What is the difference between a religious sister and a nun?


Hey everyone. I have never been able to figure this out: what is the difference between a religious sister and a nun?

Moderators, please feel free to move this if it needs to be moved. I wasn’t sure if this was the correct forum or not since its for vocations but I wasn’t sure what other forum it would belong in.


In general terms you could say that a "sister" is a consecrated religious woman who works in some sort of active apostolate while a "nun" is a consecrated religious woman who is a contemplative and lives a life in the cloister and of prayer. A nun professes solemn vows, while a sister professes simple vows. This gets confusing because both are often referred to by the title of "sister".

Here are some examples:
Nuns: op.org/en/content/nuns
Sisters: op.org/en/content/apostolic-sisters

Here is a good breakdown of the differences:

I hope that helps.



Nuns are those who are cloistered. The term religious sisters includes all women religious, active and cloistered.

In other words, nuns are sisters, but not all sisters are nuns.


I was never clear on the distiction between the two terms for a very long time.
"Nuns" was a term that even the "sisters" who taught us in school called THEMSELVES many times...probably because it was just easier and children wouldn't have understood the real difference anyway.
Back in the day, a woman wearing a traditional "habit" was called a "nun" by the general public and a lot of Catholic's as well. Lord knows there was enough "mystery" surrounding them back then !


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