Nun Sense: Women in the Catholic Church
A habited woman speaks.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

LOPEZ: They were, by the way, referred to as “nuns.” That’s not technically correct, is it? You’re a Religious Sister of Mercy in full habit, but you are not a “nun,” are you?

SISTER PRUDENCE: You are right that it is wrong to refer to the Network religious sisters as “nuns.” The official meaning of “nun” is a religious woman who makes solemn vows and who lives in an enclosed convent, referred to as a papal cloister. None of the signers of the letter written by the Network religious sisters has made solemn vows or lives in an enclosed convent. Therefore, they are not properly called nuns.

Those of us who make simple vows, who live in a convent with an area that is established as an enclosure, and who engage in apostolic work outside of the convent are properly called “sisters.” As a Religious Sister of Mercy in full habit, I am a “sister,” since I was received into the religious institute, have made simple vows, and live in a convent with an enclosure within it.

LOPEZ: Why should that matter at all to the world?

SISTER PRUDENCE: To answer your question about “why it should matter,” we need to consider the deeper question of the relation of truth to language and the relation of reality to the human mind. According to a realistic philosophy, truth is the union of the mind with reality. There are two complementary pathways to the truth: reason and faith, which correspond to philosophy and theology.

For a Christian, language matters a lot. In Genesis 1:1-3, we learn that before God spoke and there was life, the earth was “without form and void.” From John 1:1, 1:4, and 1:14, we learn that the Eternal Word was with God and was God from the beginning, and that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Jesus Christ, this Eternal Word made flesh, leads us to the Truth; He told us that He is the Truth. So, by faith, we believe that Truth and reality are important and that we are created with intelligent minds able to grasp truths.

We do this by apprehending different forms capable of being grasped. However, if reality is simply a void and is without form, truth is not possible for us to know or to live by.

Language is at the heart of Catholic philosophy. In the United States, where pragmatic theories of truth and postmodern approaches to knowledge abound, the relation between truth and reality is undermined. All becomes superficial, and imagination replaces the union of human mind to reality. So the answer to “Why should it matter at all to the world” is embedded in the deeper question of whether a person cares about truth or not, and how much he or she cares.


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