Becoming a Catholic nun is a lengthy process that requires both a “calling” to serve God, and also much time to consider one’s choice. There are numerous orders of nuns, each with different missions. Those who do not work in the outside world are more traditionally called a nun, while those who work outside of the convent, and are not cloistered are called a sister.
Since there are numerous orders, one should choose one that best fits with one’s ideals about how to serve God. Some women wish to be a nun to retire from the public arena and to serve God in a contemplative way. Other women wish to be active in the world. Some of the best known nuns are those with an extraordinary activist stance, like the deceased Mother Theresa, or Sister Helen Prejean who is a tireless advocate for abolishing the death penalty.
Some nuns work as educators in Catholic schools, or a nun might also work as a nurse in a Catholic hospital. Almost all nuns take a vow of poverty, so any earnings go toward maintaining a convent or supporting the mission of the order.
To become a nun, one must be Catholic, female, unmarried, and sane. Women who are not virgins can become a nun. Women who have been previously married and are divorced may not generally become a nun unless they have received a divorce or annulment from the Catholic Church. They must prove that the marriage was somehow invalid or contracted under false pretenses in order for an annulment to be granted.
A widowed woman may become a nun. Generally a nun must have raised any children under eighteen prior to taking vows, since these vows would supersede the care of her own children.
Some nuns are religious scholars, and for some orders it may be necessary to have a college education prior to joining an order. Especially if the order is either one that provides education to children or hospital nursing, one may need to train in these areas. Some nuns work as psychologists or doctors too, but an order that includes such a nun seldom requires all the others nuns to do the same.
Women who are interested in becoming a nun are encouraged to evaluate the different orders and to try living in a convent for some time while working in the outside world. Often living in a convent can help a woman decide whether serving God as a nun is really her chosen path. Women who choose not to be nuns are certainly not shamed for their decision. Most orders welcome people who take a while to make such a life-altering commitment.
When a woman decides after contemplation to pursue sisterhood, she may spend one to two years in a convent as a novice. After fulfilling her term as a novice, the woman can then take temporary vows of chastity and poverty. Final and permanent vows and full inclusion in the convent is made at the termination of the temporary vows. Any woman can leave the pursuit of sisterhood at any time. After permanent vows are made, leaving is frowned upon as akin to divorce.
While becoming a nun is still fulfilling to some, it is not as popular a vocation that it once was. Rising feminist concerns regarding the church often make some women feel that they are called to serve God in a priestly capacity. This is not allowed by the Catholic Church, and some women are not happy serving God in what they term a lesser and discriminatory post. This is not true of all nuns, or all who consider sisterhood. For many who choose to accept the calling, being a nun is a spiritually rewarding occupation, yet for some, it poses a barrier representing the vestiges of heretical discrimination against women.