Some possibly basic questions about religious orders

I apologize in advance if these are stupid questions, but they are things I have always wondered about and haven’t been able to ask anyone.

  1. Why are there so very many different religious orders, with people apparently still starting new ones? Is it to meet some local need?

  2. Why do some orders stay very small and local, while others seem to be part of some huge worldwide order or group (e.g. Carmelite, Dominican, Jesuit)?


  1. Each order has a certain charism, a particular gift of the Holy Spirit, an expression of spiritual gift(s) generally unique to that order. Each order also has a particular rule of life which guides its members in living out that charism. I belong to the Carmelites as a lay member. Our charism is contemplation which is expressed in three aspects: prayer, community, and service. Dominicans, as another example, have the mission (charism) to share with others the truth about the God whom they contemplate in their hearts which is expressed in four aspects: prayer, study, community, and ministry and service.

These two charisms may seem similar but I was exposed to the Dominican Order years before I was introduced to the Carmelites and I never felt called to become a member of the former. On the other hand, at the first community meeting I attended with the Carmelites I felt more at home than I had ever felt anywhere, at anytime (including in my own home).

  1. This is probably due to many factors. Mainly:
    A. How old is the order?
    B. Have they moved around a lot and therefore had widespread exposure to new vocations?
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I think this is part of my confusion. Many of the orders seem to have very similar “mission statements”, but there is clearly a significant difference in how they are going about their business that makes sense to the persons being called to the Order.

They’re not stupid questions. I’ve been asking them myself, especially in the case of the Passionists, who are still relatively small compared to other congregations founded in the 1700s.

The first form of any kind of consecrated life were the consecrated virgins. Then there was the precursor to the canons regular. Then St. Augustine wrote his now-famous Letter 211, which codified community life based on that of Acts in the Bible. Adherents were known as Augustinian Canons.

There were also the Desert Fathers & Mothers – the hermits. St. Pachomius received the Angelic Rule, and built what was considered to be the first cenobitic community.

At the fall of the Roman Empire, St. Benedict cobbled together his “rule for beginners” and its 72 (73?) points.

Many congregations and orders were founded using the Augustinian and Benedictine rules. The great orders like the Norbertines, Trinitarians, Mercedarians, Dominicans, Servites, and others use the Rule of St. Augustine. The Cistercians and Camaldolese use the Benedictine. The Carthusians wrote their own rule.

Francis came along around the same time as Dominic (who was an Augustinian canon). Francis wrote his own rule, which is now protected by Rome because it was given by Divine Revelation. Both Francis and Dominic were mendicants, which means they were itinerant begging preachers.

During the 1700s, the Passionists, Redemptorists/Redemptoristines, and Nuns of Perpetual Adoration were all started as a result of revelations to their founders. Look at what was happening in the world at that time. As America was being born, the Passionists were being founded. The Servites had already been on the ground for 500 years. Why another charism devoted to the Sacred Passion? Yet, when St. Paul of the Cross approached the pope about his new charism, the pontiff exclaimed, “It should have been the first!”

I grew up Baptist in KY. How do you think I felt when I learned there was an “orthodox” convent of Dominican nuns in Nashville, TN? Of all places! The home of the Southern Baptist Convention!

Why are we staring new charisms? If you ask the founders my organization supports, they will say that they are being led to do what they’re doing because there is a crisis in the world, and they are being called to give a good example. One is developing a farm. And he’s not the only founder seemingly drawn to farm life. At least two others have contacted me, as well, who feel they are to live out their charisms on farms. Another is to start an eremitical community comprised of bedridden nursing home patients.

Mrs Cloisters OP
Lay Dominican


I was recently on a trip with a sister and she had a habit I had never seen before. In talking to her I found that her order was quite new and had only a few people in it besides her. She was a very nice, devout person and the order seemed to have fine priorities so it was not a problem, but it kind of reminded me of joining a startup as opposed to joining a large established company like Google. I wondered if the chance to build something new from the ground up was a motivating factor in starting these new orders rather than seeking to join one that has a lot of history.

Thanks Mrs. Cloisters for the history. I’ve been trying to put it together a bit based on Wikipedia and what I pick up on pilgrimage trips, but it’s a bit challenging putting it all together.

The prior posts cover a lot. The complication is, “Why are new communities being formed in the old Religious Order traditions, rather than people simply joining up in the existing orders?” For instance, there is a new community of Franciscan sisters which is solidly orthodox. I suspect there are many other Franciscan communities that have similar charism, but I think those others may be “liberal”.

In some cases people have broken off from existing communities, usually saying, “we need to get back to our roots!”. The Capuchins, for instance.

