Have you ever wondered about becoming a nun or priest? I have, as so many other Catholic children of my time did too.
Growing up in a Catholic home, and attending Catholic elementary school in the 1960s, exposed me to members of various religious institutes. Priests, nuns, and brothers in traditional, as well as more casual, attire were frequent guests. These cherished friends were some of my favorite teachers and role models.
Such familiarity with so many religious people prompted thoughts of me becoming a nun. I seriously considered following a vocation, but my desires to become a wife and mother were finally stronger.
American children today have fewer opportunities to meet and become acquainted with members of religious institutions. And because so many orders no longer wear a habit, they are less publicly identifiable. Young people are less aware of the work and lives these good people lead.
- Clergy are priests
- Religious non-clergy are either called brothers or sisters
- Nuns are women religious who belong to an institution and have taken solemn vows
- Friars are those belonging to a male mendicant order
The history of religious orders or congregations, now referred to as religious institutes, began in the East in the first centuries of Christianity. Groups were, and continue to be, founded with the Church’s approval, and members are consecrated to God by diocesan bishops.
In addition to professing vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, every religious institute is regulated by Church law and their particular religious Rule. They have a unique mission, or charism, including contemplative, enclosed, mendicant, and apostolic. For example, some are strictly isolated while others are dispersed in the secular world teaching, providing medical care, and supporting the Church by designing and making vestments and religious art.
Institutes are subdivided into monastic (monks and nuns who live and work in a monastery); mendicant (friars, clerics, or lay people living and praying together); canons regular (clerics and canonesses who sing the liturgy in choir and may run parish like apostolates); and clerics regular (priests).
Traditionally, male orders are referred to as “First Orders” while women are considered “Second Orders.” Some institutions also have “Third orders” which consist of members who live in the community and follow a rule or lay members who live independently and promise to live a pious life in association with them.
The best way to learn more about religious communities, and discern as to personally committing, is to meet with them. Members are eager to share their mission and assist you in selecting a vocation. Then pray! The Holy Spirit will guide you to your very best life.