No Habits?


While there are some male communities that seem to have done away with their habits, this seems to be most common in female communities. My question:

What was the rationale for abandoning the habits of their respective orders to wear secular clothing? (like the man said: 'I knew she was a nun by the lapel pin on her double pleated pant suit!')

Why have these orders allowed other secular things, such as makeup, earrings, etc.?

Why do the members work in secular jobs?

With all the above combined, what really separates those nuns from ordinary laywomen and what would be the draw for a young woman?


There are lots of ways to do the Lord’s work–some of it contemplative (think of the stereotype of nuns/monks cloistered away from the outside world) and some of it requiring action within the secular world. I can’t say it’s “better” or “more important” to pray in seclusion than it is to, say, run a soup kitchen for the homeless. I would think that for both make and female religious, habits can be rather restricting and awkward when doing real-world work. (I, for one, wouldn’t want to wear something with long, loose sleeves while cooking, or if it’s likely that I’d be dragging them through the food; and I have enough trouble walking without having to worry about tripping over my floor-length hem.)

I would guess the draw for young women would be that they don’t have to give up stylish clothes and jewelry to become a nun–but I think dress code restrictions are the least of the problem. Most young women dream of marrying and having children, and the religious life is only a fallback plan when this doesn’t work out.

**Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if they truly feel a calling. I have a suspicion that some of the most devout religious (nuns, priests, monks) are probably the ones that fought hardest against their calling in the beginning. :wink: **

Anyway, it’s not the clothes (or habit) that you wear that brings you closer to God, religious or not. I’m rather old-fashioned and do like habits, but as long as the Sisters are doing good works in the name of God, I don’t give a flying rat’s patootie what they wear.


I think that it is very sad that the Grey Nuns no longer wear their habits(so how can they still be called by that name). I guess that they feel that it was archaic(rather distinctly baroque), not in consistency with this time(a theme in the Church over the past half-century, even before Vatican II).


Many orders founder/founderesses did not wear or require the habit in their day, some of these orders gained a habit over time and have now reverted to their founder/founderesses original ideal. Additionally one thing to consider is that many habits were simply the clothes of poor women or widows in their original time period and not as distinctive as we might think now.


The truth of the matter is that the Church does require that we have a habit. There are very few religious institutes for whom the habit is not required. I only know two and both are male: the Marianist Brothers and Mother Teresas Missionary Brothers of Charity. Church law does not require these two communities to have a habit. They are an exception for very special reasons.

The rest of us must wear a habit. The Church said that the habit should be simplified, not eliminated. She also said that it must be appropriate for the work that the religious do, becoming, and modest. There is nothing wrong with a congregation of sisters having a shorter habit, as long as it looks like a habit

Religious men should wear the habit of their community or a Roman collar. Diocesan priests have never had habits, because they are not consecrated men. They are secular men. They must dress according to the rules of their local bishop. Most bishops require a Roman Collar and some require a cassock.

There are times when a habit would be damaged and it can be taken off for a few hours while you perform a specific task. However, the expectation is that you design a habit that does not need to be taken off.

Those religious women who have adopted secular clothing, jewelry, make-up, and other fashion accessories are out of compliance with Church law. That's why they are being investigated by the Vatican, several other reasons too. One of the observations made by the Vatican is that these communities not only dress in secular clothing, but also live very secular lives. They have no local superior. They decide where they're going to live. They have little or no community life and they do very little to promote religious life. Some have engaged in teaching heresy. They are now in big trouble.

To be fair, not every sister who wears secular clothing is a heretic. I know the Carmelite Sisters of Charity, who no longer wear a habit. They have a very strong prayer life, strong community life, and they are also very obedient to their superiors. Their way of dress is very simple. They usually get their clothng from a thrift shop. But I would imagine that they will soon be in a habit, because Pope Benedict is insisting on it and they are a very obedient group.

There were experiments with different forms of dress. But after 40 years, we have see no growth in those communities that have dropped the habit and on-going growth in the ones that keep it. This is very telling.

As to secular jobs, I'm not sure what you may call a secular job. Teaching, nursing, social work, running soup kitchens, running shelters, group homes, serving the disabled are all secular jobs. Any secular person can do them. You do not enter the religious life to be a teacher. You enter the religious life to be a consecrated man or consecrated woman. Your love for God must always come before your love for your work.

Among the Franciscan Brothers of Life, my community, we wear a habit 24/7. You cannot go without a habit, since we have no other clothing. We don't even own a black suit.

