One of the most common questions we are asked is "Are you a nun?"
Sidenote: A popular variation of this question is, "Are you a reeeal nun?" - which is a personal favourite of one of our Sisters, as it makes her feel somewhat like a happy little Pinocchio exclaiming to Geppetto, "I'm a real boy!" - "I'm a reeeal nun!"
However, this is a question needing clarity. Are we nuns? Are we real nuns?
The answer to this question might surprise... or worse, scandalise you... are you ready?
Well, the answer is No. We are not nuns.
Why then does Sr. Pinocchio answer in the affirmative?
Often in this day and age the terms "nun" and "sister" are used interchangeably, and perhaps when one thinks of a religious woman who has professed the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, one would automatically think "nun" -- as in, "When I was a child I was taught by nuns at the convent school." or "Are you a nun, like in Sister Act or in The Sound of Music?" "Nun" seems to be the generic and popular term accepted by most in defining what we are. (Along with "penguin" and "ninja".) Yet, there are important distinctions between the two. Take a look at this handy infographic from Catholic Extension below:
So, while all nuns are sisters, not all sisters are nuns. (Confused yet?) Both are types of consecrated religious life, and both are addressed as "Sister", but they are not the same.
Furthermore -- maybe to make matters all the more befuddling -- we Dominican sisters and friars share in what our brother St Thomas Aquinas refers to as the "mixed-life", that is, a life that is both contemplative and active, "sister-ly" and "nun-ly". (Why not both?) As Dominican sisters and friars we have an "enclosure" or "cloister" where we live (similar to nuns and monks) as separate from the world, with several of its monastic observances, such as times and places for silence, study, recreation, and household work. We devote much of our day to prayer, study, and contemplation -- the captivation of our souls, hearts, and minds with the love, knowledge, and experience of God. In this way, our cups are filled to the brim with the grace and love of God, and thus, overflow into our "active" life -- that of preaching and teaching. Together this life of contemplation and action work towards the salvation of souls, our own and those of all the world.
Have a watch of this great video from the English Province of Dominicans to get a better idea of Dominican life and "what we are":
However, the "powerhouse" or "beating heart" of the Dominican Order is found within the hidden cloisters of our nuns. Did you know before St. Dominic officially founded the 1st Order of Friars in 1216, he founded the nuns in 1206? These sisters (real nuns!) live out their contemplative and apostolic vocation of "holy preaching" by the witness of their lives through prayer and penance whereby the fruits of their contemplation and sacrifices are shared amongst the Dominican Order at large, and yes, for the salvation of the whole world.
While there are no longer any Dominican nuns here in England (perhaps one day!), there is the Dominican Monastery of St Catherine of Siena in Drogheda, Ireland. And another wonderful (quickly growing!) monastery of Dominican nuns are those in Summit, New Jersey (USA) -- the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary. (Called to the cloister? Check them out!)
With Peter, James, and John on the Mount of the Transfiguration, we say, "It is good, Lord, to be here!" and though we may not always remain in the heights of contemplation, we aim always to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and bring others into His loving gaze.