If you have a mental illness, can you still join a religious order?

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Friday 14, January 2011 | Category:  
Can someone join a religious order if they have a mental illness? —Neil J.

A vocation to religious life also means having the gifts, disposition, and health necessary to carry out the mission of a particular religious community. In terms of health, a person must be in good overall health, though sometimes she or he may have an illness or disability that is manageable and does not impede their engagement with the mission of the community.

In some communities—in particular active religious communities (as distinct from cloistered or monastic ones)—there may be a greater emphasis placed on health because of the sometimes physically and/or emotionally challenging ministries in which the community may be involved. I encourage you to get to know a religious community—it’s mission, members, ministries, and way of life. You’ll get a sense of how at home you feel with them. Once you have begun relating to a vocation director, or if you have a mentor in the community, talk with them about your concerns. That doesn’t have to be the first thing you tell them about yourself, but you should raise you concerns early in your discernment with them.

I also encourage you to connect with persons who’ve been where you are and to check out resources for discerners like yourself. A resource right here on this website has information about religious communities that actively welcome persons with chronic illnesses.

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