The same is true of the Franciscans of the Renewal, Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word, Franciscan Brothers of Peace, Franciscan Brothers of the Eucharist, Franciscan Friars of the Ancient Observance, Franciscans of the Immaculate, Capuchin Franciscans of the Primitive Observance and the Little Brothers of St. Francis. In all of these groups, we must ask for permission to wear anything that is not the habit. That permission is granted only when the superior feels that it is appropriate not to wear it. This means that it is rarely granted.

The other religious orders of men have never given up their habits, but they do have the option of wearing other clothing. However, they do preserve a habit that they must wear for certain occasions. There is no prohibition against wearing the habit.

The big problem with the habit has been with sisters, not with nuns. Nuns still wear a habit of some kind. Many sisters also wear a habit, but most sisters in the USA do not wear a habit. This is something that Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI said is problematic and unacceptable.

Some bishops are now cracking down on this. In the diocese where I serve, if a sister refuses to wear a veil, she must leave the diocese. It's that simple. The bishop prefers to run his institutions with faithful lay people, than dissenting sisters. This may mean that an individual sister must leave the diocese or that an entire community must leave. If they choose to stay, they may not work in any diocesan ministry.

But if you work in a diocesan parish, school or other diocesan ministry, you must comply with the local bishop. If he insists that you comply with the Holy Father's wishes, he has the right to fire you if you fail to do so.

Precisely today, I attended a meeting with the bishop and all of the religious working in his diocese. Guess what the topics were?

Community life

The alternative offered by the bishop was, "If you don't like it, you don't have to work in my diocese. I rather close more schools and more parishes.." But as I said above, this only applies to ministries that are paid for by the diocese, not by your community.

I hope this helps understand the Church's expectations on this matter. One more note. It is forbidden for the laity to intervene and opine in matters concerning religious men or religious women. This rule was made in the 12th century at the request of St. Francis of Assisi. It has been the standing law in the Church every since. This was done to protect the religious from lay control. Many wealthy lay people felt that they had a voice in the life of the religious community because they were generous benefactors.


Br. JR, OSF :)


These grey nuns? Founded by St Marguerite d’Youville? The above picture is from the convent i was in Ottawa. When I was there the habit was made much more practical but now most do not wear the veil:(:


Unlike most of the people on this board, I wasn’t raised Catholic. However, my church teaches that the work of serving those in need is love of God.

[BIBLEDRB]Matthew 25:40[/BIBLEDRB]

Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to the religious life; although I only know a few Sisters personally, they “walk the talk.”

And too, I must reiterate that I do like the idea of habits, but I won’t mind much one way or the other when I’m ready to take my vows if I have one or not, as long as I’m doing the work that God leads me to do. I’ve never been one for dress codes; I do my secular job just as well wearing blue jeans and my nose ring as I do in a dress and panty hose. Probably better, because panty hose are darned uncomfortable. :wink:



And yet those in Africa wear the veil!!!


Continued for the grey nuns:

And yet those in Africa wear the veil!!!


Interesting; it may be a little different outside of Europe and the Americas.


A habit serves several functions. It is a reminder of who I am. When I put on my grey habit I am reminded of our Holy Father Francis. It remainds me that I am his son and that I have promised to live the Gospel as he lived it, to find Christ in the manner that he found him and brought him to others.

The habit is also a discipline. It reminds us that our role is to be as anonymous as possible. Do good and disappear. This is not about me, but about Christ.

Finally, the habit speaks to others. It reminds them that God has become incarnate and is still present in the world. When we take the habit off the streets, we’re taking the consecrated life out of public view. The consecrated life is supposed to call all people to dwell on the coming Kingdom of God. It is a prophetic life.

As far as doing, the call is a call to love, not a call to do. The Church tells us that there is no greater expression of love God and neighbor than that of an enclosed monk or nun who never leaves his or her monastery, living in silence, solitude and doing the same routine day after day. But that person is living a life of intense love for Christ and for the world. He or she is offering himself or herself on the cross with Christ. There is no ministry, no service that we can do in the world that will ever surpass the value of a live of prayer 24/7.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


Is not vanity wholly inconsistent with the religious life (and Christian life in general)?


Br. JR>> how did you got all those knowledge in your mind? you’re simply amazing.

I know of a nun, who wears the habit, who is actively involved in a communist movement. :shrug:

Chapter XVII Book 1 Imitation of Christ: The habit and the tonsure contribute little but a change of manners and an entire mortification of the passions, make a true religious.


Besides the “quasi-secular” jobs of teaching and nursing (I tend to traditionally think of active orders primarily engaged in these types of work) and such, I’m thinking of jobs such as social worker, business administrator, psychologist, etc. Not necessarily the type of work I would associate with a professed religious.

