Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some of the most common questions about consecrated life.
Questions and answers are edited slightly to protect our readers’ privacy. If you don't see your question, you can send it with complete anonymity and we'll answer it on this page. If you would prefer a personal response, be sure to tell me how to contact you and I will be happy to answer your question personally.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is a vocation and how does it differ from an occupation?
- I'm not sure where God is calling me. What should I do to make sure I'm making the right decision?
- I'm pretty sure I want to be a religious sister, but there are so many congregations/orders. How do I choose?
- How long does it take to become a Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
- Why do you go by two titles ("Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary" and "Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec")?
- What about my past? For example, do I have to be a virgin to enter into consecrated life?
- What's the difference between a Sister and a nun?
- What is a charism?
A: The word vocation comes from the Latin verb vocare meaning "to call". It's a deep-seated calling to serve God in a certain capacity. Married life, dedicated single life, and consecrated life are all vocations and are designed to be life-long. An occupation, on the other hand, is something you can do — a job that can change at any given time.
A: As hard as it may seem, you're on the right track. Seeking God's will and seriously reflecting on your vocation is the first step to a fulfilling life. I can offer a few suggestions that may help you in your journey:
- Pray sincerely, ask for guidance, and reflect on your prayer experience. Remember that prayer is a two-way conversation. So as you pray to God, listen to what He has to say.
- Take the time to consult with other women who are happy with their vocation in life. It may be your mother or an aunt, an older friend, or a religious sister.
- Ask yourself when or where you have felt the deepest joy or sense of purpose. Revisit that place if possible.
- Try not to fast-forward your life. The future we imagine is often clouded by pre-conceived ideas.
- Take your time. A lifetime commitment to any vocation benefits greatly by careful consideration and an honest evaluation. It's better to investigate all of your options than to rush into any commitment.
- Remember that this is between you and God. Don't allow others, regardless of their intentions to unduly influence your decision.
Q: I'm pretty sure I want to be a religious sister, but there are so many congregations/orders. How do I choose?
A: I don't know of any congregation that would bring you into their order without a period of discernment. Your first few years of consecrated life are a period of inquiry. Just as you wouldn't enter Holy Matrimony with a man you didn't know, you wouldn't enter a religious congregation until you experienced the charism (the spiritual action) of that order and reached a mutual acceptance. If it's not right, you will know. And you will be encouraged to continue your search.
A: There are a number of stages in consecrated life.
- Discernment starts with Initial Contact and advances to Candidacy.
- If you believe this might be your call, you become a Pre-novice then a Novice.
- At the end of the novitiate, you consecrate yourself to God by the temporary profession of the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience for one year. Through this profession of public vows you become a Temporarily Professed Sister and a member of the Congregation. For the next five to seven years you renew your vows, yearly.
- At the end of this time, you may take your final vows, becoming Perpetually Professed in a lifelong commitment as a religious sister in God's service.
You can learn more about the formation process on our Becoming A Sister page where we have laid out, in more detail, what each step involves.
A: One title, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is our official Church name. The other, Good Shepherd Sisters, is the name given to us by the people. (The words "of Quebec" distinguish our congregation from others with the same title.)
Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: This is the official name that was given when the Church recognized us as a religious congregation. Our Foundress, Marie Fitzbach Roy chose this title because it exemplified the charism of our congregation. Our initials S.C.I.M. stand for the title in French, "Servantes du Coeur Immaculé de Marie."
Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec: This name was given to us by the people in 1850, before we became a religious congregation because they saw us doing the work of the Good Shepherd. Many people continue to call us by that name today.
A: Your past will not necessarily prevent you from answering a call to religious life. However, you must be free of earthly obligations. You don't have to be perfect to become a Sister.
What you do need is a genuine desire to love God - which is necessary to live faithfully and joyfully in consecrated life. The desire to be totally given to Christ with your whole being - just as a spouse would be - is what allows God's grace to help you to become faithful and loving.
A: A Sister is a vowed member of a service-oriented community of women within the Church. She serves God and the people in the active ministries ~ teaching, nursing, social work, etc.
A nun is a vowed member of a prayer-oriented community of women within the Church. She serves God and the people especially by praying for them and for the needs of the world. As well as professing the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, nuns often also take a fourth vow of stability, that is, to remain or live in one monastery.
A: A charism is a gift of the Holy Spirit given to an individual for the good of the Church. This intangible gift begins with the founder or foundress and is evident in his or her work. Thus it becomes something he or she is known for. One example would be the Franciscans who are known for living a simple lifestyle. This started with St. Francis who rejected material wealth to live and work among the poor.
Our Foundress, Marie-Josephte Fitzbach, was known for her love and goodness. The virtues expressed by these two words make up the essence of the charism of this woman who became Mother Mary of the Sacred Heart, the first Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Foundress of the Congregation of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec.
Touched during her adolescence by the distress of certain women and once even harboring in her home an unfortunate woman, Marie began spreading God's love and goodness. Then at 43, she received the call of the Church to open a shelter for women, a place of rehabilitation. Marie recognized it as God's will and pioneered this new ministry in Quebec City. To direct young people towards good and so prevent problems later on, our Foundress wanted to teach them the truths of the faith.
"By reason of the first call of the Church to our Congregation and the profound motivation of our Foundress, we are dedicated in a particular way to the ministry of mercy and faith education in social services and teaching" (SCIM Constitutions, article 4). "The specific mission of the community is to bring about the Kingdom by communicating love and goodness as God wills" (SCIM Rules, article 56).