Explore the different types of vocations

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Young people who belong to Schoenstatt, a lay ecclesial movement, celebrate the group’s 100th anniversary.

Young people who belong to Schoenstatt, a lay ecclesial movement, celebrate the group’s 100th anniversary. (Photo: Jacobmaky, Wikipedia.)

GOD CALLS all of us to be true to ourselves and live in sync with our deepest longings and gifts, whether that be within marriage, single life, holy orders, or religious life. Find more about the types of vocations within religious life here. In addition to those paths—and in some cases within those paths—are other affiliations and forms of life that help adherents express their faith fully.


Some religious institutes have associate membership, which allows single and married laypeople to have a close bond with the community. The requirements and commitments between communities and their associates, or “co-members,” vary with each religious institute. Generally, associates feel drawn to the charism—the spirit and mission—of the community and pledge to carry out prayer and works of service according to this charism and their own abilities. Associates commit themselves to integrating the community’s spirit into their way of life. They usually take part in some activities of the community.

Learn more about religious institutes that have associates on the website of the North American Conference of Associates and Religious: nacar.org. Or you may search for the keyword “Associate” in the online VISION Community Search at VocationNetwork.org.

Sister Marsha Speth, S.P. (left) and Providence Associate candidate Mary Gemma take a walk during a retreat of the Providence Associates.
Sister Marsha Speth, S.P. (left) and Providence Associate candidate Mary Gemma take a walk during a retreat of the Providence Associates. (Courtesy of Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, IN)

Secular third orders

Secular third orders—such as the Lay Carmelites, the Oblates of St. Benedict, and the Third Order of St. Francis—are associations of laypeople who follow the inspiration and guidance of a religious order while living in the world. Third order members are usually received into the religious community in a particular ceremony and pledge themselves to certain prayers and religious practices. For more information on secular third orders, inquire with individual communities that have them. These communities tend to be Franciscan, Carmelite, Benedictine, and Dominican.

Permanent deacons

Permanent deacons are men, usually 35 or older and self-supporting, who are ordained to minister in a diocese after a formal period of formation and training that the diocese oversees. The ministry of the deacon is threefold: service, the word (such as preaching, catechesis, retreat work, or counseling), and liturgy, including leading certain parts of the Mass and presiding at Baptisms and weddings. Deacons may also be involved with parish pastoral ministry. Although a permanent deacon may be married at the time of ordination, if he is single at ordination, or if his wife dies afterward, he is expected to remain celibate. For more information: usccb.org/committees/clergy-consecrated-life-vocations/permanent-diaconate.

A newly ordained permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Boston distributes Communion.
A newly ordained permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Boston distributes Communion.(Courtesy of Boston Archdiocese, Flickr)

Diocesan hermits

This relatively rare form of life involves living a life of prayer and contemplation in solitude. A bishop must be willing to accept the formal petition of a person who wants to be a diocesan hermit, and official paperwork is involved. This eremitical way of life is an ancient tradition and is described, in part, in canon law as follows (Canon 603): “A hermit is one . . . dedicated to God in consecrated life if he or she publicly professes in the hands of a diocesan bishop the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, and observes a proper program of living under his direction.” Several books have been written on the topic, including Consider the Ravens: On Contemporary Hermit Life by Paul A. Fredette and Alone with God by Dom Jean Leclercq.

Secular institutes

Secular institutes are a form of consecrated life in which members live a life of celibate chastity, poverty, and obedience through the witness of their lives and their apostolic activity wherever they are employed. Usually members do not live in community, though in some cases they may.

Secular institutes are for laywomen, laymen, and diocesan priests. Periodically, members of secular institutes come together for retreats and meetings. The U.S. Conference of Secular Institutes website, secularinstitutes.org, offers general information about secular institutes and contact information for about 20 groups.

Consecrated virgins

According to church law, consecrated virgins are “. . . consecrated to God, mystically espoused to Christ, and dedicated to the service of the church. . . .” A woman is admitted to consecration by her local bishop, who determines the conditions under which she lives her life of perpetual virginity. Candidates for consecration must be women who have never been married, had children, or lived in open violation of chastity. Once consecrated, a woman is closely connected to her diocese, the bishop, and her sisters in the vocation. A diocese does not take on financial responsibility for a consecrated virgin. More information is available from the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, consecratedvirgins.org and at and at the Vatican website at this shortened URL: bit.ly/3EEyJL1 .

Lay ecclesial movements

Lay ecclesial movements are church organizations focused on a particular ministry or spirituality, or both. The Vatican’s Pontifical Council of the Laity has published an online directory of international associations of the faithful at laityfamilylife.va/content/laityfamilylife/en/sezione-laici/repertorio.html. Below are a few examples of the types of organizations that exist.

• The Cursillo Movement proclaims that God, in Christ, loves us, and it does so through “short courses” and regular gatherings in small communities.

• Communion and Liberation, with its focus on the Incarnation and the presence of Christ “here and now,” educates members in Christianity and collaborates in the mission of the church in all spheres of life.

• Focolare (Italian for “family fireside”) aims to contribute to the realization of Jesus’ last will and testament: “may they all be one” and so build up fraternal relations in society.

• L’Arche is dedicated to the creation and growth of homes, programs, and support networks for people with intellectual disabilities.

• The Neocatechumenate provides continuing Christian instruction for Catholics in small parish-based communities. 

Related articles: VocationNetwork.org, “Finding the right fit” and “The essential facts about secular institutes.”




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