The overwhelming majority of those pursuing vocations in religious life in the church were born into the faith. But a small, steady stream of men and women choose first to become Catholic and then, in what is perhaps an even larger leap of faith, choose religious life itself. Twelve percent of brothers and sisters making perpetual vows weren’t born Catholic, according to a 2017 Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate report. Nine out of 10 entering religious life were raised Catholic, CARA reports.
Whereas once a change of denominations would have been called a conversion (and still is often popularly referred to that way), since Vatican II it has been called entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. Sometimes discerning a call to the religious life can take decades.
In some cases, the journey from changing denominations to taking vows as a member of a religious community seems linear, according to accounts from the women Global Sisters Report interviewed. In others, there is a close connection between a wish to become Catholic and enter the religious life.
“There is no canonical law concerning the time to start the application process in regards to a discerner who was not born and raised Catholic yet became fully initiated into the Catholic faith,” says Sr. Deborah Marie Borneman, a member of the Sisters of Saint Cyril and Methodius; she is director of member relations and services for the National Religious Vocation Conference. Canon law requires that candidates show proof of baptism, confirmation and “free status” before they are admitted to the novitiate, she said in an email. The vocation conference, however, highly recommends a new Catholic wait at least two years, preferably three years, before application to any religious institute. ~ from the Global Sisters Report