What is Consecrated Life?

Consecrated life (often called religious life) is a permanent state of life recognized by the Church. Members enter freely in response to Jesus’ call to live for God alone. Those who enter consecrated life profess the “evangelical counsels” of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Consecrated life is a witness to the possibility of holiness. Religious priests, brothers, and sisters show — by their lives of prayer and service — that it is possible to live a Christian commitment. It is possible to live by Christian morals and it is possible to live lives entirely devoted to Christian charity.

They witness also to the joy and peace that come with self-giving.

What Types are There?

There are many types of consecrated life. Each Religious Institute receives a special charism from God. That specific charism enables the community (often called institutes or movements) to serve the common good and build up the Church.

Some communities are dedicated to action and service, and their members perform the bodily or spiritual works of mercy. Religious communities run schools, universities, hospitals, hospices, orphanages, personal-care homes, and other charitable institutions.

Other communities are dedicated mostly to contemplation and prayer. These communities usually keep some degree of separation from secular society. Members often live in monasteries, convents, or other types of enclosure.

What’s the history of consecrated life in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles?

The largest archdiocese in the United States is blessed to have more than 120 communities of women and 60 communities for men. What a gift!

Within the five regions spanning Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, you’ll find:

Cloistered communities: Sisters are often referred to as “nuns,” although that term technically refers to cloistered members of communities, of which the archdiocese has three: Carmelites, Dominicans and Poor Clares. The cloistered nuns within these orders live out their consecrated life within their convent, focusing on prayer, and are not the sisters you would encounter around the archdiocese in active ministries.

Apostolic communities: There are about 110 apostolic communities who are involved in active ministries around the Archdiocese. Some of these apostolic communities have been around for hundreds of years, founded in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to educate or care for the sick and the poor. The first of the sisters to come to Southern California were the Daughters of Charity in 1856 (to open hospitals) and the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, both in 1889 (to open schools).

Apostolic communities have ministered in a myriad of ways, going out to the margins — or “the peripheries” as Pope Francis would say — to care for the underserved. We have sisters running food programs, doing early childhood education, parish ministry, elder care, evangelization through radio, printing and other forms, running youth camps and bible camps, prison ministry, homes for victims of domestic violence and so much more.

One of the newest groups from the Philippines, the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries, are translating their work with prostitutes and their children in their native land to helping victims of human trafficking in the Los Angeles area. They are affectionately known as the “pink sisters” for the color of their habit.

Diverse Forms of Consecrated Life: There are also communities that have come into existence since Vatican II as a response to the call for renewal in religious life and Pope Saint John Paul II’s call to the new evangelization. Many of these communities do not define themselves as religious, so we refer to them as “Diverse Forms of Consecrated Life.”

Secular Institutes: Members of “secular institutes” live “in the world” and work for the sanctification of others “from within,” such as the Institute of Our Lady of the Annunciation. They typically live alone, although we also have the Focolare and Father Kolbe Missionaries of the Immaculata who live in community, and their service to the world is not necessarily in church ministry, although it can be.

Consecrated Virginity: Consecrated virgins live “in the world” while “consecrated to God and mystically espoused to Christ.” Through a sacramental reserved to the bishop, laywomen take vows to resolve perpetual virginity to God and service to the Church. The consecrated virgin living in the world embodies a definitive vocation in itself. She is not a quasi-Religious, nor is she in a vocation that is in the process of becoming a Religious institute or congregation. Nevertheless, she is a consecrated person, with her bishop as her guide. By virtue of the Consecration, she is responsible to pray for her diocese and clergy.

The consecrated virgin attends Mass daily (if possible), prays the Divine Office, and spends much time in private prayer. She can choose the Church-approved spirituality she prefers to follow. Supporting herself by earning her own living, the consecrated virgin is not obliged to take on any particular work or apostolate. Usually, consecrated virgins in the United States volunteer their time to their local parish, diocese, or Church-sponsored association. Some volunteer their time also in civic responsibilities.

A woman aspiring to the Consecration should be practicing her faith. She accepts the teaching of the Church and Sacred Scripture, with a readiness and capacity for personal growth. She should be able to give herself totally to God and the Church.

Contemplatives: Some non-cloistered contemplatives also reside in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, such as The Trinitarians of Mary and the Puso ng Carmelo.

Movements and more!

There are other groups that don’t fit the traditional definitions of consecrated life — such as the Koinonia John the Baptist, a mixed community of men and women that form a Lay Association of the Faithful that has consecrated members.

Other movements have consecrated members as well, like the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity and The Focolare Movement.

The Holy Spirit is alive and well in relation to consecrated life! The diversity within this local church is an incredible gift and reflective of the many forms of consecrated life that exist in the universal Church.

Not sure what’s right for you? Don’t worry, we know this can be confusing and overwhelming! Keep browsing through, and of course, contact us to start talking.  


Is it for me?

There are “inner signs” and “outward signs.” Make an inventory of the signs in your life. Where do the signs seem to lead?

