Can someone explain to me what the role of Nuns are, how the started, what they do, who were the first etc.?

Hello Shaolen!

From the very beginning of the Churcg women have served in special roles in the Church. Often these women were virgins or widows. Many of these took vows of chastity and poverty much like nuns of more modern times. These were all women who wished to consecrate their lives to God in a unique way.

During the third century’s persecutions monks as well as nuns were driven into the dessert. St. Pachomius (292-346) created a convent for them where they lived with his sister. As time went on specific orders developed, often with very rigorous rules.

Nuns are of several types: contemplative, who live lives of prayer and seclusion, those devoted to corporeal acts of mercy, hospitallers, and others. Some common roles of nuns are teaching, missionary work, care of the sick, serving the homeless, and generally living the beatitudes.

There is a whole lot more to the story, but I hope this gets you started. Do you have any specific questions?

You can read more here:

Also read about the saints who led or founded orders: St Clare, St Teresa of Avila, mother Teresa of Calcutta to name a few. You can google "saints who were nuns and find a very long list.

*]Only women who belong to an order, not to a congregation

*]Only women who make solemn vows, not simple vows

*]Only women who are monastic living in an enclosure

[INDENT]are nuns.[/INDENT]

All other consecrated women religious are sisters.

They do not belong to a religious order. They belong to a congregation (Sisters of St. Joseph, Dominican Sisters, Franciscan Sisters, et al), society of apostolic life (Daughters of Charity, SOLT), secular institute (Sisters of Schoenstatt), or a society of common table (Maryknoll Sisters). They do not make solemn vows. They make simple vows, first they are temporary and then they can be perpetual, if that’s the custom in their community. Some communities never make perpetual vows. They renew them annually, such as the Daughters of Charity.

Nuns may never engage in corporal works of mercy and sisters may never be monastic.

The Council of Trent ruled that women religious who are nuns and male religious who are monks and friars, have been called to the highest form of consecrated life within the Church and therefore, the Church recognizes their vows as solemn, which makes them equally binding as the marriage vows and only the Holy See can dispense from them or declare them null and void. Even a diocesan tribunal cannot declare them null as they can do with marriage.

Be careful when comparing consecrated men and women. We are similar on the outside, but very different on the inside. There are spiritual, legal and material advantages to both, solemn and simple vows.

PS. Men who are religious but are not friars or monks (ie. Jesuits) are canons regular. If they belong to a community of brothers such as the De La Salle Brothers, then they are lay brothers, but religious nonetheless. They’re just not friars or monks. They can also belong to a society of apostolic life such as the Vincentians, FSSP, Maryknoll, Missionhurst, SOLT or to a secular institute.

Among friars, monks and nuns, you often find the term “lay” applied to a member of the community who is charged with the material support of the community, such as maintenance or financial administration. This is because in the early days, this task was performed by men and women who were not monks, friars or nuns. They were were religious, but they never made solemn vows. They made simple vows. This made them lay brothers or lay sisters.

Today, all friars, monks and nuns make solemn vows. The term "lay . . . . " is incorrect, but still used out of sheer habit.

Finally, there are secular orders to which celibate and consecrated men and women can belong alongside married men and women and secular clergy.

That sounds really complicated. What is the difference between these types of Sisters?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit