In the Middle Ages, widows with financial means entered convents to maintain social respect. Convents relied on family donations, so retiring to a convent was an option reserved for widows of wealthy families; less wealthy widows could only enter as servants of the nuns. In the 21st century, the majority of religious orders prefer single women aged 18 to 35, but a few orders accept late entrants, including widows.
The Family and Sisters of Jacopa
In 2012, Kathleen Marshall founded a Franciscan order for widows and single women over 40 in Steubenville, Ohio. She defines single women as those who have never been married, or if divorced have obtained an annulment from the Catholic church. Women who wish to remain in the world can join the lay order, which is the Family of Jacopa. They are expected to have either membership in the Order of Franciscan Seculars, or be willing to take classes leading to membership. The Sisters of Jacopa is a consecrated community. The Sisters live in a Motherhouse in Steubenville, wear habits and take vows. Members of this community may not have dependent children, grandchildren or relatives, according to the Family of Jacopa website.
Sisters of the Visitation
The Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary was founded in France in 1610 by Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, who also happened to have been a wife, mother and widow. It is a contemplative and cloistered order that focuses on prayer. Primarily the order accepts single or widowed women aged 18 to 45 who are in good health. However, it does consider older applicants. Retreat facilities are available for anyone who wishes to try the lifestyle before committing. The Order is based in Toledo, Ohio, and applicants should contact the vocation directress at the Monastery of the Visitation.
St. Benedict Monastery
Canyon, Texas, is home to small community of Benedictine nuns accepting late vocational entrants. Benedictine communities observe the rules of monastic life dictated by St. Benedict, which asked monks and nuns to observe a cloistered life while also providing hospitality and charity to non-members. This is an autonomous community of Sisters, who also do charitable work in the wider community. The sisters accept Catholic women aged 25 to 60 who have no family obligations, are debt-free and in good health. The community also offers retreats, and anyone interested in joining this small community should contact the vocation director through the website.
Daughters of Our Mother of Peace
The Society of Our Mother of Peace is based in Vinita Park, Missouri. The Society membership includes priests as well as monks and nuns. Its philosophy is based on the ideals of a contemplative life balanced with following the example of the apostles. Members observe a life of simplicity and poverty. Individual and congregational prayer plays a major role in daily life, although members also go out into the community, with an emphasis on inner city environs, to evangelize. Sisters live in a convent house, or in small hermitages. Applicants should be aged 22 to 55. Contact the Society to reserve a place on a discernment retreat, which allows both the applicant and the community to see if they are suited.
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images