worldly to follow Christ. Believe in the value for contemporary men and women of the visible signs of your consecrated lives. People need signs and reminders of God in the modern secular city, which has few reminders of God left. Do not help the trend towards ‘taking God off the streets’ by adopting secular modes of dress and behavior yourselves !”

In researching this issue, I found that Canon Law really has some beautiful reflections to offer for us Religious. Along with exhorting us that “Religious are to wear the habit of the Institute…as a sign of their consecration and as a testimony of poverty” (Can. 669 section §1), the preceding section offers some beautiful and profound thoughts on this life to which we have been called.

Although I do not want to criticize anyone, I feel that when Sisters do not wear the veil, they are missing out (or rather causing others to miss out). They are not bearing the witness to Christ which they are called to give. They are missing an opportunity to remind others of the love of God for all the people they meet “on the streets.”

So, far from being a separating feature or a way of trying to show superiority or anything of that sort, I see the veil very differently. I see it as a way of helping bring our Lord to all those we encounter. It also says: “I am a poor servant and am available to you, to pray for you and journey with you.”

As sisters, we have a unique opportunity to bring a reminder of Christ to anyone and everyone we meet. I pray that more Sisters will realize this and consider wearing the veil, seeing it not as a barrier but as a bridge bringing people closer to God.

I read your post with interest. There are some cultures that do not allow someone in the habit due to their own beliefs and creeds. There are some Governments that would due worse. There are places here in the States where it is not advisable or prudent to be seen in a habit or vail. There are some works of mercy that can not be done by someone in a habit. There are some insitutions that would not employ someone in the habit. The habit became a dress of the culture where some of the great religious communities were founded. There is no real reason for American Sisters to NOT wear the habit o vail at this moment in time, but that may change in the future if the prevailing secular government continues on it’s downward decent. There may be a time when the Religious will have to go “underground” in order to survive. This country is in flux and most people of faith are aware of this

Consider yourself fortunate that you live in a relatively free county and can make the choice of wearing the habit or not. That could change overnight. There are other aspects to the wearing of the habit. I refer to Vat. 11 Doc. whereas the prepared habit would be modern, modest and keeping to and in the culture of a Sister’s assigned field. It never did say to take the vail and habit off, but to keep the times and needs of the Church.

Sisters really should be known for their good works and the lives they are consecrated to and the rest will shine through.

I prefer to see the habit and vail, but will not get hyper if someone can and is living the life without it. Consider there may be just reasons or cause for a Religious to wear street cloths. Just saying…Peace

I would like to know the situations in which a habit is a barrier.

God had and still has the right to declare a particular fashion to be His. With the Communists becoming so pervasive in every aspect of society, I cast doubt on some of the arguments against the habit.

I wear distinctive garb for one of my emerging charisms. I visited the grocery one evening after Mass, and a college girl wailed “But I didn’t want to think about God!” I also wore it before Mass while dropping my son off at college. A gentleman gave an approving look, and said, “Glad to see the Catholic Church is doing that again.”

Jesus said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.” That includes wearing the habit.

I also think those communities founded without the habit should discern and see if the Holy Ghost wants them to adapt something more distinctive.


Should you ever travel outside the confines and relative safety of the U. S. you would be a target in Africa, parts of Mexico, and many parts of Communest nations. We really do not hear much in the news as to what happens to Sisters that fall victim to rouge groups, nations and individuals that see Catholics as demons or enemies of their way of life, culture or just plain madness. We are blessed here…for now…that as Americans… we can dress the way we want or according to our beliefs. I have nothing but admiration for the habit and the vail, but doing a reality check will indicate that not everyone has the same views…not even here. Peace.

Cloisters, I read your post several times and wonder why you need to dress in a distinctive manner? And the man you met while shopping: was he admiring you the person or the cloths you were wearing? Could you not do good works in a pair of faded blue jeans and be “distinctive?”

Jesus and the Apostles wore the garments-clothing-of his time. He didn’t need to dress in a distinctive manner. He Was Distinctive!! The apostles became distinctive. don’t you think that is the goal we should try to emulate? To become distinctive in what we say, do or in the way we live and respond to the Word of God?

I don’t get hyper over habits. If someone wants the vail and habit-they have my respect.
Wear what you will, according to the needs of the Church and God’s people. I will not judge a Sister down on her knees scrubbing floors for someone elderly in a pair of Blue Jeans or another Sister working in a secular hospital in a reg. nurses uniform. I will know the person by the work that they do.

Just a personal note; When I was badly injured a few years ago I asked for someone to bring me communion. A Big Wheel in the church said they were busy because of the Christmas holidays. No one showed. The one person that came to my bedside was a poor preacher in a really dated, worn suit, and he prayed for me in his own way. Who do you think impressed me the most? The Big Wheel of the church or the tired old preacher that came to me when I was most in need? This is just a personal reflection and really has nothing to do with the habit. It just stands out in my mind as to who was really doing God’s work. Sorry to ramble. Peace.


First of all, my apologies on behalf of the clergy who did not respond to your needs. I thank God for the ‘tired old preacher’ who responded to the promptings of the Holy Ghost to come and minister to you.

I stated quite plainly that it was a college girl I met in the grocery. I was in the car when I heard the gentleman make his comment. He could probably see only my tiechel (headcovering), hoodie, and crucifix.

Canon law states that each person is a charism, a gift from God to the world and the church. This has been interpreted in many cases as meaning a person, under direction of a spiritual director, can develop a personal prayer rule, and a habit.