There’s a difference? I view sister and nun as synonyms. I’ve addressed every female religious as Sister.

What do you mean by this?


All the works in which active religious engage can be done by seculars. Therefore, they are not properly religious. They are done by religious for many reasons: need is the first, tradition of the community, talents of the individual religious, requests made by bishops, the need to bring income into the community is a big factor. Many communities have a much larger number of retired members and a smaller number of younger members. The younger members can no longer work for a stipend and a roof over their heads. They have to fiance the care of their elderly and the education and formation of new members.

There’s a difference? I view sister and nun as synonyms. I’ve addressed every female religious as Sister.

A nun is always enclosed. A sister is not enclosed. A nun belongs to a religious order and a sister belongs to a congregation. Nuns make solemn vows and sisters make simple vows. Nuns live by a rule. The rule is set by the founder. There can be constitutions to go with the rule, because often there are new situations that the founder never thought of. You have to make statutes for those situations. Often the language of a rule is old and unclear, the constitution clarifies. Sisters normally do not have a rule. They have a constitution that they can democratically change or ammend.

All consecrated women in the Roman Church are called Sister. Whether they are nuns or sisters. In the other Catholic Churches nuns are usually called Mother, whether they are the superior or not.

What do you mean by this?

In the past, the laity had a voice in the life of the religious. There were very close ties, especially between people of means and religious authority. These people made generous donations to the religious communities. But this seemed to entitle them to decide where to put a house, the work that the religious did, who should join and they even went as far as going to the pope to remove abbots and abbesses.

The Church had to protect the religious from these incurssions, because it was disruptive to the religious life. The decision was made that religious would be given Pontifical Right. This meant that only the Holy See could intervene in their affairs. That has not changed to this day.

There are religious of Diocesan Right. These religious answer not to the Holy See, but to the bishop of the diocese.

In both cases, when a problem occurs, the laity is not allowed to participate in the problem solving, the decision making or the future planning unless they are invited by the religious to do so. Even the bishop may not express an opinion, except in the case of a community of Diocesan Right.

People can talk all they want out here. But no one is allowed to approach the religious or the superior with their opinions on what the religious need to do or not do. If they do, the superior is free to politely dismiss the person.

A good example was the Fr. Jenkins case at Notre Dame. There were many lay people who wanted Fr. Jenkins fired, even some bishoops. The problem is that Fr. Jenkins is a Holy Cross Brother. The opinion of the laity and the bishops carry no weight. Only the opinion of his Superior General and the Holy Father carry weight in the matter. People were frustrated, because many people don’t realize this. They were honest frustrations. Don’t get me wrong. But I know that I spent a lot of time on these fora explaining to people that we have no voice in the matter.

I’m a religious and I have no voice in the matter. The Brothers of the Holy Cross are not my community. It’s like telling someone else how to manage their family and how to discipline their children. It’s not a right. You can do it, but you may not get heard or you may be told that you have no right to say anything. Usually, people are not that rude. Usually they just thank you for caring and they move on.

This is so because of the great fear that religious would fall into the hands of bishops and laity again. That’s why the papacy protects religious by granting them Pontifical Status. This places them under the protection of the Pontiff and under his authority.

This only applies to matters pertaining to religious life. If you have a car accident and the person dirving is a Dominican, you have a civil case there. You have every right to follow the proper procedure to get your car fixed. In this case, you’re not telling the Dominicans how to live their life. You just telling them that one of their own wrecked your car and the Order’s insurance has to pay. This is a matter of civil law, not religiosu law.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


In the middle ages, your clothes showed the world who you were. In effect, everyone wore a habit of one type or another. You could tell just by looking at people who were the lawyers, who were the doctors, who were the serfs, etc.

On Feb. 24, 1209, the feast of the apostle Saint Mathias, Francis of Assisi heard the gospel about about Christ sending his apostles to preach barefoot, with no staff or wallets. He immediately removed his hermit’s leather belt, and went barefoot with a tunic in the form of a Thau, and a cord around his waist. (See the whole story here.)

By removing his leather belt, he was removing his identification as a hermit.

Where I live in Bolivia, many people continue to identify themselves through their clothes. The clothes of the Amayra in La Paz are very different from the Quechua in Cochabamba. The hats worn by the indigenous women in Cochabamba are different from the hats worn by the women in Tarata or Tiqupaya. By viewing someone, one can tell where they are from. I wear a hat that I bought in the States, but people tell me that it is the type of hat worn by the men in Vallegrande. One day at Mass, I sat behind a older woman wearing traditional garb and two younger women who appeared to be her daughters. One also wore the traditional Quechua dress and the other a pants suit. They were telling the world who they were by their clothes.

