What's the difference between "Brother" & "Father" and "Sister" and "Mother"?


#1

Hi!

Sometimes, I hear priests introduce themselves as "Brother Peter" or "Father Peter".

What's the difference between "Brother" and "Father" if they're both priests? Does it have something to do with the order they belong to? Or do they just prefer "Brother" instead of "Father" or vice versa?

Some sisters and nuns introduce themselves as "Sister Isabelle" or "Mother Isabelle".

What's the difference between "Sister" and "Mother"? Does this also have something to do with the order they belong to? Does "Mother" mean like Mother Superior?

Thanks!
7discerning7


#2

With priests it is definitely related to the religious institute to which they belong. Diocesan priests would never introduce themselves as ‘Brother’ but a Franciscan priest would.

I have to admit that I have never understood the difference with religious sisters. We called the “Filles de Jésus” sisters who taught us in school ‘Mother’ but those from the same congregation who were nurses were called ‘Sister’ and the FdJs I’ve known in recent years were ‘Sister’ regardless of what they did for work. The Mercy Sisters I’ve known in recent years are called ‘Sister’ regardless of their work. I never hear anyone but the Mother Superior referred to as ‘Mother’ today.

I’ve never really figured out if it was their profession that dictated what we called some of the Filles de Jésus of my childhood ‘Sister’ and some ‘Mother’. I’m aware that in Britain nurses become ‘Sisters’ at a certain level but it seems unlikely that we were using a British nursing term for members of a French congregation in a Canadian hospital.


#3

British Nurses are called Sister when they’re in charge of the ward, like a ward manger, a Matron (the next step up) is when a woman (or man now - Modern Matron’s) oversee a group of wards.


#4

“Brother” may also refer to a monk rather than a priest. “Mother” may refer to Mother Superior, the head of the order of nuns. This article might help.


#5

My understanding is that brother is used for monks and male nuns. I attended a Catholic school run by brothers and they were always very strict in pointing out that brothers are not priests. The brothers at my school were male nuns and couldn’t confess or give mass. In other orders, the term brother seems to be used for monks.


#6

[quote="marymary1975, post:5, topic:344105"]
My understanding is that brother is used for monks and male nuns. I attended a Catholic school run by brothers and they were always very strict in pointing out that brothers are not priests. The brothers at my school were male nuns and couldn't confess or give mass. In other orders, the term brother seems to be used for monks.

[/quote]

The term "male nun" is not valid. Nuns are women by definition, monks are the male equivalent and male by definition. It's like saying a rooster is a male hen.


#7

[quote="seagal, post:6, topic:344105"]
The term "male nun" is not valid. Nuns are women by definition, monks are the male equivalent and male by definition. It's like saying a rooster is a male hen.

[/quote]

These brothers were not monks either, that is why the term I thought was nun as their order does not really have a.monastic life. Many people thought they were monks but they weren't monks either, they are less than monks. I guess then they would be men with consecrated lifes??? Or lay teachers with vows of poverty and chastity?


#8

The term “Father” is reserved for ordained priests, normally. “Brother” is the normal form of address to a consecrated religious not ordained, for a man usually dedicated to a life of prayer, teaching, medicine, or evangelizing as a member of a religious order. Of course, we affectionately call one another Brother or Sister as members of Christ’s mystical body. “Mother” refers to the Prioress/head of a convent, and “Sister” to those under her supervision.


#9

Just one additional point. There are some religious orders of women where all those in final vows were traditionally called "Mother." This was true, for example, of all choir nuns among the Religious of the Sacred Heart. It no longer is--they are now called "Sister," but it was before Vatican II. In some countries, "Mother" is used for more than superiors. And in some places, it is used for local superiors, and not just the heads of congregations.

If someone is using a title that you are not familiar with, it is always acceptable to ask, politely, what it means.


#10

The brother / father confusion isn't just limited to monastics but also applies to Franciscans and a number of other orders. Members of a number of religious orders are initially professed as brothers and some later go on to be ordained. I think useage of the title "brother" instead of or in preference to father can depend on the make up of the order (whether it has more brothers than priests) and also on an order particular charisms or characteristics - so for example, St Francis of Assisi was never ordained (in fact if memory serves he refused to be ordained on the grounds of unworthiness).


#11

Wow!
Thanks for all your replies!

So in summary, "Mother" is normally used for the superior and "Sister" is used for the nuns under Mother Superior, right?
And "Father" and "Brother" are both used for priests, depending on their order and "Brother" is also used for seminarians, right?

Please correct me if I am wrong.


#12

Likely a seminarian would not expect to be called “brother.” It’s a term usually applied to someone who has either been ordained as a deacon or taken vows in a religious order.


#13

[quote="George14, post:12, topic:344105"]
Likely a seminarian would not expect to be called "brother." It's a term usually applied to someone who has either been ordained as a deacon or taken vows in a religious order.

[/quote]

Oohhhh....I see. Thanks!


#14

[quote="marymary1975, post:7, topic:344105"]
These brothers were not monks either, that is why the term I thought was nun as their order does not really have a.monastic life. Many people thought they were monks but they weren't monks either, they are less than monks. I guess then they would be men with consecrated lifes??? Or lay teachers with vows of poverty and chastity?

[/quote]

It would seem as though you are talking about friars.

All nuns are female. Indeed, some Eastern Churches call nuns "female monks" because they haven't any other word for them. But in English, all nuns are female.

Friars comes from the French word for Brothers. They basically originated as monks who left their life of prayer in the monasteries to live prayer in the form of serving others in the world. They are in no way less than monks although these days some people think of them as being more connected with the world than monks who never leave their monasteries are.


#15

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