In recent years, especially, some have broken off from communities for other reasons: perceived doctrinal liberalism. The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal broke off from the Capuchins.

What I wonder about is why have so many communities branched off, or formed anew, from some religious traditions, such as Franciscans, but others, like Jesuits, have had no branchoffs and no new start-from-scratch little Jesuit groups.

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I noticed that about the Jesuits too. They seem to stick together.

Have you always asked so many questions? Your teachers must have loved or hated you. :woman_student:

Well, I think some of these are mysteries only the Holy Spirit can answer. Divine Providence is always at work in the formation, growth, or recession of any and all religious community.

I actually didn’t ask a lot of questions in school. I learned early on that the teachers didn’t respond well to that and usually didn’t know the answer. I did read encyclopedias incessantly (I hounded Mom into buying 2 sets, which on our budget was a lot of money) and went to the library a lot.

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Sounds like you missed your calling as a Domincan scholar. :sunglasses:

I have a lot of interests in many things, but my A.D.D. keeps me from reading and learning too voraciously or voluminously (sorry about the two “v”'s but they just came to mind. lol ) I think God tells me specifically, “I want you to learn to pray, or just pray, period, not learn lots of stuff.” But that is just what he told me. I tend towards pride, so it seems like it was a good “suggestion.” haha

Actually I’d have very likely tried to become a Jesuit if I were a man. The Jesuits taught the Catholic boys’ prep school nearby where the intellectual Catholic boys went. They seemed super smart and tough.

There actually are a lot of women’s communities in the Jesuit tradition, but they don’t call themselves Jesuitesses. Another poster on CAF had posted her link

Our emerging charism will be Vincentian, but all of the other spiritualties will be represented, as well. This is attainable because Vincentianism is a way, and highly adaptable to other spiritualties. A case in point would be the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation.

The Holy Spirit is the one to ask regarding the new charisms. I only know that I have peace when I work on this, and I pray that God is glorified by our prayers and works.

If you have ADD and you’re being called to prayer, perhaps joining our Blessed Herman’s Eremitical Network would be for you. They are the prayer powerhouse support for our Leonie League, which promotes the advancement of autistic persons. I can post the link, if you like. We are already praying for 3 young ladies with autism who are feeling called to the religious life.

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Being old and married, it’s a bit too late unless I can find a third order. I did attend a Jesuit university for four years.

I looked at Ignatian Associates a while back, but unfortunately they are not operating near me and also would want my husband and I to join as a married couple, which wouldn’t work as he is not Catholic. Oh well.

Sounds cool. I’m still just spending a lot of time in adoration and trying to listen and truly pray. Sometimes, I think I hear Jesus say, the vocation I have given you is for this hour. This is your vocation in the immediate present moment. Spend this hour with me, right here, right now. It’s a somewhat different way of looking at personal vocation, I think.

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You might like this book. Your question reminded me of it as I don’t often see books that discuss religious life and religious orders. I would pass by it from time to time where I used to work, but never got a chance to really peek into it. There were already 10,000 catholic books to pop open in front of me and actually reading the books while working was frowned upon for some reason. :face_with_monocle:

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Thank you, I’ll check it out.

At the risk of repeating someone else I’ll add my 2 cents and take on it. I’ve been discerning religious life for some months now and have done a bit of research.

If you start with consecrated life that can be broken down into two types:

  • as an individual
  • as part of an institute

Individuals are split into two types:

  • hermits (separated from the world)
  • consecrated virgin (in the world)

Institutes (living in community) are split into two types:

  • religious (with varying levels of separation from the world)
  • secular (living in the world)

Religious institutes are split into 4 types:

  • monastic
  • mendicant
  • canons regular
  • clerics regular


  • Generally live a contemplative and/or cloistered life to varying extents and are bound to once place.
  • Called monks/brothers or nuns/sisters
  • Some men are priests
  • Benedictines, Cistercians, Trappists, Carthusians, Carmelite nuns, etc


  • Live and pray and common but usually have a more active apostolate in the world
  • Called friars/brothers or sisters
  • Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinian Friars, Carmelite friars, etc

Canons Regular

  • Live in a community and are generally run parish apostolates
  • Called brothers, fathers and nuns/sisters
  • Norbertines, Crosiers, etc

Clerics Regular

  • Priests who are not assigned to a parish but focus on pastoral care
  • Called father or brother
  • Jesuits, Barnabites, etc

Secular institutes (I don’t know a whole lot about these)

  • Lay and/or clerical
  • May or may not be affiliated with a religious order

When you take all these variables it is easy to see why there are so many orders. Within the different types each has their own charism, which in many ways determines to what level they will live in and/or apart from the world and what focus their ministry will take.

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