A lot of life choices require a great deal of thought and preparation, but few need as much contemplation as when a person is considering a religious vocation. More of a calling than a career, becoming a nun is a multi-year process, followed by a lifetime of dedication to the service of the church and its people.
Nuns are not only found in the Roman Catholic church. There are Buddhist nuns, as well as nuns in other faith traditions. However, for the purposes of this article, we are going to focus mainly on Catholic nuns.
Nuns lead a completely religious life. Although nuns are referred to as "sisters" when they are spoken to or about, Catholic religious sisters are different from Catholic nuns.
Nuns live cloistered in monasteries and convents, take "solemn" vows, and are mainly engaged in a life of prayer (see, for example, the Carmelite Monastery of Baltimore). Sisters, on the other hand, take "simple" vows and live in the world, typically engaging in church-based ministries (see, for example, the Daughters of St. Paul, who are involved in media and social justice issues).
Both are consecrated to God, which means that their lives are completely devoted to him, his service and the Holy Spirit. Both groups of women take perpetual vows to live lives of poverty, chastity and obedience, although sisters can retain ownership of properties or accounts; they just can't profit from them or use them [sources: A Nun's Life, Catholic Diocese of Arlington].
If you're a woman wondering how to become a nun, know there are a few very important requirements before starting on the road to religious life [source: A Nun's Life]:
- Catholic nuns must be members of the Catholic faith. If you aren't Catholic, you'll need to convert, which is its own process entirely. If you don't want to convert to Catholicism, you may want to look into groups such as the Benedictine Women of Madison, which welcomes single women of any Christian denomination to live in a religious community as sisters.
- Nuns must be single, but they do not need to be virgins. If a woman was previously married, she must obtain an annulment through the church, unless she was widowed.
- Nuns can't have any dependent children. Grown-up kids are just fine, but not young ones.
- Psychological and physical health are very important. This does not automatically disqualify people with managed illnesses or disabilities, however.
- You should be between the ages of 18 and 40. However, some orders will accept women above that age bracket.
- Most religious communities encourage their applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree, preferably from a religious college.
- Debts must be paid off before entering the novitiate portion of the process. This is usually one or two years into becoming a nun. The church provides counsel on how to eliminate debts, such as student loans.
Becoming a nun involves an intense training period, as well as lots of personal sacrifice. You must take a deep look inside yourself to know if you're cut out to be a nun. If you feel a strong calling to do this and would like to learn how to become a nun, then keep on reading.