Founding a religious order

How does one found a religious order? Do you have to be a priest or nun first to found your own religious order? And does it have to be approved by the Vatican? or by a Bishop?

can someone please direct me to the proper procedures? Thanks.

Yes, I think that basically you have to be a priest or a nun or a brother already. It goes through different stages (though I’m not sure of the correct terminology). It starts as just a group with someone as moderator, under the bishop’s authority and if it works out, it progresses through a few stages of official recognition and might eventually become a ‘congregation’ if it’s big - like the many ‘new orders’ (recently founded ones like Franciscan Friars of the Renewal) and the benedictines, dominicans etc. Or it might just stay as a smaller group withing the Church.

Just what I think off the top of my head; others would know much more than I do. :slight_smile:

St Franci of Assisi was a lay person before he started gathering a small brotherhood by preaching in the streets barefoot. It was only after his audience with the Pope that he was given permission to expand as an authorized mendicant Religious Order. He had to be ordained a Deacon to ‘officially’ preach from a pulpit. Otherwise, he would likely have been hounded by authorities to historical insignificance, relegated to merely a homeless gadfly preacher with an unwashed band of tick-infested ‘hippie’ misfits.

So he reluctantly succumbed to the Church’s demand, deeming himself unworthy of ordination. Interestingly, St Francis later grew somewhat disgusted over his rapidly expanding and highly structured organization with thousands of neophytes attending schools of higher education, stuffing their nuts for winter and feathering their nests. He delegated administration of his worldly brotherhood while preferring to be alone in prayer.

His original twelve disciples stayed to his rugged course of taking no thought for the morrow. He suffered with blindness from his mission to Jerusalem, his crippling stigmata, and the anguish that Jesus’ teachings were being diluted in his Order to a worldliness beyond his control. His severe self-denial caused an early death, but no saint has more closely followed Christ’s example to willingly suffer much in obdience to God. I suspect Jesus Christ has been feeling much the same angst about his beloved Church.

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I am not completely sure, but I also think you need the local Bishop’s approval to start an order, and in the past they have been reluctant to do so if the mission of the order overlaps with another order in the diocese - probably due to a watering down of resources to support conflicting orders…

you need the bishop’s approval because he is responsible spiritually, and financially and legally for everything that goes on in his diocese under the Catholic umbrella. he will only approve an order whose charism is to meet a need that is not already being met in the diocese. He may even direct someone to begin an order for a needed purpose. In the past bishops in this country invited religious sisters from Europe to come and set up schools to educate Catholic children here, for instance. Several bishops recently have approved new orders, or more often called in sisters from other dioceses, whose orders are devoted to perpetual adoration, for instance, because the need for this is being recognized more and more.

Anyone can start living in community and religious life. No need to already be a priest or religious. If you want formal Church approval, then you have to proceed through the normal channels and set up some structure/rules of life. You’d approach the bishop seeking his blessing and eventually become a locally recognized “association of the faithful”. After time and establishment, you might end up getting recognition from Rome.

I run a Yahoo group (invitation only) called Founders Forum. If you wish to join, you may email me off-board.

The steps to foundation are this:

  1. Get the charism (gift to the church and the world) down on paper. If the community is to wear a habit, find someone who can sketch it.

  2. This next step is nebulous, and no one has ever stated what must happen next. Either visit the bishop with the paperwork mentioned in #1, or put the charism onto a website to advertise; gather aspirants; then ask the bishop’s blessing on the venture. I personally am doing the latter.

  3. The diocese is in no way financially responsible for the start of a new community. They (the future sisters/brothers) MUST show that they can be financially viable (right word?).

  4. The first classification of a new order is “de facto association.” Both the local bishop and Rome must know about it.

  5. The second classification is “private association of the faithful.” Another aspiring foundress has informed me that even a de facto association comes under this classification. When one’s community is a private association of the faithful, they are not permitted to make new foundations.

Footnote: I’m finding that bishops are being inconsistent where the habit is concerned at the “private association” step. One budding community wears a uniform of sorts with their bishop’s blessing, but another community in another diocese can’t wear the charism’s habit until they grow. The sisters are in a habit, but they’re different colors. Yet, a men’s community in another diocese was reprimanded because they all wore the same t-shirt. The diocese said what they were wearing was too much like a habit. I might be reading all that incorrectly, and if I am, I hope someone enlightens me.

  1. When the community has grown, they may take public vows and don the habit. At this point, if they grow further, they may make new foundations.

  2. After 10 years of steady growth, the community is approved as a religious institute of “diocesan right.” (That might be spelled “rite.” With the time change, I can’t remember squat right now).

  3. After 20-25 years of steady growth, the community can be approved by Rome, and become a religious institute of “pontifical right.” They are added to a book published yearly listing such communities, and are answerable to the pope himself.

As I said, please feel free to email me off-board with more questions.


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Thanks for your help!! I couldn’t find the Yahoo group. I was really just wondering how one founds a religious order. Thanks a lot.

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The yahoo group is private, and therefore is not listed.


I think you must have an approval from bishops and he will help you ask for approval in Holy See.

