Steps on the journey

There are many steps between discernment and final vows to becoming a “woman religious,” the collective term for a Catholic nun or sister. Initially, you must meet specific eligibility requirements. You must be:

  • Catholic
  • single or widowed, not divorced
  • have no dependent children or financial debts
  • psychologically and physically healthy


Then, you are encouraged to:

  • Get an education. Most religious orders and communities require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in order to prepare them for the particular work or service they will be doing – for example, as a teacher, nurse or counselor. Professional training in these areas can also be helpful.
  • Find a religious order or community whose charism, or mission, speaks to you. There are different types of women religious called to do various work in all sorts of settings – depending on whether they are a cloistered (nuns) or apostolic (sisters) community. Each religious order or community has its own rules and requirements to guide their work and communal life. Check out these resources for more information.
Once you identify a specific religious order or community that you are interested in, contact their vocation director and consider attending “come and see” days where you meet the other members, experience community life and prayer with them, and further explore their charism.
If you are accepted, you will:
  1. Complete required training and spiritual formation. This period is designed to help you discern whether a religious vocation and the particular order or community are right for you. The various initial stages of spiritual formation are: inquirer, affiliate, postulant and novice. This training period can take months or years.
  2. Once you are certain of your decision, you’ll be permitted to take initial (also called temporary) vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. This stage of formation can continue for months to years.
  3. Take final (permanent) vows. After fulfilling temporary vows, you’ll take final vows that confirm your vocation and commitment to your religious order or community.
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