Why I wear the habit

A nun’s reflection on religious life

First established in Ireland in 1831 by venerable Catherine McAuley, the Sisters of Mercy centered their work on education, catechesis, healthcare. In addition to the three vows taken by all religious sisters, the Sisters of Mercy take a fourth vow of service to the poor, sick, and ignorant. (photo from cmswr.org)

As Pope Francis’s year dedicated to consecrated life concluded at the start of 2016, one nun shared her thoughts on how her religious garb serves as a “visible sign” that God exists and loves every person.

Though the official Year for Consecrated Life concluded earlier this year, it’s actually “the beginning of helping people get reacquainted with religious life,” said Sister Mary Christa of the Sisters of Mercy of Alma.

She said that while there are those who have a general idea about religious sisters, there’s still a degree of uncertainty on the part of many about what religious life looks like.

Right now, Mary Christa added, there’s “confusion” – over questions such as why some sisters wear habits and some don’t – and her hope is that this year marks the start of “a fruitful understanding of religious life in the Church in its most authentic, visible witness.”

The Year for Consecrated Life, which began November 30, 2014, concluded February 2, 2016 on the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus.

Mary Christa, who also runs the U.S. bishops’ visitor’s office in Rome with several other Sisters of Mercy, called the habit of a religious sister an important part of being a witness.

“The religious habit should say a number of things, both to the sister herself, and to those who see her,” she said, recounting how she is often approached by strangers asking for prayers, who automatically trust her on account of her appearance.

“The habit is a visible sign of the love of God,” she said. “But it’s also, I have found, a great responsibility and a reminder to me: the responsibility to be what I show that I am.”

“It’s a sign of the love of God and that this life is not all there is: that God exists and loves them,” she said.

Full story at Crux.


  1. Linda Maria says:

    Very nice– but I recall the days long before Vatican II, when the Sisters of Mercy were very inspiring, authentically-Catholic nuns, in their lovely, traditional habits! These new, modern habits, look very strange! Mercy Center in Burlingame, is a big worry, because they are so anti-Catholic, “hippie-leftist,” and immoral (they also support LGBT agendas, and gay “marriage,” for example). Totally useless, for good, devout Catholics of our Archdiocese! And Mercy High School, likewise (in San Francisco) is a cesspool of anti-Catholic rebellion and sin!!

    • Linda Maria … The current habits shown in the picture serve to identify the Sisters and look very functional. Keep in mind some Sisters work in Ministries such as nursing or in “every clime and place” where some of the traditional habits, or habits at all, just wouldn’t be practical. The important thing to keep in mind about our nuns is not what they wear, but the good things they do.

      • Linda Maria says:

        C&H, you are right– except, the original Sisters of Mercy were quite inspiring! Also, it seems, that traditional nuns of pre-Vatican II, all had their distinctive habits, yet had their own adaptations, too, depending on what they might be doing. And oh, boy– watch a nursing nun, quietly bustling around the hospital, in her long habit, clear to the floor– or a teaching nun, on the Catholic school playground, clad in a floor-length habit, running around, helping the kids with a game! Of course, in each case, a nun sometimes had to make some adjustments, and improvisations! But anyway– these nuns were once so well-respected, and inspiring!

  2. I remember a Dominican sister telling me that she would return to the habit, a middle-ages costume, when other women on the street started wearing them. It was at the start, simply the clothes that most women wore. I do, however, believe that the Sisters would be more effective in their great work if the did something as simple as wear a veil, similar to the ones in the picture. Every time I have seen a Sister with a veil, she just seemed to get more respect that those without. That may just be an idle observation, but I think it is true. It is just a simple way to indicate that a consecrated woman walks among us, similar to Priests wearing the collar. Most nuns, I think wear the habit from my observation.

    • Linda Maria says:

      Well, Bob One, a real nun, consecrated as the Bride of Christ, is proud to invite you to her big Mass in which she takes her vows (her first vows, or final vows) along with others– and she will be proud to explain to you, the significance of taking the habit– a very blessed religious object!– of her religious order! She is looked up to by all, as “Sister,” and she is there to help us, to teach us, to inspire us, and to pray for us, so we may likewise become close to God, like her! A woman who decides to join a religious order of nuns, crosses over the threshold from the secular world of sin and ignorance, that does not know God– to the sacred world, in which God dwells! Continued…

      • Linda Maria, there is a distinction between a “sister” and a “nun” isn’t there?

        • Linda Maria says:

          Yes, Bob One, there is a distinction between the titles of a “sister” and a “nun!” Of course! contemplative nuns are usually referred to as “nuns,” while those in active religious orders are called “sisters.” However– people generally refer to ALL of them– as simply: nuns!! In Catholic school, I bet you simply referred to the teaching Sisters as simply: “nuns.”