In this environment, it makes sense for religious to wear habits because they inform the world who they are.

In the parish were I worked in Lima, Peru, the women in the parish office insisted on a work uniform. As someone from the U.S., I tend to see this putting uniforms on women as demeaning, but they did not see it at all in this way. It was their identification as workers in the parish.

In the States, clothes no longer “make the man”. Steve Jobs wears jeans and a black turtleneck sweater, as could anyone on the street. Clothes in the U.S. do not say much about the profession of the person wearing them — outside of a few uniforms worn by those who wish to convey authority: police officers, airline pilots, etc.

In the States, therefore, I think the habit is less a communication of who one is. Uniforms are less common, and therefore more of an oddity — a setting of one apart. Francis’s simple tunic was the garb of the poor of his day. He did not set himself apart wearing it but rather increased his identification with the poor among whom he lived.


I’m not sure that I agree with you on this one, Brother. We wear a habit 24/7. The Franciscans of the Renewal, the Franciscans of the Immaculate, the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word, the Little Brothers of St. Francis, the Franciscan Brothers of Peace, the Brothers of Charity and many monks also wear a habit 24/7.

What I’ve noticed that when we are out on the street, people do recognize the friars. Often people will call us “monks”, because of TV. Sometimes you even hear people refer to Franciscans of any one of the obediences referred to as the Franciscan Monks. But whether they call us monks, friars, brothers, fathers, people do recognize that we are consecrated men.

I have always found that when I’m on a bus, train or on the corner, there is never a lack of company. Someone always wants to talk to you. My take is that people in the USA have been deprived of the presence of the transcendent and they are hungry for that. When they see a religious (male or female) it triggers a reaction.

Sometimes the reaction is very negative and hostile. Nonetheless, it’s a reaction. I believe that even these undesireable reactions are good, because it means that the presence of God and the Church puts people in touch with their feelings. It may stir the consciences and that makes them angry. It may pose questions that people don’t want to address. It may even trigger memories of harm that they have experienced at the hands of other Catholics, religious or clergy. Regardless of the reason for the undesireable reaction, there is something good there. It is an opportunity to show the person that he/she has nothing to fear or that their prejudice is unfounded. The outcome really depends on how I respond to the negative reaction.

I remember a young man who was very nasty to me. I let him talk. When he finished talking I simply said, “I’m sorry if my presence offended you. I’m not sure what I did. Do you mind telling me?” He calmed down and began to talk. After about 15 minutes he reached the point. He had been sexually molested by a seminarian when he was a young teen. After that we met three more times. Each meeting was more pleasant. By the third meeting he told me that he had gone to mass and confession.

There are times when the reaction is very positive. When not doing pro-life work, I teach religious ed at the local diocesan parish. The people there had never seen a religious. I teach grade six. One day a boy asked me “How does one become a brother?” I told him that there were different requirement for different communities and I explained the requirements for my community. The next week I brought him a book on brothers. He took it home and read it with his parents. His parents later told me that they had learned a great deal, because they knew nothing about religious life. They thought all men were priests and women were sisters. The idea of consecrated religious men was foreign to them.

At an airport a young man sat next to me at the gate. He asked me if I was a monk. I told him I was a friar and he immediately asked, “Are you a Franciscan?” I explained that I was one of many hundreds of thousands Franciscans around the world. That got us into a discussion about the different branches of the Franciscan Order, which led to his personal history with faith. He was born a Protestant, but had not been actively involved with any eccclesial community or Apostolic Church. He was hungry to know. He still e-mails me, five-years later.

I’m not the only religious in a habit in the USA who has had these experiences. I do believe that in the USA there is a desire for a visible Church on the streets, not just inside the religious house or the parish. People do respond to her presence.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


For those who do not have habits, dress is generally required to be “simple.” This also extends to secular priests.


Simplicity is part of the evangelical counsels. It falls under poverty, which means detachment from that which is not God and does not lead us to the perfection of charity. The evangelical counsels are for everyone.

The difference between a religious and a secular person is that religious vow to perfect themselves through the practice of the evangelical counsels, whereas the secular person does not take on the moral obligation. But the counsels remain in place for everyone. Simply put, the secular person does not sin as grievously against them as a religious in vows. What makes us (religious) more culpable than a secular person is that we not only violate the counsel, but we also breach a vow to live by the counsel.

The habit makes it much easier to live the vow of poverty and it serves as a visible sign of God’s presence in the world.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


Thank you, Brother.

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