Religious Sisters vs. Priests


#1

I’m currently discerning a vocation to the religious life and was hoping you all could provide some insight into a question that I’ve been wondering about for a long time.

I willingly admit that this understanding is very immature, but it seems to me that when compared to the vocational options available to men, sisters aren’t as important in terms of service to the Church and kind of get the short-end of the stick, so to speak. For example, priests undergo many years of spiritual formation - going to seminary, proceeding to their ordination in various stages, etc. Sisters, at least in my understanding, do not receive this same formation. They may take some classes, but they do not have a seminary equivalent. They also proceed in stages, but it doesn’t culminate in the beauty that is Holy Orders - it’s more of just a simple vow ceremony. Also, I could be wrong on this, but I do not believe they are able to join their chosen community until their personal debts are paid off - men entering the seminary do not have this restriction I believe.

I toured the home of a few Dominican Sisters recently and the difference in their schedule vs. the parish priests really struck me. They do not own cars, (there are about 7 sisters in the home and they share one car). They teach at the parish school, but do not get to keep what they individually earn as the money all goes into the community and then divided from there. They also have a very regimented prayer schedule that they must adhere to.

I know this seems like a really silly, immature understanding of the beauty that is religious life. The sisters that I’ve encountered are such full of life and joy and I am not AT ALL suggesting that their calling is not equal to the same amount of respect. I am after all, discerning my own calling! I’m only wondering why the huge difference between the two. It just seems that because priests are responsible for the distribution of the sacraments, their formation is given more attention than those of women discerning the religious life. Why don’t sisters get the same education? Why can’t they own cars? Isn’t their sacrifice and service to the Church just as important? If a priest’s purpose is the distribution of the sacraments, what is the purpose of religious sisters and why does the Church need them? It seems like parish priests are able to enjoy more freedom in a sense when compared to religious sisters.

Thank you for your answers and please know that I am not at all trying to offend anyone by asking this question. It’s just something that’s always bugged me and I’m hoping that an answer will provide some insight.


#2

Religious sisters and brothers live in communities, unlike diocesan priests who live on their own. When religious live in community, be they women or men (some men in the community may be ordained), they own everything equally. Diocesan priests, who generally serve parishes, do not take a vow of poverty–unlike most people in religious orders. One does not need years of formal schooling in order to be a vowed religious, man or woman. But, many orders do send their people to college to better serve in whatever capacity the order serves in the world, such as teaching or nursing/medical, etc. As to having to have paid off debts, men in formation for the priesthood have to pay their debts just like anyone else. There are organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, who help people seeking religious vocations with their financial needs.

I toured the home of a few Dominican Sisters recently and the difference in their schedule vs. the parish priests really struck me. They do not own cars, (there are about 7 sisters in the home and they share one car). They teach at the parish school, but do not get to keep what they individually earn as the money all goes into the community and then divided from there. They also have a very regimented prayer schedule that they must adhere to.

I’ve addressed the sharing of things, such as cars in my first response. As to how regimented an order might be, that depends on the rule of life they follow. Some orders are more regimented than others. It’s the same for male religious orders. Indeed, the regimented prayer life originated in the male religious orders. The women’s orders use the same model.

I know this seems like a really silly, immature understanding of the beauty that is religious life. The sisters that I’ve encountered are such full of life and joy and I am not AT ALL suggesting that their calling is not equal to the same amount of respect. I am after all, discerning my own calling! I’m only wondering why the huge difference between the two. It just seems that because priests are responsible for the distribution of the sacraments, their formation is given more attention than those of women discerning the religious life. Why don’t sisters get the same education? Why can’t they own cars? Isn’t their sacrifice and service to the Church just as important? If a priest’s purpose is the distribution of the sacraments, what is the purpose of religious sisters and why does the Church need them? It seems like parish priests are able to enjoy more freedom in a sense when compared to religious sisters.

Your very questions show how little you understand what the religious life for men or women means to the life of the Church. You need to research that for yourself. It’s not about how much power priests have vs. religious, but what each calling requires or doesn’t require. Some callings require more training than others, depending on the kind of service to be given. A priest must know a good many more things than a religious, man or woman, living in community and having little contact with the world, except in orders that serve the greater Church community. It’s not a man vs. woman issue at all. Religious women have run universities and been doctors and other such things. I’m afraid you have some very skewed ideas about what it means to be a religious, for men and for women.

Thank you for your answers and please know that I am not at all trying to offend anyone by asking this question. It’s just something that’s always bugged me and I’m hoping that an answer will provide some insight.

