To become a religious sister, a religious brother, or a religious order priest, there are several stages. While these vary from community to community in name, length of time, and format, the following outline gives a general view of formation programs.
Contact: A person of high-school age or older who is interested in religious life but is still searching for the answer to the question, What does God want of me? Can I join a program of contact with a religious community? The formation program is usually very flexible. The person meets monthly with a priest, brother, or sister and shares in experiences of prayer and community life with the congregation in which he or she is interested.
Candidate: A more formal relationship with the community occurs when a person becomes a candidate. The candidate lives within the community while continuing his or her education or work experience. This period enables the candidate to observe and participate in religious life from the inside. It also gives the community an opportunity to see whether the candidate shows promise of living the life of the community. A person may be a candidate for one or two years.
Novice: The novitiate is the next stage of formation. This is a special one-to-two-year period that marks official entrance into the community. Novices spend time in study and prayer, learning more about themselves, the community, and their relationship with the Lord. At the end of the novitiate, novices prepare for temporary promises, or vows.
Vows: Promises of poverty, celibacy, and obedience may be taken for one, two, or three years, depending upon the decision of the individual. These promises are renewable for up to nine years. Final vows can be made after three years of temporary promises.
Additionally men studying for religious priesthood must also undergo seminary training, where he studies theology, the Bible, the teachings of the church, and the skills he will need to be a priest.