Deciding to Become a Nun: The Process

African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC)

Sisters join in prayer during a 2018 HESA workshop in Uganda.

If you have ever wondered about the process of becoming a nun, you are not alone. It turns out it takes a lot of commitment, dedication and time to prepare before taking one's final vows.

“What makes a sister decide to become a nun?”

This question has been in my mind since I’ve started working at ASEC. While there are many reasons to take the vows to become a woman religious, I have come to find that no two sisters quite have the same reason, but they all have a reason. Some sisters have very deep and personal reasons for taking their vows, and others explain it as if it was like deciding what kind of sandwich you want for lunch. (Maybe not quite that nonchalant… but you would be surprised!)

One ASEC sister has told a story that was very simple – she saw women religious dressed in all-white robes visiting her congregation when she was a young girl in Kenya. She said it was the way the women looked and carried themselves that made her want to be just like them – even the way they wiped their noses with a clean white handkerchief. 

Another sister explained that at age seven she randomly had an aha moment where she realized that she wanted to become a nun. Her mind never changed since then, and she has dedicated her life to the path of following her faith. 

There are sisters who saw opportunities for education through the Catholic Church that they would not have been exposed to otherwise. A few mention feeling there was a message they received from God or the Holy Spirit. Others have more unique paths to their vows – one sister who ultimately left the church went on to have a daughter who decided to become a sister on her own.

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Once a person decides they would like a consecrated life – set aside solely for God – there is a process they need to undergo in order to become a sister. This process can take 9 to 12 years, before which a nun would even take her vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. 

If interested, a woman would first start by becoming an Inquirer, where she would make initial contact with a church and start learning more about the process. If she decides to continue, she will become an Aspirant for 1-2 years, which is time set aside for spiritual and human formation. During this time she will learn discernment for her vocation. 

After the formation stages, the women would go onto become a Postulant for 1-2 years where she will learn a deeper understanding of the elements contemplative of secular life. She then becomes a Novice, where she will focus on the specific charism of her congregation as well as grow her relationship with Jesus. Studies of scripture and the writings of the church are usually an important focus during this stage. 

Women religious in Nigeria pray together during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Women religious in Nigeria pray together during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

When the Novice stage is complete, the woman will then become a Junior Sister for at least five years. She will take her first, or temporary, vows. In this time she will begin her adjustment to full life in the community as well as start to prepare for the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. She will gain a deeper understanding of her duties in living out the views and the word of God. 

When all of this learning and preparation is complete, it is time for the women to take their final vows and dedicate their lives to their faith. There is a formal ceremony to celebrate this final step in which a sister will profess her vows and obtain a simple silver ring that symbolizes being a bride of Christ.

After becoming a sister and taking her final vows, a women religious may then go on to undergo other specialization training or schooling. Her education will then assist her as she helps her congregation with their charisms and goals. 

For ASEC sisters, they take their education and use it to transform their communities. They share their education with others in order to create opportunities for growth as well as to obtain funding for safety and projects. 

Whether they are just starting the Inquirer phase or recently took their final vows, one thing is for sure – women religious never stop learning. 

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Monica Simon

Monica Simon
Former Web Content Manager - USA  

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