Nuns and Sisters


In the thread about the natural gas pipeline, someone mentioned that the Adorers of the Blood of Christ are not nuns. This confused me, so I looked into it.

As I understand it now, all nuns are sisters but not all sisters are nuns.

A nun is a woman who makes a solemn vow and essentially lives a cloistered life.
A sister is a woman who makes a simple vow and leads a life more openly in the community.

My childhood piano teacher was Sister Margaret Francis. The sixth grade English Teacher was Sister Olivia. They both lived in the convent. As I understand it now, neither of these women were nuns, because a nun would not have a vocation in teaching.

The term “sister” is used to refer to both nuns and sisters proper.

Am I getting this right? :shrug:


The working defintiion here in Ireland at least differentiates between Religious Sisters ie eg the Mercy Order ie working in and with the diocese and Monastic Nuns ie cloistered , enclosed contemplatives.

A Mercy Sister once explained this as that they were Vowed whereas eg Poor Clares were Consecrated


This is exactly how it was explained to me by an SSJ (Sister of St. Joseph) & RSM(Rochester Sister of Mercy). They are both sisters, who have taken simple vows.

We also have a Carmelite Convent. These women are nuns, as they are cloistered, but are referred to as “Sister” when you do get a chance to speak to one.


On our first date, my husband told me his sister was a nun. I responded somewhat arrogantly that he must mean she’s a Sister, because nuns live in convents. He scoffed (rightfully) and assured me he meant nun.

A year later, we drive 800 miles so he could introduce me to his sister, who lives behind a huge wall and can only receive visitors through a screen.:smiley:


yeap, that would be a nun. :slight_smile:


Where I live, we have the Nashville Dominicans. They are primarily a teaching order and are semi-cloistered. They are out in the world but live in a convent.

One characteristic of all sisters is that they live in community. From what I gather, there are different degrees.

Fully cloistered nuns (i.e.: Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, etc…) only leave the convent walls for doctor’s appointments, etc… and they are always in multiples when they leave. From what I understand, most are Benedictine or Fransican orders. They are fully habited with long veils that fully cover their hair, neck (to just under the chin) and ears with only their hands and face exposed.

Semi-cloistered nuns are out in the world during the day and back in the convent at night. Mostly, they travel in multiples. Most of the semi-clositered nuns are like the Dominicans (there are some fully cloistered Dominicans), Sisters of Life, Little Sisters of the Poor, Missionaries of Charity. All wear a veil and hair may be fully covered but generally some of the neck is exposed. The length of the habit may vary as well, but the skirt is always below the knee. They generally travel in pairs as well.

Sisters are out in the world and generally living in the world. The one community I can think of are the Sisters of Mercy.

I’ve found a link that has many of the orders that have the type of community and primary ministry. You may have to copy and paste into your browers:


What do you mean by the above, bold text? The Sisters of Mercy live in convents, but they are not cloistered.


this should answer your question, i hope[ATTACH]24129[/ATTACH]


Officially, there is no longer a distinction between ‘nun’ and ‘sister’ in the Church. The distinction was done away with in 1983 with the promulgation of a new Code of Canon Law under the papacy of Pope John Paul II.

Originally, Nuns were female religious who took public solemn vows of Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience. These were, by definition, the solemn professed members of the Religious Orders, rather than the members of Religious Congregations. So Technically, you could have a solemnly professed nun in a true conventual order working in the world.

Sisters were female religious who took, at the very least, public simple vows of Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience. They may, in fact take solemn vows, but the difference is in how they take them. Some Religious Congregations may take one or two of the three Religious vows Solemnly and the other Simply. The sister may even take the remaining Simple Vows as a Solemn Vows, but it must be made privately instead of publicly because is not a Solemn Vow by virtue of the Order but instead a personal choice.

The reason why this distinction was made was due to the binding nature of simple and solemn vows. Up until 1917, Solemn Vows, could never be dissolved, not even by the Pope. Even if one left the Religious Order, they were still bound by Chastity, a measure of Poverty, and Obedience to the Bishop of their Diocese. Only in 1917, under a new Code of Canon Law promulgated by Pope Benedict XV, could Solemn Vows be dissolved by direct command of the Pope. Simple Vows could be dissolved by a designated member of the Church hierarchy.

As of 1983, the terms ‘nun’ and ‘sister’ are used interchangeably and have no Canonical difference. A great deal of the current belief that there is a difference comes from the ‘New Catholic Encyclopedia’ which has not been largely updated since the change in Canon Law in 1917.

God Bless,
Br. Ben


Thank you :thumbsup:

closed #11

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