The oldest order of Sisterhood


What is the oldest order of Roman Catholic nuns?



In the earliest days of the Church, there were the Orders of widows and virgins, respectively. There is a very early record of a house of Virgins.

Then the Order of Hermits.

St Pachomius of the Tabennsian desert had a vision of an angel telling him to group the hermits into houses. The saint put up a wall to keep the curious at bay. That was apparently the first recorded cloister. Women also followed this way of life.

Then St Augustine wrote advice that was pulled together into a rule. I suppose this could be considered the first community as we know such.

Wherever men were living the ascetic way of life, women’s monasteries popped up, too.

I’m sure someone out there knows better than I do.



They all look old to me nowadays. Orders normally have a life cycle of about 100 years before they drop in numbers to the point of irrelevancy. This is not because they failed, but quite often their job was done. Orders like the Dominicans with their emphasis on education, intellectual endeavour; sanctity and strong feminist ideals for the furtherance of women in the world are an example of a still vital and holy order that justifies its existence in every Diocese they commit their charism . The nursing orders never lose their value as can be seen by the success of the order set up by Mother Teresa. The Church would not survive without the sacrifice of holy women throughout history.


We have a community of the Sisters of Notre Dame in our town, fewer than 25 nuns now live there and they are all retired, most of them are in their 80s and 90s. However, they still work with the homeless, despite their advanced years.

One of the sisters said to me the other week, “our order is flourishing in other parts of the world.” Even when an order wanes in one country, it may well be waxing elsewhere. The sisters who are nearing the end of their lifetime of service have contributed through their prayer to those newer communities.

I think it’s lovely. And they are wonderful ladies, so elderly and yet still giving their time and effort.


Don’t know if they are the oldest order or not, but the Carmelites have got to be pretty close to it. They’ve been around for a very long time


The Carmelites as we know them didn’t exist until around the 12th century.

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The great Mendicant rising around the 13th century was a result of Our Lady calling to her sons on Earth, and requesting that they found religious communities for the sake of evangelization. The Servites were one, as were the Dominicans. The latter was a result of Our Lady asking her Son for an Order of Preachers who would spread His words across the Earth.

The Mercedarians and Trinitarians were founded to ransom Christians from the Moors, as well as preaching.

I don’t know which spiritual tradition we’re talking about, though. East or West? If East, then the Basilians are likely the oldest.



Great information thank you! I’ve had a deep devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, St. Joseph, and St. Francis DeSales my whole life. My husband did as well. I always thought I would become a Carmelite until I met him. More recently I’ve been thinking about third orders and the Salesians are interesting as well. But having kids so young I haven’t had much time to really even think deeply about any of it. One day when they are older and my life is less hectic I hope.


I know we are not the oldest, but our community is the oldest group of Third Order Regular Franciscan Women in continuous existence. We were founded in 1241, but it was only some years after that that the women became affiliated with the Franciscan movement.
I have an article related to this on our blog:


You’re in the Vincentian stage of a young family – leaving God for God. You still need to find an hour or so to spend time with God. Don’t forget to keep the kids on a schedule that includes the Angelus and Divine Mercy.

Theresa and deSales were both recommended by VatII for everyone to adapt. Profound humility before God and great sweetness toward neighbor (Salesian), along with the mystical development brought about through the use of the Carmelite writings.

If I recall correctly, you’re in KY. The Dominicans are in Louisville. The Carmelites closed their monastery and moved in with the Ursulines. There are other religious communities in the Bluegrass State, though.

There’s no problem with you developing your own Personal Prayer Rule, though.



Currently stationed at Ft. Campbell, yes. Grew up in the other side of the state. We’ve visited the sisters at Mount St. Joseph and the Dominicans in Nashville. We do pray a lot as a family and I do pray throughout the day. At this point in life though that’s as much as I’m able.


Please don’t forget St. Joan of Arc and the Military Martyrs.:slight_smile:



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