Do religious congregations have entry age limits?



Sr. Louise Zdunich

October 11, 2010



If a person is thinking about becoming a sister, is there an age limit for acceptance? What is the age of the oldest person to take their vows?


Jesus called the apostles at differing points in their lives; some were young while others older. He found them in various occupations; some were fishermen and one, a tax collector, a then-despised group. They were of varying personalities and gifts.

The landlord in Matthew's Gospel (ch 20), called labourers into his vineyard at various times of the day. He paid them all the same wages, much to the consternation of those who had worked the whole day. The master, in his goodness, accepted the patient waiting of those who weren't employed earlier and so rewards them equally with those who worked all day. He is an image of God who calls us to serve in gratitude and love.

There are many ways of serving God and people are called from all walks of life and at different stages in their lives. Some are called to married life, some to single life. Others are called to priestly service or to vowed life in religious congregations or as consecrated virgins in the world.


All are God's personal call and worthwhile vocations that wait for our response.

The history of active religious congregations reveals that founders were often widows/widowers or mature individuals, as were candidates joining these communities. Only in the 20th century, entrants into religious life were sought almost exclusively among the 18 to 20 year-olds. Today, many are hearing their call at more mature ages.

Society has changed a great deal. Psychologists have helped make us more aware of developmental stages and the inherent workings of each. Due to longer years in education, there may be a tendency to prolong dependence on parents.

Also, there are many more and varied opportunities for youth. Life and work experience, along with a growing adult responsibility, promote the maturity needed before life-long choices can be made. We know that age is only one of the many factors that enter into the complicated maturing process of the human person.


People are living longer and are active at more advanced ages, even at very advanced ages. Some retire at 65 and begin new careers. Others continue in their chosen careers well into their 80s, as occurred in a recent example of a woman continuing to run as mayor at the age of 89.

Today, there is a greater acceptance that older people can make valuable contributions to society.

Religious congregations/orders will take into consideration many aspects of the person, in addition to age. Some of these may be health, the particular gifts and prayer life of the individual, the ability to live in a community setting and foster the well-being of others.

Congregations will look at their own needs as well. Many today have aging members and diminishing numbers and may be more hesitant to take in older individuals.

However, they may be willing to help those seriously requesting admission to discern whether it is truly the call to vowed religious life they are experiencing. Remember, there are many different ways in which Christians may be called to minister in God's vineyard. We need to explore all possibilities.

The earliest age that religious vows can be made is 18. Entry can be earlier as there is usually a period of one to three years of learning about and experiencing religious life in a congregation, as well as of assessing one's fitness for it by both the congregation and candidate. However, no upper age limit exists, but preparation time is still necessary before taking vows.

Individuals with the right gifts could be accepted into their 6os and 70s. However it depends entirely on the particular congregation. The first step might be to call the religious congregations in which you may be interested and talk to them about their requirements.


Remember, God calls workers into the vineyard at the first and third hour but also at the sixth, ninth and, even the 11th hour (Matthew 20). God offers us the graces needed to answer that call.

But God always waits for our free response. "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking. If you open the door, I will come in and eat with you and you with me" (Revelation 3.20).