Latin: conventua, assembly
In the history of monasticism a word of two distinct technical meanings: a religious community of either sex when spoken of in its corporate capacity, e.g., hermits of an Eastern laura, or a Western monastic establishment; also the buildings in which a strictly monastic order resides, as distinguished from the home of a “congregation.” In the popular signification, it is an abode of female religious, corresponding to the term “monastery” as applied to a male establishment. In the latter sense it is treated in the present article.
Varying in details according to each religious order, the features common to all conventual life differ little from those characterizing monasticism. The division of convents into two classes, strictly enclosed and unenclosed, requires subdivision according as they are contemplative, or active, or a combination of both. The motive actuating the older orders was mainly contemplative. Whether of the contemplative or the active type, convents have always been homes of industry, enriching the Church by their cultivation of the fine arts and needlework, and in more modern orders, by educational and hospital work, the conduct of retreats, and the administration of penitentiaries, orphanages, and homes. Legislation relating to convents requires episcopal consent and papal approbation for new establishments, episcopal supervision of the convents in each diocese, excepting those exempt, and prevention of coercion in the admission of postulants; among the chief regulations is the law of enclosure. The recital of Divine Office is incumbent upon choir nuns of the older contemplative orders. Some have undertaken the observance of perpetual adoration.