Are all sisters nuns?

Last evening, I travel to Louisville, Kentucky to address the parish religious education program of Saint Athanasius youth, grades 4-8 on vocations.  I shared the stage with Friar Paul from Mount Saint Francis.  The plan was to address vocations from the aspect of our baptismal call and share our vocation story which we did.  After both Friar Paul and I exhausted our agenda, we hosted questions.   Now, those of you who know me well, know that for many years, I have tried to clarify that I am not a nun but a sister.  The parish staffs where I have ministered, the children and youth I have taught, and my family know this for sure.   However, I did not bring up the question last night.  Friar Paul clarified, that monks and nuns are cloistered and brother, friars and sisters are not. Which stirred their interest immediately.  What is the difference between a nun and a sister?  I was ready for that question.

Both nuns and sisters are women religious and have responded to the call of consecrated life. Both use the title Sister, and both profess vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  However, there are differences.

Nuns belong to religious orders and live in monasteries.  Sisters belong to congregations.  When sisters live in community, they live in convents. Nuns take solemn vows of poverty, meaning they cannot acquire property. sisters take simple vows of poverty, meaning they can acquire property but not use it for their own purposes.

Nuns usually live in monasteries, and their primary work is prayer.  If they do another type of work, it does not usually involve leaving the monastery.  Orders of nuns incude the Passionists Nuns, the Poor Clare Nuns, Benedictian Nuns and the Redemptoristine Nuns.

Sisters are usually apostolic, dedicating their lives to professions such as teaching, nursing, or missionary works.  They are not bound to work or live only in the place they reside.  Orders of sisters include Ursuline Sisters, Charity Sisters, Franciscan Sisters, School Sisters of Notre Dame and Sisters of Mercy.
Both sisters and nuns do important work in our church. Whether in cloistered monasteries or in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, homeless shelters, mission lands, or thousands of other places and work, both build up the reign of God.  Both have responded generously to the call of consecrated life.
Thus Ursuline Sisters are not nuns, although they have been know to say they are, they are canonically not nuns.  So, you were not taught by the Nuns, you were taught by the Sisters!  End of sermon, I mean lesson!

An interesting and proud moment from the evening was I was greeted warmly by Debbie Minton, director, who travel to Brescia, Italy with our own Ursuline Sister George Mary Hagan.   She was radiate as she spoke about seeing Saint Angela Merici and visiting  the home of Angela where she slept on the floor.  However, what most touched her heart she told the youth was that a woman in 1535 recognized that women and children did not have the opportunity to learn and Angela gather other women around her to address this great need.  At that moment, among many other times in sharing the face of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph as Director of Vocation Ministry, I was very proud to be a daughter of Angela Merici!


  1. Susan M

    We know you are not a nun and we better not say otherwise!!! I was glad to be informed of the difference. I'm sure others are too.

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