The job description calls for chastity, poverty and obedience, and apparently that's not everyone's cup of tea. In the past 30 years, the number of Catholic nuns in the United States has fallen by about 100,000. But if you're seeking spiritual commitment and the opportunity to provide service to the community, you might be one to boost the numbers.
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Be Catholic or convert to Catholicism. Talk to your priest about the steps involved.
Do not get married--or divorced. Married women can't become nuns, and the Church frowns on divorce. You may apply if you're a widow, though.
Get a college degree. Many religious communities like applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree before they take their vows. See 149 Decide Which College Is Right for You.
Find an order, or a religious community, that suits your beliefs and personality. For instance, do you want to be out in the community or do you prefer a cloistered life? (Technically, if you're out in the world you're a sister, and if you're cloistered you're a nun.) A priest or nun at your church usually can point you in the right direction, or check out ReligiousMinistries.com.
Look for an order whose work interests you. You'll find everything from beekeeping and winemaking to teaching and family counseling. Benedictine sisters, for instance, work in education and service ministries, whereas Cistercian nuns are devoted to prayer and contemplation. You don't need to be quiet and passive to be a nun--some are antiwar protesters and others lead the fight against AIDS in Third World countries.
Contact the vocation director at the community you choose. Spend some time there and ask plenty of questions.
Move in for a year or two while you're still studying or working outside if that's an option. This period of residency will give you a good feel for the everyday life of the order you're considering.
Go through the novitiate, or training period, which may last another year or two. You'll spend your time studying, praying and deciding whether you really want to become a nun.
Take temporary vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. Depending on the community, these vows may last from one to nine years.
Take your final vows. If you made good on your temporary vows, you're ready for the religious life.
Tips and warnings
- Many nuns don't receive compensation. Nuns who are doctors or social workers, for instance, are paid wages, which support the work of their religious community.
- Christianity isn't the only religion with nuns. Many Buddhist women take lifelong vows of simplicity and service.