Being Father Superior and Creating a Religious Community

I believe that God wants me to become a monk. However, I don’t know where he wants me to go. As of now, I am open to joining any religious order or creating a religious community or becoming a diocesan priest instead, whichever God wants me to do. I have a couple questions.

  1. How does someone become a Father Superior?

  2. How does someone create a religious community?

  3. Can a religious priest become a diocesan priest?

You cannot know God’s will without trying.
You dont become Father Superior.
You create a religious community inviting people to follow you.
A religious priest is a religious priest. why would be become a diocesan priest if he is a religous one?

Let’s take one at a time.

  1. How does someone become a Father Superior?

Religious communities elect their major superior and the major superior appoints the local superior.

  1. How does someone create a religious community?

You begin with a charism. You don’t pull it out of your hat. You respond to a call. You share that with others of like mind. They join you and you grow into an association.

  1. Can a religious priest become a diocesan priest?

Yes. Religious and priest are not synonymous, contrary to what people think. They are distinct vocations. God calls us to one or to both. There are men who believe that they are called to be priests and religious. They go through the entire formation program and become religious. Then they become priests.

Later, they realize that they made a mistake. They are called to be priests, but not called to the consecrated life. They request a dispensation from the religious life.

However, one must remember, the person who decides that you have or don’t have a vocation is the superior. Just as the superior gives the final approval for a man to make vows and a man to be ordained, so too the superior, after reading the reasons for the request for a dispensation and after consultation with his council, decides again, whether the person has a vocation to the consecrated life or not. If the superior believes that the person does not have a vocation to the consecrated life, he forwards the request to the Holy See. The Holy See alone can grant the dispensation from vows.

If the Holy See believes that the person may truly be called to be a secular man, it buys some time. The man is granted permission to apply to a bishop for incardination into a diocese or to a secular society of priests, such as the FSSP, Maryknoll, etc.

If the bishop accepts him, the man is given permission to live outside of his religious community and join the diocese for a period of time. This can be from one to five years. You still remain a member of your religious community with all of the rights and obligations of that commitment. The only thing is that you live as if you were a secular priest for the time allotted. At the end of that period, you, the bishop and the superior jointly decide what is best for you and for the Church. If it is God’s will that you return to the secular life, the dispensation from the consecrated life is granted and the bishop incardinates you into the diocese.

It can also happen the other way around. A secular priest may hear the call to the consecrated life. He applies to a religious community and begins the formation process, if the superior welcomes him. It takes from six to 10 years to become a fully professed religious. During that time, the priest is a member of the community, but he is still discerning. He goes through postulancy, novitiate and juniorate (temporary vows) and then he makes perpetual vows or he returns to his diocese.

Whichever way the man is going, discernment, prayer and obedience are key.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

What exactly is a charism in this case?


"The distinctive spirituality of the founder or foundress of a religious institute, which then distinguishes a religious family from other forms of consecrated life approved by the Church. It is the personality of a religious community bequeathed by the one who founded the institute. According to the Second Vatican Council, this charism is “the spirit and aims of each founder [which] should be faithfully accepted and retained” (Perfectae Caritatis, 2). "

Some interesting comments on charism generally here:

What powers do Father Superiors have? From what I have heard, religious communities only answer to the Holy See.

Can I have an example of a charism besides those listed? Also, how does one follow the founder’s charism?

I am on unsure ground here, so I hope Brother JR will come in again. As I understand things a charism is a special gift to the founder as with St. Francis of Assisi and The Fransicans it was poverty and a quite radical following of The Gospel. For St. Teresa of Avila and the Carmelites, it was or is a life of prayer. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her sisters it was or is care for the suffering and dying.
It needs to be noted that religious life is always a radical following of The Gospel - just how radical is spelt out by the founder.
One follows the founder’s charism by following that special gift of The Holy Spirit. This is a gift to the Universal Church. As we, as member of The Mystical Body of Christ, share in each others failings, so we share in each other’s virtues and those special gifts or charism to founders.
But as I said, I am on unsure ground.
The Mystical Body of Christ on earth, The Church, is just what it states. Hence each of the religious families, in this instance, continues the Work of Christ on earth in some aspect e.g. The Franciscans continue Christ in His Poverty, The Carmelites in His Life of Prayer, Mother Teresa’s sisters in His Love and Concern, Compassion for those suffering. But we are all members of His One Body on earth and continue His Work here. The Holy Spirit in His Wisdom disperses special gifts or charism to continue and highlight some continuing Work of Christ on earth - in this particular instance under discussion through founders of religious families.
Brother JR - where are you!