That being said, a private lay association of the faithful with the intention of becoming an institute of religious life has a right to wear a uniform before seeking recognition of their charism from the bishop. They receive the habit proper from him during that ceremony.

In my case, I am a married woman founding new communities. I have the right to wear what they do when working with them.

I also offer this link as part of our argument for the habit being on the streets. The first few lines are pertinent to the argument:

Thank you for your concern. When distinctive-garb-wearing becomes hazardous, that is when I will stop wearing it. The Communists got a foot-hold in society because they convinced the nuns to stop wearing the habit. Then they could convince the world that God is dead, because the nuns disappeared.

My Baptist college roommate asked me why the nuns disappeared. I told her they were still there, they were just in plain clothes. She thought it was a pity.


You make some valid points, but the Communist did force priests and Sisters into hiding or leaving the religious life. It is a matter of history. It is also happening now in various countries around the world.

There is a shade difference between a uniform and a religious habit. If your Bishop is OK with your uniform than it is OK to wear what you declare a religious garb.

My thoughts about the Sister from St. Ann’ is that she is making a judgement call based on her formation and concept of the religious life. This used to be the concept taught in formation that the “consecrated” were better than the run of the mill Catholic women. That precept has changed slightly.

The fact is that we all “All Consecrated” upon baptism and we are all called to serve God according to our Chisisma. I know many will argue this, esp. “old timers” and even some priest, but that is OK, too. I have had people tell me literally , looking me straight in the eye, and tell me that “nuns are better than lay people.” Oh yeah, says I. Some of the meanest, nastiest, snarkest people I have dwelt with were wearing a habit.

This is a generalization 'cause I have met and worked with some saints in habits. I guess my point is “one shoe doe not fit all” When Mother Theresa went to India she took off her habit and adopted the garb of the women of India. He simple dress became “the habit” because of her inner self, life and dedication to their needs. Peace.

Cloisters, you say: “In my case, I am a married woman founding new communities. I have the right to wear what they do when working with them.” Someone “working with” a community–emerging, long-standing, or imaginary–does not have the right to wear the distinctive garb of that group. If I am wrong, please cite canon law that allows this.

Nunsuch, you are correct and there may be a misunderstanding between Cloisters, and the Bishop and the intent of her “communities.” I think her mind is made up and that she sees herself as right. However, you can not change the habit or religious gar according to the community that one she seems to be working with and there seems to more than one. This confuses me and needs to be clarified. Perhaps I am just to dumb to get it. Cloisters, you really do not have the right to wear what they wear if they are ligitmate, emerging communities unless you are a PART of the community. How is it that you claim to be founding several emerging communities at once, married and have a family? Peace and prayers. ME…confused.

Not just sisters. Many religious orders of men only wear habits for their own gatherings and no so much out on the streets. But I can’t blame them if the habit style is antiquated.

Private lay associations of the faithful without the intention of becoming an institute of religious life have the right to wear a uniform a/k/a distinctive garb. All three of our LAFs have statutes that describe the uniform/distinctive garb, which is usually a combination of the association’s colors. I practice covering, usually wearing a ballcap, and I wear a tiechel, which is adapted from Orthodox Jewish women.

For my groups who have the private associations with intention, I more than likely won’t be wearing the actual habit when working with them within the confines of their domiciles, although, for the sake of setting example, I do have that option.

My spiritual director is a Dominican who used to be part of an emerging charism. He is also the former President of the defunct Fellowship of Emerging Religious Communities. Cloister Outreach has taken up the slack and sponsors the Fullerton Society which is named for Lady Georgianna Fullerton, a laywoman who assisted the Poor Servants of the Mother of God and the Society of Helpers of the Holy Souls to get started.

As for canon law, there is a canon that states that each person is their own charism, and has a right to develop a personal prayer rule and habit.

All of my information is at my local chancery. I send annual reports to Msgr Mo, our Chancellor, who is available at When the persons on another public forum were emailing him, he didn’t know I was using an internet moniker. We have since made contact, and he is fully supportive of what I’m doing. He has photos of what I wear. My pastor is supportive of what I’m doing. I wear the smallest tiechel available for adult women, and a ponytail.

Nunsuch, you and I have never seen eye-to-eye. Perhaps it’s time for a “agree to disagree”.


Both of my sons are grown and my husband works full-time. I have worked on the LAF’s guiding documents – and other books – while awaiting my son who has high-functioning autism while he is in college classes. That being said, I utilize my new-found free time to work for God. That is my right, is it not? There are great needs in the local community, and I have waited 15 years to start in on one inspiration. The persons in the particular area of mission have taken a great interest. I hope to take the Protecting God’s Children training tomorrow so I can get that particular obstacle out of the way.

My husband wants me to find a line-of-work in which to become involved in the event of his passing. He has a high-stress job. I do not see anything immoral in what I’m doing.


Permit me to add that religious communities are supposed to begin as their own third orders. They do the work as a third order, and the aspirants to the new community split off and work on their constitutions, which usually adds the vows to a form of the statutes that they were following.

I have one group who will do the ‘split off’ in November.

I am also a Lay Dominican, and I am assisting these groups with their lay formation.

The faithful are encouraged to join lay associations, especially the LAFs that have ecclesial encouragement.


Each religious community has its own customs regarding their appearance including both type of clothing and religious symbols that they wear. There are typically a number of historical and theological reasons for the customs that religious communities hold, and it’s important to note that these varieties in customs are acceptable in the Church.

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