Find the inner signs. Are you drawn to spend more time in prayer? Do you have a sense of wanting more in life? Are you restless in your daily life? Do you have a desire to be with others who share your values? Do you want to live more simply? Are you curious about the life of religious sisters or brothers, priests or monks? Are you attracted to consecrated life? To living for others through the vows?

Find the outward signs. How do you choose to spend your time? Do you seek out opportunities for service? Do you spend much time in study, reflection, and prayer?

The LORD said: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you … plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”

  — Jeremiah 29:11

How Can I Find My Place?

Prayerfully look into the particular charisms of each community. Some are dedicated to teaching, preaching, caring for the sick, working with the poor. Then find the one that best matches your skills, interests, experience, and inclinations.

Or you can begin at the other end. Make an inventory of your particular gifts, then look for a community with a corresponding charism.

What Makes a Good Candidate?

Consecrated men and women are as diverse as lay people. They come from every imaginable background. But those who find joy in consecrated life do seem to share certain qualities.

  • They love the faith
  • They are committed to a deepening relationship with God
  • They want to serve the Church and the people of God
  • They are healthy — physically, mentally, and emotionally
  • They are open to meeting God’s people where they are
  • They are courageous and willing to take risks

Does this sound like you?

Listen to Pope Francis. “I would like to ask you: have you sometimes heard the voice of the Lord which through a desire, a certain restlessness, invites you to follow him more closely? Have you heard it?

… Ask Jesus what he wants from you, and be brave! Be brave, ask him!”

What is the Process?


Formation is the process by which we grow spiritually, intellectually, and personally. In consecrated life it follows certain standard methods and proceeds through established stages.

These will vary from place to place, as they’re tailored to each community’s particular charisms and goals. But, generally speaking, a candidate will move — from discernment to final vows — through at least some of the following stages.

1. Preparation. Learn about yourself, God, and the Church. Build relationships. Do research. Explore.

2. Discernment/Inquiry. Meet with a vocation director. Visit the community. Make a retreat. Ask for a formal application.

3. Application. Gather your sacramental certificates and academic transcripts. Fill out the application. Schedule your physical and psychological exams and complete your medical forms. Compose the statements the community requires.

4. Postulancy/Candidacy. This is the time of transition into community life. Postulants and candidates help with the community’s ministries and begin to learn the unique spirituality of the community.

5. Novitiate. This is a longer period, often two years, of intensive theological, personal, and spiritual formation.

6. Canonical year is a time of deeper prayer and focused studies.

7. Apostolic year is a time of in-depth focus on the ministries of the community — often spending time in active service.

8. First profession. At this time a candidate professes vows for a determined length of time, but with the intention of making final, permanent vows.

9. Temporary vows mark a time of integration of vows, community, prayer, and ministry.

10. Final profession marks the solemn, formal commitment of one’s whole life to God within a particular community.

11. Ongoing formation. A person committed to consecrated life is committed to lifelong spiritual and personal growth. The community never ceases to form its members.


A vow is a deliberate and free promise made to God.

Vows mark the ordinary way of love. Married couples exchange vows as they begin their life together. Religious sisters, brothers, and priests profess vows as they fully enter life in community.

The basic vows traditionally correspond to the three evangelical counsels: to live simply in imitation of Christ in poverty, to live with an undivided heart in chastity, and to surrender one’s will to God in obedience. Some communities require further commitments as well — a vow of stability, for example, or hospitality, or service to the poor.

In consecrated life as in marriage, vows represent a total giving of oneself.

In consecrated life as in marriage, vows are not restrictions. They are paths to freedom. They are commitments of availability for loving service. Religious sisters, brothers, and priests can serve more freely because they are not limited by family ties, worldly cares, or their own personal preferences. They can move as God wants them to move — and that is the most perfect freedom.

Poverty, chastity, and obedience — all Christians are called to live these counsels, but in different ways. Religious communities are free and able to observe them in greater measure.

Poverty does not mean that religious communities are destitute, but that they strive to be free from wealth and its corresponding demands, from material possessions, and from societal pressure to have more “stuff” and more status. Poverty is a radical freedom, and it empowers religious to focus on relationships with others and service to others. In consecrated life, property is owned not by individuals, but by the community. Resources are shared, and so is their upkeep. Religious are free to live in true solidarity with the poor and marginalized.The vow of poverty also includes “spiritual poverty.” It’s not just the giving up of material goods, but something much deeper. It is the emptying of oneself before God as well as letting go of one’s ego and need to have things one’s own way. Religious open themselves up to all that God wants them to know and understand, which sets them free to do the work of Christ.

Chastity in marriage is the pledge of affection for just one spouse. In consecrated life, however, it is the choice to remain unmarried for the sake of the kingdom. The commitment to chastity and lifelong celibacy leaves one completely free for service to the Church and the community. It is a life full of love, entirely given to God and God’s people. Such love finds expression in prayer, communion, service, and fellowship.

Obedience is free surrender to the will of God in the context of a community, and trust in the authority in that community. Obedience leaves one radically free from personal preferences and ambitions. Through obedience, religious men and women are able to go where they are needed and where God wants them to be.


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