There are three levels. There are superiors of local houses. These are often referred as the local superior, though they may be called Father, even if they are not priests. They govern the house in which they live according to the rule and constitutions.

If a religious community is large as are Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, Salesians, Christian Brothers, etc, they are divided into regions, often called Provinces. These Father Superiors have the same authority as a bishop. They make assignments. They decide how money is spent. They manage all of the assets of the houses under them. Only they can give permission for a man to make vows and for a man to be ordained. Christ speaks through them. They make contracts in the name of the community. These may be contracts with the local bishop to run certain ministries for him or contracts with other order or institutions. They can open and suppress houses and institutions belonging to their religious community. They decide the formation program and the govern the life of prayer of the community. Everyone answers to them, either directly or through the local superior. They are elected by an electoral chapter at which all local superiors vote, the council votes and each house gets to send a delegate.

Note: Among the Jesuits, the provincial Father Superior is not elected. He is appointed by the Superior General. Only the Superior General is elected.

The Superior General is also Father Superior. He governs the entire religious community. If a community is small, it may not have a Provincial Father Superior. It will only have a General Father Superior. These superiors have many titles, depending on the order. In some orders they are called Prior, Ministers, Servants, Superiors, Abbots, but they all mean the same thing. They are the bosses.

The General Superior of any order is the successor of the founder. His voice is the final voice for the members of the order. He governs according to the constitutions of the order and according to the mind of the founder. In some communities, such as the Jesuits and Dominicans, the founders did not write a rule for their orders. They did not leave their sons a rule of life. They gave them statutes or constitutions, which they change and modify according to the needs of the time. These men are the liaison with the Holy See. They answer to those whom they govern and to the pope.

Every community is legally bound to have a general chapter every so many years. At that chapter, the religious send delegates who vote on different issues. At that chapter, the Father General must give a report to the delegates on the state of the order and what he has done. They have a right to ask questions and make suggestions… If they don’t like what he does, they can elect a new Father General.

However, the chapter cannot command the Father General to do anything that is outside of its competence. In other words, the Father General has certain rights that he can exercise even if the entire community is opposed to it. Once he speaks, Christ has spoken and everyone must obey. But this power is limited to those things that the rule, constitutions, Canon Law, and tradition grant to the Father General or whatever title he may use. I believe that the Dominicans call him the Master General. Benedictines call him abbot, Carmelites call him Prior General, Franciscans call him Minister General or General Servant. Each of these titles are to remind the Father Superior of his mission to his brothers.

I’m right here. You have it right. The charism is the vision and mission that the Holy Spirit gives to the founder. His sons and daughters make it their own and hand it down from generation to generation.

In the case of the Franciscans, the vision that Christ gave to Francis was to imitate Christ’s obedience. The external expression of Christ’s obedience is Christ’s poverty He gives up everything for the love of the Father. The mission that Christ gave to Francis was to preach. However, Francis observed how Christ preached. He observed that Christ preached through his presence, his charity, mercy, teaching, brotherhood, and through his suffering on the cross. Francis sends his sons into the world to preach in this manner.

Some are priests and preach from the pulpit. Most are not priests. However, we preach in retreats, classrooms, religious education, spiritual direction and lectures. Others preach through their charity, caring for the poor. Many Franciscans preach simply by presences. They live in a neighborhood without a specific apostolate. They’re just there for the people to see how the Christian life is lived in brotherhood.

