Frequently Asked Questions

Novice Mary teaching Trinidad


"For the love of Christ urges us on."
--2 Cor 5:14


Who are the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother? 

We are an international community of women religious who were founded in Rome, Italy in 1883 by Mother Frances Streitel. We follow the Third Order Rule of St. Francis of Assisi. Our founding charism is to live an active contemplative life in order to be a transforming presence in the world of our day.
Our charism defines who we are and what we do:
“Through a dedicated life of apostolic service, vitalized by a contemplative spirit, we care for those in need, especially the poor, and in our own poverty seek the Lord above all.”
Who can become a Sister of the Sorrowful Mother?
A Catholic woman ages 20-45 who desires to live the Gospel as a Franciscan woman, is physically and mentally healthy, capable of living the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience; is able to engage in ministry on a full-time basis according to her qualifications, talents, gifts, educational background and the needs of the community in carrying out the charism and mission within the Church. She is to be able to contribute in our daily efforts to create a healthy communal lifestyle and participate fully in efforts to discern the Spirit’s call to women religious in the 21st century to meet the needs of the poor and oppressed and to address injustices and trends that thwart world peace.
How does one become a Sister of the Sorrowful Mother?
See the How Do I Become a Sister page for details about the steps on discernment and formation of becoming a Sister.
How long does it take to become a Sister of the Sorrowful Mother?
A total of 7 years, but could be as long as 12 years: 1 year in the postulancy (may be extended 6 months), 2 years in the novitiate, and 4 years of temporary vows (can be extended up to 9 years).
Why become a Sister of the Sorrowful Mother?
If God is calling a woman to religious life, we invite her to consider becoming a Sister of the Sorrowful Mother for the following reasons:
• To imbue a vibrant spirituality that unites action and contemplation, modeled by Mother Frances Streitel, whom the Church, in a decree issued on March 27, 2010, lifted up as a model of heroic virtues, acknowledging that her faithfulness to the vows and her efforts to live the virtues were “rare.” Which virtues? The three ideological virtues of faith, hope and love (love of God and love of neighbor); the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude, and, what the decree described as “those annexed,” humility poverty, chastity, and obedience.
• To serve the Church in a variety of ways in keeping with the charism of the Congregation and the heritage passed on to us by our Foundress, that is, “…vitalized by a contemplative spirit, we care for those in need, especially the poor, and in our own poverty seek the Lord above all.”
• To know the richness of living a life of simplicity and hospitality, generosity and doing whatever it takes to serve those in need.
• To grow in intimacy with the Lord, self and others as did St. Francis, St. Clare of Assisi, and Venerable Mother Frances Streitel.
• To stand with those who suffer as did Mary at the foot of the cross.
• To become a part of something bigger than yourself.
• To live and work with others who share your passion for the Lord and the work of His Church: healing, teaching, comforting, strengthening, encouraging others on the faith journey and striving to seek God’s will above all.
• To embrace many different cultures, as we have ministries in the Midwest, Eastern, and Southern parts of the U.S., in the Caribbean (Grenada, St. Lucia, Trinidad), the Dominican Republic, Austria, Germany, Italy, Brazil, and Tanzania.
• To become your best self through retreats, workshops, studies, renewal programs and a variety of resources that enhance one’s spiritual growth.
What does it mean to be a Franciscan?
• That you want to grow in holiness as did St. Francis and St. Clare, detaching yourself from material things, living for the Lord alone, growing in intimacy with the Lord, engaging in an ongoing process of becoming one with the person of Christ (ongoing conversion), and developing an ability to see Christ in the “lepers” of today and in all of Creation
• That you follow the Third Order Rule of St. Francis of Assisi – you would study this rule as part of your incorporation into religious life
• That you would treasure the Church as your mother, the rock upon which your faith develops and expands
• That helping the poor and oppressed and sharing your faith with all persons would be a priority in your life
What vows do Sisters take?
We take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
By our vow of poverty, we live the common life; that means that our salaries are pooled into different community funds to enable us to serve the poor and continue our ministries in the Church. We are given small monthly stipends on which to live and meet ordinary expenses.
By the vow of chastity, we “…follow Christ with undivided love. We give our entire being to God as an act of love….Our relationships with others are a vital support to celibate living….It is in community that we are called to share with one another our faith life, together making the Lord the integrating love of our life.
By the vow of obedience, we follow Jesus who surrendered His will to the will of the Father. We are open to be sent in mission to wherever there is need.
What do Sisters do for fun?
Many times what one does for fun depends on an individual’s interests. However, there are activities we all engage in communally such as playing board games, playing cards, listening to music, going to concerts and to movies, hiking and engaging in sports.
Other activities that lean more toward individual talents and interests that Sisters do in their free time include reading, arts and crafts, sports, writing, music, media, TV, cooking, or they engage in activities that are life-giving and energizing like visiting with friends and family, e-mailing, blogging, studying and researching topics of interest.
Do Sisters pray each day? 
Each sister is asked to spend a half hour each day in meditation and personal prayer. Communally, the sisters pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the morning and evening and attend daily liturgy. Fifteen minutes each day is also devoted to spiritual reading. Every Sister also is asked to arrange a week of retreat annually, to go apart with the Lord for an extended period of silence, contemplation and spiritual direction.
Why do some Sisters wear habits and others do not?

The Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother have the option of wearing a habit or dressing in lay clothes with the identifying community medal. Many choose to wear the habit as an external symbol of their consecration to the Lord. Those who choose to dress simply in lay clothes state that they want their living of the Gospel to be the sign of their consecration.
Should I go to college before entering religious life?

Pursuing a college degree would be a wise choice prior to entering any religious community, although some communities accept individuals without an advanced degree but who have extended experiences in volunteer ministries and employment opportunities. Being prepared for a ministry of service and/or being qualified academically for that service is an important step as you ponder whether or not God is calling you to become a sister. Many persons considering marriage also complete their college education first so they are positioned to enter a career for which they are duly qualified so as to support a family and not depend solely upon their partner.
Can I enter a religious community in a few months?
Some inquirers write to us and tell us, “My goal is to enter religious life by such-and-such a date.” Entrance into any religious community is a lengthy process. It means taking time to get to know that religious community and that community getting to know you.
The process begins in a variety of ways: telephone chats, personal visits, email conversations, Skype, studying materials sent to you, and attending Come and See Programs and Discernment sessions. As with marriage, a person dates several individuals until he/she knows “this is the one,” so, too, in choosing a religious community. The person takes times to acquaint herself with several different communities until she knows “this is the one,” and her decision is confirmed by the Vocation Director of that religious community. Entering a permanent commitment with a lifelong partner or with a religious community is not done quickly.
So you can see, discernment of a religious vocation and which community to enter is a lengthy process, just as with marriage. A wise person does not enter marriage hastily but dates a number of persons or one or two persons for a lengthy period of time. Some persons date their partners for 3-6 years before taking the final step of marriage. Entering a permanent commitment to a lifelong partner is not done quickly; neither is entering religious life.
This getting to know a religious community continues after one enters the postulancy, the first step in training to become a sister. The postulancy is a 1-2 year period, followed by 1-2 year novitiate training and then a minimum of 4 years of temporary vows. Only then is a permanent commitment made to be a lifelong member. As you can see, that whole time is similar to the dating period that precedes marriage, as vows are not taken lightly in either vocation.


What does a Sister of the Sorrowful Mother do all day?