      • Anonymous says:

        How can Jesus have a Bride? There is too much attention to sex these days.

  3. Linda Maria says:

    Continued, from my post, above. The early Christian nuns did their best, in the Church, to create religious habits that were appropriate for their holy life. And they considered their lives as very holy, apart from the secular world, consecrated to Christ. Their religious habits were holy, a sign of their holy vows, as a Bride of Christ.

  4. By contrast, there is “Sr.” Ilia Delio, a joyless modern sister (Franciscan Sisters of Charity of Wash DC) announcing on Global Sisters Report, in her mannish “habit” (only needs a tie to complete) the standard socialist-communist meme of downing “consumerism” at Christmas”, “the planet of the rich” (maybe for you, Sis), and a generally down-talking superior knowledge of what it’s all about:


    I’ll support the joyful habit-wearing Sisters of Mercy who are returning to the principles of Mother McCauley (“The Lady from Dublin”).

    • Here is a close-up of “Sr.” Ilia Delio in her standard photo accompanying her warm and joyless contributions to “Global Sisters Report”: It is a photo of her giving the keynote address at the 2013 Leadership Conference of Women’s Religious:


      You see, it isn’t easy to be joyless and an economic snob, when you earn a minimum salary of $121,000 annually plus equivalent full benefits, retirement, health insurance, as a full professor in an endowed chair at Villanova University. Oh, by the way, she has her own web site, expressing her Teilhard de Chardinism dedication to a cosmic reality, so above the p(h)easants in their mud huts:


      • Sisters who work in professional ministries who earn “real” salaries “kick back” their pay to the order and jet a stipend to live on.

      • Linda Maria says:

        Bless you both, St. Christopher and Justin K!! A true religious calling is such a beautiful gift! The “LCWR” nuns are a big horse laugh, aren’t they! And they are all dying out!! Big horse laugh, their big “hippie leftist” noise in the world! That is all they do, with the ruckus they raise, in the Church, and in the world—-meaningless noise! Like the “noise” made by the famous Sister who counseled Obama, that it is fine with her, and with Catholic healthcare– and it is fine with God! — to include abortion and birth control, in Obamacare!

  5. The Sisters of Mercy of Alma, MI, the group pictured above, by the way, are @ rsmofalma.org, and are quite different from the better-known, once-traditional “Sisters of Mercy of the Americas” [they’ve consolidated several times due to their shrinking organizational size]. The latter group is a progressive and dying order (sistersofmercy.org) and (please note) are members of the LWCR and on board with their secular social-justice. Hence, joyless and no vocations.

    • Linda Maria says:

      Justo K– I had no idea, that the group of nuns pictured, which the above article is all about– are not the same, as the “Sisters of Mercy of the Americas,” a very heretical, anti-Catholic, “liberal-leftist” group of nuns, popular in the Bay Area, that supports horribly immoral, “liberal-leftist” agendas, such as gay “marriage,” etc.! I didn’t know that the original Sisters of Mercy had split up so much, since Vatican II!! Thanks for the explanation!

  6. Now, one gainsayer above states “Sisters who earn such salaries assign their salaries to their orders” (verbatim).

    Now, we don’t know whether Sr. Delio does so or does not: in fact I have first-hand testimony that often, only the “residue” of their salaries (after Sister ‘s world-class travel junkets, many essential conferences and memberships, hotel-stays, first-class restaurant meals, independent-apartment residence rentals and utilities, etc.), eventually and guiltily float back a check for a few dollars to their order.

    Yet, it misses the point entirely: there is no grinding edge of the knife of Gospel poverty pressed against your ribs, when you have guaranteed insurance, tenure, retirement, sabbaticals,…

    • Justin … My-Brother-the-Cop in the middle of his third glass of wine at family dinner sometimes rages against police critics who “Wouldn’t-do-it, couldn’t-do-it-and-wouldn’t want-their-kids to-do-it. I guess that’s how I feel about “nun bashers.” The Sisters I know live very modestly if not in a convent, then an apartment with 2 or 3 other sisters. In terms of spending money for things like restaurants they get a whole $166 a month. You object to health insurance? What, they should die in the streets? The Gospel is the “good news” I’ve never heard it imaged as a knife pressed against anyone’s ribs. Go out and interest your daughter, granddaughter or niece to consider if she has ca vocation!

  7. Misses the point again. The gainsayer doesn’t address the condescending socialist critique of the Sr. Delio-tenured-prof class, she who snobbish criticizes others for their comsumerism, and then gainsayer descends to a strange and misplaced ad hominem.

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