It is difficult to establish a new order. You must have the rule of life and statutes.

The Franciscan Friar of the Renewal (CFR) is new in a sense that it was establish not long ago. But the CFR are part of the third order Religious of the Franciscan family which means it follows the Rule of St. Francis.

This website of The Servants of The Lord makes very interesting reading. They do not have formal diocesan approval, nor is it necessary apparently under canon law, and the Sisters wear a form of religious habit as their gallery shows. They are certainly flourishing and loyal to Rome and the Magisterium.

The “Disclaimer” on the SoL website is very similar to a few disclaimers I have read on new foundation websites. If anyone should know that my information is incorrect, advise would be most appreciated indeed, together with a reliable source link.

Blessings - Barb:)

I just started a public founders’ group–“Founders and Friends.”


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Some of the comments above on founding a religious order are correct, and some of them incorrect. Those who wish to found an order are highly advised to speak to a canonist on the subject. I myself am specializing in consecrated life (and association of the faithful) law because of my personal interest, but any canonist knows the basics of establishing a religious community. A person does not have to be a priest or nun to found an order. [My disclaimer is that I will not be a canon lawyer until later next month.]


You asked about the SoL’s disclaimer… A “new” form of consecrated life must be submitted to the bishop (who in turn gives it to Rome) for approval if there is ever to be canonical recognition of the life. It is in the best interest for a prospective candidate to see whether such a community is actually pursuing such recognition or is just waiting for a miracle to occur with Rome all of a sudden discovering its existence.

The truth is, members of groups without canonical status or approval are especially vulnerable when it comes to questions concerning their rights. Religious have rights by law which are not necessarily extended to privately consecrated individuals consorting in community. I have to say from my experience with religious orders and wanna be orders that there are enough problems in religious life with established constitutions and rules. Trust me, there are scads of problems in established communities that non-religious have no idea about. It’s a zillion times worse with emerging communities.

I am friends with a person who just obtained approval for her community’s new form of consecrated life. She had the able assistance of one of the best canonists in America and I was glad to see her community get that approval.

With respect to private associations of the faithful, there is no restriction on their expanding into other dioceses. With respect to the use or non use of habits, it is best to defer to the local ordinary’s judgment. The habit is a public sign and he may restrict its usage to those of diocesan right if he chooses.

Thank you SS for sharing your thoughts…Blessings and regards…Barb:)

Greetings in Christ, I currently feel called to found a religious community within my home diocese under the title of the Servants of the Joy of Mary. This is to become a religious community of priests and brothers whose Charism will be to return souls back to Christ through the offering of perpetual confession. They are to preach on the dangers of sin and the healing power of Christs mercy bringing great joy to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I simply ask for each of your prayers (particulary the joyful mysteries) that the bishop will prayerfully consider the call which I have felt for several years. May God Bless you for each of your prayers. They would be of great help. Thanks for posting this forum it has been very helpful.

In Christ

Starting an order can be really hard. The church makes its clear that one just can’t start a religious order. Believe me I know. However you need no approval to start a lay order. I know because I’m in the early stages of doing it.However I wrote to the Pope who wished me well. I also wrote several times to Cardinal Mahony.He told me I need no approval. My order is called The Lay Brothers of Divine Prayer. Its based on an old school tradition. We will wear a habit.Wearing the habit has become quite a problem with a small few. I origially
stared with a black shirt and medal. I got very little responce from that. Our mission is to help with the poor, visit the sick, and promote prayer. When I started wearing the habit the responce began overwelming. I really don’t like going out in public with it on. However I feel called by God to do so.For me it takes courage and lots of prayer to do so.I get the support from priest and nuns all the time.
The feeling of knowing I’ve helped someone in need is the most wonderful feel one can have.Feel free to contact me to know more. I’m currently looking for other men to follow me in this mission.
Bro. Christopher

With great difficulty. I would draw your attention to a an Irish Nun ( Irene Gibson) who tried to establish a new Order on the West Coast of Ireland many years ago only to find that she had to give up, a few years ago, due in one part to not being able to find an Irish priest who could perform the Latin Mass and more importantly lack of funding and support from the local community.
Understand she started life as a Benedictine Nun at Tyburn, London and tried to emulate the Carthusian model in Ireland. Ironic, when there are several Charterhouses for Nuns around the world who do the jon splendidly. There is now one in Korea.
But therein lies another question. Is a person who obviously has some degree of pride in wanting to start an Order that already exists actually suited to that life.

Just a thought.


For example, how would offering perpetual confession work.?


Good question.

I was under the impression that the Church had stopped accepting new orders, such as the Dominicans, Carmelites and Jesuits, etc. long ago.

I say that because I am a member of the Confraternity of the Passion, and the Passionist founder St. Paul of the Cross, tried to make his Passionists a true full order like the ones I mentioned above, but he was denied because the Pope at the time, Clement XIV, felt that the Church had enough orders. So the Passionists never became an order, but instead a congregration with full Church rights.

So am I wrong about this? Is the Church still open to new full orders?:confused:

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