Religious Life

Blessed Pope John Paul II tells us that “A religious vocation is a gift, freely given and received.  It is a profound expression of the love of God for you, and, on your part, it requires in turn a total love for Christ.  The whole life of a religious is aimed at strengthening the bond of love which was first forged in the Sacrament of Baptism.  You are called to do this in religious consecration through the profession of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience.”

Religious life began in the East in the first centuries of Christianity.  It differs from other types of consecrated life by “its liturgical character, public profession of the evangelical counsels, fraternal life led in common, and witness given to the union of Christ with the Church.  There are many types of religious vocations, ranging from those specific to men, or women, or both.


This is a vocation specifically for women.  There are Catholic nuns, who are cloistered or semi-cloistered (i.e. a contemplative or contemplative-active order) who take solemn vows.  Catholic sisters are fully active or contemplative-active and make simple vows.  Nuns and sisters still all go by the title of “Sister.”  The difference between solemn and simple vows is explained in the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law where it says that “The chief juridical difference between the two is that religious who profess a solemn vow of poverty renounce ownership of all their temporal goods, whereas religious who profess a simple vow of poverty have a right to retain ownership of their patrimony (an estate, endowment or anything inherited from one’s parents or ancestors) but must give up its use and any revenue.”


Monks, brothers, and friars are all different names for men living in a religious community in a monastery.  They make simple vows until the time that they make solemn vows and may be a Priest, deacon, or a brother who is not ordained.  The non-ordained are called a brother, monk, or friar depending on their location.


This vocation can be for either men or women.  Hermits/Hermitesses are religious who live in solitude, sometimes leaving their community to do so.  Some hermits live with a community of hermits.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “Without always professing the three evangelical counsels publicly, hermits “devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance.”

Secular Institutes

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says regarding secular institutes that they are “an institute of consecrated life in which the Christian faithful living in the world strive for the perfection of charity and work for the sanctification of the world especially from within . . . They commit themselves to the evangelical counsels by sacred bonds and observe among themselves the communion and fellowship appropriate to their ‘particular secular way of life’.”  Third orders, which are an example of a secular institute, are great for those who are single and for those who are married, and for both men and women.  Most secular institutes prefer aspirants to enter once high school is completed, however some may allow people to join during their high school years.  If you are interested in joining a secular institute, visit our GPS page for more information on where you can start looking.

Societies of Apostolic Life

These can be for either men or women.  Unlike other religious orders, men or women in these communities do not take vows.  The Catechism says regarding secular institutes that these “societies of apostolic life whose members without religious vows pursue the particular apostolic purpose of their society, and lead a life as brothers or sisters in common according to a particular manner of life, strive for the perfection of charity through the observance of the constitutions.  Among these there are societies in which the members embrace the evangelical counsels according to their constitutions.”

Resources and Links

  1. “.secular institutes …societies of apostolic life whose members without religious vows pursue the particular apostolic purpose of their society, and lead a life as brothers or sisters in common according to a particular manner of life…”
    You have conflated the definition of Societies of Apostolic Life and that of Secular Institutes; secular institutes specifically do not have as their charism a life in common, and they do take vows – minimally the vow of celibate chastity. The church defines them as two different ways.

    • Thanks Mari Pari for taking the time to visit our page, and for sharing your feedback on this section of our page. I am excited to say that there will be some updates made to the vocations pages soon, within the next month. I hope that you had a blessed Easter, and that the Lord would lead you closer to Him this year. Thanks again for reaching out to us.

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