I think these things have bugged you from ignorance, and being influenced by the secular world whose values are very different from those of Christ. He never gave anyone orders to be highly schooled or paid more or worry about who gets more prestige, did he? He told us to love one another has he has loved us. That means sacrificing our own desires to follow him. And if you think struggling through several years of college and many more of formation to become a priest isn’t a sacrifice, then I’m afraid you have no conception of how hard it is to reach the point of ordination and then to go on to serve ordinary people with needs you will never have to deal with. They have stresses you and I cannot imagine since they have the spiritual wellbeing of hundreds, sometimes thousands of souls in their hands.

If you want to answer a call to religious service you need to pray for our priests, deacons, and religious above all else. You need to research what each does and what that service entails and what sacrifices each one demands of those who answer their call.


#3

Della gave a good answer. Part of the problem is that you are comparing religious sisters (who take a vow of poverty) to diocesan priests (who don’t). It would be more apt to look at religious order priests and brothers if you are going to make comparisons with religious sisters.

There are different types of formation besides academic. And the religious I know still go through that. Many of them do go to college for various fields of study, too. And the time between novitiate and final vows is much like seminary in regards to the amount of time, prayer, discernment and formation that goes into it.

Further, religious sisters are not supposed the be the female equivalent of priests. Different people have different roles. As St. Paul said, we can’t all be eyes. We are all different parts of the Body.


#4

I didn’t read into the OP’s words and come to any conclusion where she was thinking the path to priesthood doesn’t involve sacrifice and struggle. What I read was a great great respect for the education and formation they undergo and for the vocation itself…and probably some longing to be able to become as well formed even though her vocation would be different.


#5

Della, you are too cool. Good answers in your reply. Peace.


#6

That would be a very wrong conclusion

For example, priests undergo many years of spiritual formation - going to seminary, proceeding to their ordination in various stages, etc. Sisters, at least in my understanding, do not receive this same formation. They may take some classes, but they do not have a seminary equivalent

The years in seminary are to prepare a candidate for decades of service as a priest. This will include the theological and canonical formation as well as varying degrees of pastoral formation. A priest who is going to be a Trappist monk, in service to his abbey, will not need the pastoral formation that a diocesan priest requires

Sisters will have a formation that is predicated upon Religious Life. Up to 1 year as postulant, up to 2 or more years of novitiate, three or more years of temporary vows before the emission of perpetual vows. Depending on the mission, they may need to complete various other studies

They also proceed in stages, but it doesn’t culminate in the beauty that is Holy Orders - it’s more of just a simple vow ceremony

Apparently, you have not seen the perpetual profession of a Benedictine choir nun

It’s wrong to try to compare and contrast the ceremonies in their external elements. They’re different vocations and they’re different lives

Also, I could be wrong on this, but I do not believe they are able to join their chosen community until their personal debts are paid off - men entering the seminary do not have this restriction I believe

This has to do with the vow of poverty. A diocesan priest does not have a vow of poverty. He has debts as everyone else, be it education, car payment, bills for clothes, holidays, etc. He must budget his money carefully, as he is responsible for his expenses from his salary

A debt for one who has emitted the vow is a debt that the Community assumes. If a Religious becomes ill, for example, and requires prolonged hospitalisation beyond insurance coverage, the debt is not hers – she can no longer assume personal debt – the debt is that of the community. Communities typically require that a candidate enter debt free so that the community does not have to assume large debts by individuals which can overwhelm a modest community

I toured the home of a few Dominican Sisters recently and the difference in their schedule vs. the parish priests really struck me. They do not own cars, (there are about 7 sisters in the home and they share one car)

The Religious live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. They should have what is essential but not superfluous. A car is the property of the Community…not of any one Religious. It can happen that multiple cars are needed simply because of the variety of apostolates and schedules, etc

They teach at the parish school, but do not get to keep what they individually earn as the money all goes into the community and then divided from there. They also have a very regimented prayer schedule that they must adhere to

Both of these elements are fundamental to Religious Life. If you take a vow of poverty, then you give the proceeds of any work to your Community. The Community is then committed to providing you with the necessities of life…which at times can exceed what is possible to a diocesan priest who has to live on the stipend we receive. We do not take a vow of poverty…but many live the virtue because of the financial reality

I know this seems like a really silly, immature understanding of the beauty that is religious life. The sisters that I’ve encountered are such full of life and joy and I am not AT ALL suggesting that their calling is not equal to the same amount of respect. I am after all, discerning my own calling!

