A candidate is someone in the early steps of discerning a religious vocation. In some communities, candidate refers specifically to the first period after an individual has formally ‘entered’ the religious community. That phase of preparation would then be called the postulancy.


A gift of ministry and services given by God to an individual for the benefit of the Christian community.


To prayerfully sift through information, often with the assistance of others, in coming to a major decision.


At one time, the church required a person who entered a religious community to bring an amount of money that would be kept by the community and made available to her should she leave. This was called a dowry. At her death, the dowry became the property of the community. This is no longer required by the Church.

Final Vows

Profession of final vows means making a permanent commitment within the religious community.

Laity and Clergy

Within the Church there are two groups of people: those who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders and are called clerics, and all others, who are called laypeople. Sisters and brothers are laypeople.


Novice means new or beginner. Following the period of postulancy or candidacy, the candidate is received as a novice and becomes a formal member of the community, though without vows. This period of one to two years is a special time of plunging deeply into:

  • one’s own spiritual growth
  • one’s understanding and practice of the spirituality of the community
  • the vows
  • continued discernment of one’s life calling

This phase of preparation is called the novitiate.


A postulant “requests” to be admitted to a religious community; postulancy is the first stage of religious life before one becomes a novice.


Since all the baptized share a common relationship with God, all are called to be “religious,” or holy in the broad sense of the word.

Some men and women, however, choose to live a particular lifestyle called religious life. These people join a community of people that follows a specific tradition or spirituality patterned after the life and teaching of that community’s founder or foundress.

Many religious profess vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. Prayer and work are part of the tradition of all communities, but are accented differently so that some communities are primarily contemplative while others are more active.


A sister is a woman who is a member of a particular religious community, lives the vows, and is involved in serving others.

Temporary (First) Vows

Women in temporary vows spend three to six years living in community under temporary vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and sharing in full-time ministry.

Vatican II

Vatican II is the landmark Roman Catholic Ecumenical Council held in St. Peter’s Basilica from 1962 to 1965.


Vocation stems from the Latin verb vocare, which means to call. Thus a vocation is a calling or way of life to which one is called.

Our most basic vocation is to be a Christian person. Within that primary vocation are life vocations to a particular way of life, such as marriage, religious life, single life.  And within those vocations are smaller callings or vocations to a particular occupation, for example, nurse, educator, artist, farmer, homemaker, biologist, carpenter, etc.

Vocation Director

One who assists persons considering religious life as a vocation, through dialogue, retreats, acquainting the individual with one or more religious communities, collaborating with others in vocation and formation ministry, etc.


A vow is a solemn promise made to God. Religious vows are made as members of a particular religious community, which specifies how the vows will be carried out in everyday life.

Used with permission of St. Anthony Messenger Press.