What a Sister does in ministry depends on whether she is a physician, counselor, teacher, healthcare professional, social worker, domestic worker, secretary, youth minister or coordinator, Director of Religious Education, a Pastoral Associate or many other variety of career choices in keeping with the charism and mission of the Congregation.
Apart from her ministry – usually full time – a Sister engages in:
• Communal prayer times (Morning Praise and Evening Praise with the Sisters with whom she lives)
• Personal prayer time – contemplation and meditation periods of 30-60 minutes a day
• Spiritual reading time (15 minutes a day)
• Daily attendance at Mass
• Sharing of, as well as preparing, meals with the Sisters with whom she lives
• Socializing/having fun times/leisure times usually with with Sisters with whom she lives but can be with others as well
• Exercising (whatever contributes to a Sister staying healthy for her own sake, the sake of becoming her best self and enhancing her ability to be a life-giving person in community and ministry)
Each day the Sisters also engage in personal and communal prayer time, the Liturgy of Hours (the Prayer of the Church), meditation/contemplation, sharing a meal and some leisure time with community members.
Where do the Sisters serve?
The St. Clare of Assisi Region of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother has ministries across Wisconsin; in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Denville, New Jersey; and the Dominican Republic. Internationally we have locations in Germany, Italy, Austria, Brazil, Tanzania, and the Caribbean islands of Grenada, St. Lucia, Trinidad/Tobago.
Do Sisters get to visit with family and friends?
Where do Sisters live?
Sisters typically live in convents or homes within neighborhoods in the communities they serve. Sisters live together in community in the same home. Typically Sisters live in small groups.
Do Sisters own their own car?
No. A Sister is given a car to use for her ministry but the car belongs to the Congregation.
Do Sisters get a salary?
Yes. Their salary is pooled and contributed to different community funds to enable the Congregation to serve the poor and sustain ministries in the Church.
Can Sisters take vacations?
Sisters take both vacation time and make a retreat every year. These can be individual or group. Vacations are used to refresh the body and soul, while retreats are made for spiritual rejuvenation.
How is a Sister assigned her ministry?
Ministries are mutually discerned. A Sister may be asked to engage in a particular ministry because of an existing need identified by the community and communicated through one’s legitimate superiors or the appropriate authority persons. Or, a Sister may request to engage in a particular ministry that she recognizes as being compatible with the charism and mission focus of the Congregation and for which she is qualified, skilled and eager to serve. If mutually discerned and agreed upon by legitimate authorities, this Sister is then sent to take on that ministry.
Can a Sister choose her ministry?
The community of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother has a mission: “to care for those in need, especially the poor.” Within that mission, each Sister has the opportunity to train and develop her skills. However, the community may ask a Sister to a particular position based on her existing talents, giftedness and educational background. If additional training or education is needed to fulfill a ministry position, the community provides for that.
Can a Sister choose the location of where she wants to work?
The goal is that Sisters minister in locations where there are other Sisters so as to live in community. It is possible that an identified need surfaces for opening a mission where SSMs have no presence. In that case, effort is made to mission at least two Sisters to minister in that area. Exceptions can be made and are mutually discerned with the appropriate authorities whereby that need can be fulfilled, even if it means a Sister living alone and connecting with a larger community via social media, and whenever possible, in person.
How do Congregations or Orders differ from one another?
By their basic charism. For instance, Dominicans are a preaching order—evangelizing is a key aspect of their gift to the church. Benedictines live a monastic lifestyle and vow stability, staying in one place. Franciscans are evangelical congregations, that is, they work to serve the poor and oppressed of society. This evangelizing mandate leads to missions throughout the world.

What is an Associate and how does that differ from being a Sister?
SSM Associates are men and women of faith who respond to their baptismal call to nurture and deepen their spiritual life in affiliation with the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. They embrace the values of the Sisters, commit to the challenges of living the values of St. Francis and the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother in their everyday lives as married and/or single men and women. They do not live in community. They are committed to encouraging each other on their spiritual journey with mutual acceptance and respect. Learn more about the Associates Movement here.

What are the Entrance Requirements for becoming a Sister of the Sorrowful Mother?

  1. Age: Not younger than 20 or older than 45 at the date of entrance into the postulancy
  2. Marital Status:
    1. Single
    2. If previously married, the person may begin postulancy two years after a valid change in marital status, widowhood or annulment.
  3. Family responsibilities:
    1. Free of dependents or minor children
    2. No financial or legal responsibilities for a family member or relative
  4. Faith:
    1. Baptized and confirmed in the Catholic faith
    2. If a convert to the Catholic faith, one must live the faith for at least two years prior to entering postulancy
  5. Health:
    1. Must be physically, emotionally and mentally healthy, that is, able to participate in ministry and community life
    2. Must have completed three years of recovery after treatment of an addiction
  6. Education:
    1. U.S. Citizens: High School education with a year’s working experience following high school; prefer completion of an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent
    2. English-speaking Caribbean Citizens:
      1. Five General Certificates of Education *(GCE) or Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) subjects required
      2. An associate degree, bachelor’s degree or equivalent is preferred
    3. Spanish-speaking Caribbean Citizens:
      1. The ability to speak and understand the English language
      2. Secondary education or is equivalen
      3. An associate degree, bachelor’s degree or equivalent preferred
  1. Citizenship, immigration, and naturalization
    1. Birth certificate, naturalization papers required
    2. A valid passport required
    3. Other requirements: Consult the Vocations Director, Sister Dorothy Ann Dirkx (ssmvoc@gmail.com)
How do I know I will be satisfied with religious life, if I answer the call to become a Sister?
You know that you will be satisfied with religious life by saying “yes” to the call and entering a religious community and continuing to discern whether religious life is right for you or not a good fit. If it is not a good fit, if you are not happy or at peace, if the life is not a satisfying way for you to live out your baptismal call, you are free to leave at any time before final vows. You are in what is called the initial phase of spiritual formation for a minimum of seven years before making final vows.