So You Want to be a Nun?

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Historically, the decision to become a nun was a relatively simple one to make. "If a woman felt that she wanted to be a nun, she would just go to her parish priest and see what he thought," says Sister Sarah Roy, 29, a campus minister at the University of Illinois' St. John's Catholic Newman Center.

Not any longer. Since Vatican II and the sexual revolution, the process of deciding to become a nun has grown so complex it now has a name: discernment. For most young women, discernment lasts more than two years and involves daily prayer, spiritual counseling and convent visits. Now it also includes the Internet.

Online, a woman can meet other young women in discernment, research convents and even download podcasts that chronicle a nun's formation process. "Virtual discernment" is about two years old and is likely to grow as more convents turn to the Internet to recruit young women. The following are the highlights of discernment-oriented web sites, as compiled by

Vision Vocation Network is the web version of an annual glossy magazine, Vision, that targets young men and women in discernment. It is produced by the National Religious Vocations Conference, a Chicago-based organization.

Vision Vocation Match is an online matching service that helps young people select the best convent or seminary for them. Its creators, the producers of Vision, likened the matching service to an online dating service.

Catholics on Call is a Chicago-based organization that helps young men and women better discern religious life. In addition to holding retreats and workshops in Chicago, it also offers a 4-week online retreat that combines Bible study and private reflection.

The Sisters of Life is a traditional religious order located in New York City. While the sisters themselves rarely use the Internet or watch TV,their vocation director does maintain a web site and communicates with interested women via email. She was contacted by more than 400 young women in 2006.

The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity is also a traditional order that is based in Mantiwoc, Wisc. In 2003, the order hired a Milwaukee-based marketing team in 2003 to help them recruit young women. The firm produced several TV and radio spots, as well as this multi-platform web site. The site features a downloadable song of the month that is donated by up-and-coming Christian artists, a blog written by the sisters and a podcast.

A Nun's Life is a blog about religious life started this summer by Julie Viera, a 36-year-old nun. Loyal readers include many fellow nuns and discerning young adults, but Viera's target audience are non-religious people who want to learn what it's really like to be a nun in the 21st century.