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Sisters vs. Nuns : What's the Difference?

The words "sister" and "nun" are often used interchangeably to describe women religious in the Catholic Church, but there are differences in the lifestyles, ministry and vows of these unique vocations.


Sisters: Live in a convent but minister and work in the world outside of their religious community. 

Nuns: Live, minister and pray within the enclosure of a monastery. 

Both Take Vows (Poverty, Chastity and Obedience)

Sisters: Simple Vows

  1. Taken publicly or privately
  2. Can be temporary or perpetual
  3. Permit ownership of property or estates but not their use or revenue


Nuns: Solemn Vows

  1. Taken publicly
  2. Perpetual, not temporary
  3. Must give up all worldly goods including estates, endowments and inheritances



Sisters: Live an active vocation of both prayer and service, taking the Gospel to and serving people where they are.

Nuns: Devoted to contemplative and cloistered life of meditation and prayer for the salvation of all. 

Source: Catholic Extension // Our Sunday Visitor