As you can see, a charism has a vision of the Gospel and a mission in the Church.


Br. JR, OSF :christmastree1:

Does the General Superior have the power of a Bishop too?

Yes. He can even grant faculties to those who are priests and he can suspend too. In fact, the Provincial Superior gets his authority from General Superior. The local superior gets his authority from the provincial superior.

In the case of secular priests, the pastor gets his authority from the bishop who gets his authority from the pope.

The only thing that a General Superior cannot do is to dismiss a perpetually professed member of the community, not matter how big his crime. The community is stuck with him, until the Holy See says so. This is called the Right of Exemption. Professed religious and professed members of Secular Orders cannot be dismissed so easily.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

If a man founds a religious community, would he be the General Superior?

It’s up to the bishop of the diocese in which he starts the community.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

My thank you for the responses, Brother JR -


What happens if a religious priest is called to be a bishop of a diocese. Does he have to give up his vows?

No. If a regular priest accepts to order of bishop, he remains a member of his religious community. He is bound to the statutes that govern his community like any other religious.

There are some trade offs that Canon Law insist on.

a. He may not vote in his community. He retains passive voice. Which means that he can express his opinions when he is asked, but he has no active voice. He cannot vote, nor can he be elected to any office in the community unless he resigns his post as bishop, which has happened. St. Bonaventure was both a bishop and a cardinal and he resigned to become the General Minister of the order.

b. If he a member of a religious order, he may have use of whatever is given to him while he is bishop, but he may not own it. If he is a member of a religious congregation, he may own whatever is given to him while he is bishop.

c. At his retirement, he can choose to return to live with his community and the community must take him in and care for him in his old age and infirmities, just like a marriage. He also gets back his voting rights. He can choose to live away from his community, but he remains a member of the community and is bound to its rules.

d. He must obey the vision and mission of his founder, even in running his diocese. This is part of his vocation. A Dominican does not cease to be a preacher, because he’s a bishop, nor does a Benedictine cease to be a contemplative and so forth. However, he is not attached to any of the superiors in the community to avoid conflicts of interest. He is attached to the rule, constitutions, founder and the Holy Father.

e. He may resign at any time and return to his community. I can’t recall the name of the bishop, but Florida had such a case. The bishop was a Jesuit. He did not want to be a bishop any longer. He wanted to return to his community. He resigned. He went back to being Father X. He is still a bishop, just not an active bishop. You can’t undo the ordination. St. Bonaventure went from being Cardinal Fidanza back to being Brother Bonaventure. Pope Celestine was a Benedictine brother when he was elected pope. He was not even a priest. He was ordained a deacon, then priest, then bishop then crowned pope. A few months later, he resigned, because he wanted to be a Benedictine and went back to being Brother Pietro. I should add that the cardinals were not too happy and they had him arrested. :shrug:


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

What do you mean by Benedictines are contemplatives? What do contemplatives do? Was Pope Celestine laicized then?

Benedictines are monks. They’re first duty is to the Liturgy of the Hours, meditation, Lectio Divina and recollection. Their second duty is to hospitality. After that, they can fill their time with whatever is necessary to keep themselves alive and healthy. They’re not like Dominicans and Franciscans who do all the above, but then go out to do apostolic work.

No. St. Celestine was not laicized. He remained a bishop. He simply was no longer the pope. He had deliberately created a law that said that the pope could abdicate. Then he applied it to himself. Once you’re ordained, you cannot undo the ordination. He simply did not function as a priest. He laid this aside and lived as a monk until he died. Though he did have to live in a cell that the cardinals created for him. That was not in his plans. His plan was to go back to the monastery.

Popes do not resign, because there is no one to resign to. Popes don’t have superiors. So to whom do they hand their letter of resignation? Instead, Celestine wrote a statement saying that he was abandoning the Chair of Peter. In that case, the Church goes into Sede Vacante. The electoral college has to elect a new successor to Peter. It’s as if the pope had died.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

How does someone create a religious order?

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