Difference between a Nun and a Sister

By: | Updated: Dec-3, 2017
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Although a nun and a sister are both members of a religious community, they fulfill their vocations in different ways. This article provides the differences between the two.

Summary Table

Nun Sister
Bound by solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience Bound by temporary, simple vows
Isolated inside a monastery or a convent Free to leave the convent and participate in charitable activities
Renounced her right to inherit or retain any property Allowed to inherit or retain property
Performs monastic work Performs apostolic work
Prohibited to accept visitors outside the monastery or convent Allowed to accept visitors outside the monastery or convent


Nuns inside a convent
Nuns inside a convent

A nun lives under solemn vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. As female members of a religious community, nuns devote their life to serving other people. Their vow includes living a life isolated from the outside world. They spend their days contemplating and praying inside either a monastery or a convent.

Monasteries for nuns are granted a “papal enclosure,” which strictly separates nuns from the affairs of the external world. As “monastics,” a nun’s days are dedicated to meditating and praying for the salvation of others.

sister feeding children
A sister feeding children in a community

A sister, on the other hand, actively serves the poor, the needy and the ill. As members of a religious group, sisters profess simple vows and live their lives serving others. Aside from providing active services, they also pray and contemplate for others as they complete their ministry outside a monastery or a convent.

Sisters are “active” or “apostolic” because they are allowed to engage in charitable work, also known as works of mercy. Additionally, they also spread the word of the gospel in different parts of the world. They can supervise schools, run errands for the monastery, or participate in normal, day-to-day activities.

Nun vs Sister

So what’s the difference between a nun and a sister?

Firstly, nuns are bound by solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, while sisters are bound by temporary, simple vows.

Since nuns vow to live a cloistered and contemplative life, they are isolated inside a monastery or convent. Sisters, on the other hand, are free to leave the convent and to participate in active, charitable work.

The vows professed by nuns and sisters greatly impact their right to inherit property. By taking a solemn vow, nuns renounce their right to inherit or retain any property. Sisters, by contrast, are still allowed to inherit or retain property.

Additionally, nuns are monastics while sisters are apostolic. Nuns vow to spend their time meditating and praying inside a monastery or a convent, while sisters spread the word of the gospel within their designated areas.

Finally, monasteries of nuns are enclosed by papal enclosure, which prohibits anybody from the outside world to enter unless in exceptional circumstances. On the contrary, sisters can interact freely with the outside world and are not prohibited from accepting visitors from the outside world.

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