I’m only wondering why the huge difference between the two. It just seems that because priests are responsible for the distribution of the sacraments, their formation is given more attention than those of women discerning the religious life. Why don’t sisters get the same education? Why can’t they own cars? Isn’t their sacrifice and service to the Church just as important? If a priest’s purpose is the distribution of the sacraments, what is the purpose of religious sisters and why does the Church need them? It seems like parish priests are able to enjoy more freedom in a sense when compared to religious sisters

My education was geared toward the work I did as a priest…relative to parishes of my diocese, the specific needs of my bishop and of our chancery, my eventual work in formation and the resulting fact that I was chosen to teach at a certain level in the academy. It was the choice of my bishops with some consultation in my regard

The same is true for Religious. I’ve worked with women Religious who held one or more doctorates. Or who had graduate degrees in any number of fields. I’ve worked with women Religious who were scientists, physicians, and lawyers. They had educations I would never imagine…but geared toward the mission and needs of the Community to which they belonged

You have to weigh the different possibilities of consecrated life – whether as a member of a Religious Order, a Congregation, a secular institute or so forth. They have varying missions and one should choose carefully. If one does not want to work in healthcare, for example, one should not choose a Congregation whose mission is the care of the aged and infirm


#7

Can’t say much that Don Ruggero and Della haven’t already stated.

The only thing I will add, is that I know of a few convents of Religious sisters where there is a car for all the sisters in the convent except for 1 or 2. Reason: all the sisters (except 1 or 2) work in different places. Several work at different parishes and even teach college courses.

A Nun is not equal to a priest. The nun is similar to a monk. And a religious sister is similar to a religious brother. Not all monks and religious brothers are priests.

There is a reason by Diocesan Priests are often called “Secular Priests.”

In my diocese, a Diocesan Priest (assuming he goes to the seminary straight from high school) will earn a Bachelor’s in Philosophy, a Master’s in Divinity, & a Master’s in Theology.

I know religious sisters who have the same master’s degrees as the diocesan priests, except they have a Bachelor’s in Theology instead of Philosophy. I also know of religious sisters who have doctorates (Ph.D. or S.T.D) in Theology.

I even know of a religious sisters who is the CEO of a non-profit and has a salary just under $200,000. But since she’s a religious sister, she gives that money to her order.

It’s really no different than back in the 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s when every member of the family (when living under the same roof) pitched in their earning from work to support the home & family.

As Father Ruggero mentioned, it all depends on what the religious sister is going to do. If she’s going to teach elementary school, she needs education to support that. If she’s going to be a college professor, she’s going to need a Doctorate to support that. If she’s going to run a hospital, she’ going to need business schooling.

But if a cloistered nun is going to spend her entire day praying and doing chores around the convent, then she’s most likely not going to need a graduate level education. Just like a Carmelite Monk or Carmelite Hermit most likely isn’t going to need a graduate level education either.

I suggest you read the vocations page of these cloistered Carmelites monks so you can see a difference: carmelitemonks.org/Vocation.php


#8

This is the Lady Abbess of a Benedictine Abbey of nuns. With her crozier, her pectoral cross, and her ring, as well as her abbatial throne that is not seen, this image quite well and quite capably expresses the great dignity that is hers.


#9

I could be wrong, of course. :tiphat: But it seemed to me that the OP had the impression that priests have all the privileges and don’t have to give up as much as religious sisters do, since the OP thought that religious sisters aren’t allowed the same educational advantages.

But, priests sacrifice a great deal for their vocation, and so do religious sisters. Merely because their vocations differ, and the fact that not all religious sisters go through the same kind of college and vocational training as a priest, doesn’t mean they’ve been deprived of having an education. I got the distinct impression the OP saw it that way and so I wanted to assure the OP that priests may pay a very dear price for all that education and training. As Our Lord said, “To whom much is given, much is required.” :slight_smile:


#10

wow… I didn’t know an Abbess have crozier. Is that common among the different orders, or just among Benedictines? And what about Benedictine communities that have elected Prioress instead of Abbess?


#11

A Prioress cannot use pontificalia just as a Prior cannot…they are reserved to those who have been elevated to the abbatial dignity by the conferral of the Blessing that is imparted by a prelate to an Abbot or an Abbess.

A Cistercian or Trappistine Abbess can use what is proper to an Abbess but, in my experience, they typically employ more simple, discreet and ausere items, rather as their male counterparts, the Trappist Abbots tend. Here is a photo involving the solemn profession of a Trappistine nun. Mother Abbess is to the right of the newly professed while an Abbot is to the newly professed’s left. The pectoral cross as well as the abbatial ring are visible on the Abbess…only the pectoral cross is visible on the Abbot because of how he has his hands folded.

Abbesses tend to be limited to Benedictines, Cistercians, Trappistine, Poor Clares and a few other of the ancient Orders, also notably of canonesses. Dominicans and Carmelites and similar orders of nuns have Prioresses instead. Congregations of Sisters – as opposed to Orders of Nuns – do not have Abbesses.


closed #12

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