Nuns or Sisters?

Nuns and sisters? Are they the same?

Many would say there is no difference.

There is actually a big difference and St. Vincent de Paul is responsible for setting in motion the difference.

Prior to his time, the only ministry that was open to women was a ministry of prayer behind cloister walls. Vincent recognized the tremendous potential of women for a far greater range of ministries. He actively enlisted women  “confraternities” who wished to serve the physical and spiritual needs of the poor.

After about 10 years he realized that many of these women wanted to dedicate their lives so such service. They wished to formalize this commitment by vows. The problem was that the only vows recognized by the Church were the vows of “religious” nuns. By law, they lived out their lives in a cloister.

With his peasant ingenuity, he discovered a way for these women to care for the physical and spiritual needs outside of a convent. Instead of taking formal religious vows, he stressed that they take simple private vows and only for one year at a time. This exempted them from the requirement of life in a monastery. These women were called “Daughters of Charity.” They regarded themselves as “Sisters” rather than “religious.”

This is the background for his teaching: “The Daughters of Charity have… for a convent, the houses of the sick; for cell, a rented room; for chapel, the parish church; for cloister, the streets of the city; for enclosure, obedience; for grille, the fear of God; and for veil, holy modesty.”

Working as a young group of Sisters, the newly formed Daughters of Charity set up soup kitchens, organized community hospitals, established schools and homes for orphaned children, offered job training, taught the young to read and write, and improved prison conditions.

The rest is, as they say, history… but what a history!

So in Church law, there is quite a difference. They are covered by entirely distinct sections of church law.

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date with how we are living up to the mission of St. Vincent de Paul, and how you can help.