Starting an order?


Hwo does one go about starting an order (for women)? I know it takes many years and has to be approved by the Vatican, but is there a book or a site with info that I could check out?


There have been some threads on this in this Forum but some time ago I think. Doing a Search may assist you.



If you do start one, and you accept older women, let me know. :slight_smile:



Here is one of those threads. There is alot of good info in there.

I have to ask though, does the Church need anymore orders or congregations? There seems to be an order or congregation to cover almost any Rule of Life or any charism that I can think of. I could well be wrong about that and maybe you know of a need that an order is not covering, I'm just asking...:)


Let’s clarify here. The Church no longer admits new orders. You can found a congregation. The last order to be founded was the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Afterward, no more orders have been allowed. Every religious institutte founded after that is a congregation.

There are not many religious rules in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. There are only five religioius rules, in order of age: Benedictine, Basilian, Carmelite, Augustinian and Franciscan. Every religious order follows one of these rules.

The congregations are called congregations, because they do not follow any rule. Congregations do not follow rules. Each congregation has a set of statutes called a Constitution, which orders also have along with the rule. The Congregations only have the Constitution.

The difference between a Constitution and a rule is that a rule is an encyclical. The five rules approved for Catholics and Orthodox all have Papal Bulls. This means that they can never be edited by those who follow the rule.

However, it has happened that new situations come up and they are not addressed in the rule. For example, the Franciscan Rule explicitly prohibits saluting the flag and all forms of patriotism. In some countries this is illegal. At the time that the rule was written, this was not illegal. With the rise of a new situation a statement had to be made on what the brothers and sisters were to do. A Constitution was written to address this issue, which never occurred to St. Francis. Another example, the rule of St. Francis prohibits the brothers and sisters serving the middle class under pain of excommunication. As it happened, the brothers and sisters came to the USA to serve the poor, especially the immigrant poor. But these people did not stay poor. The question arose, what do we do when a neighborhood or parish in which we serve rises above the poverty level? There had to be an answer, because Francis never thought of this question. There was a paragraph added to the Constitution that said that the brothers and sisters must close the parish or hand it over to the bishop and leave. They may not remain in a middle class parish except if the parish serves the immigrant, sick, poor, disabled and other marginalized people. That’s what a Constitution does.

The religious communities that were founded after the Jesuits were not allowed to become orders. They were not allowed the privilege of making solemn vows, because solemn vows bring with them certain graces not found anywhere else. These graces are reserved for: Benedictines, Carmelites, Augustinians, Basilians and Franciscans.

Therefore, all new communities since the 16th century are congregations with simple vows. They follow a consitution that their founder puts together, but the popes do not seal. By not sealing it, the community has the legal right to change it by a majority vote. This is not a right found in religious orders. Franciscans cannot change a single word of what Francis wrote, nor can Benedictines change what Benedict wrote, Carmelites cannot change what Albert wrote and so forth.

The Vatican does not have to approve the foundation of a religious congregation. The local bishop has the authority to approve it or a local abbot. These are called Religious Congregations of Diocesan Right. This means that where ever the brothers or sisters of these congregations serve, they must obey the local bishop.

Religious communities approved by the Holy See are called Religious Institutes of Pontifical Right. This means that they obey their superior general and the pope. They owe no obedience to any bishop or to the laity, unless it’s in their statutes or the superior orders them to obey the bishop or the laity.

To found a congregation you must prove that the membership can support itself financially. That it has something to offer the local Church that is not available. You must prove that there is a steady flow of vocations. You must have a place to live. If you adopt a habit, it must be approved by the local bishop. You must have a constitution which must be approved by the local bishop and the Sacred Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. It is the bishop’s responsibility to get a copy of the constitution to the Sacred Congregation. Once the constitution is approved, the congregation becomes formally erected and no bishop in the world has any power to dismantle it, even though it’s a congregation of diocesan right. They owe obedience to the bishop; however, the one order that the bishop cannot give is to dismantle. Only the pope can do that. Also, every new religious community must start as a private association of the faithful, with the consent of the bishop. Only the bishop can give a new community the authority to call itself Catholic.

Without the bishop’s permission, the new community is not a Catholic community, even though all of the members are Catholic. A new community called the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, is made up of Catholic women. But it cannot say that it is a Catholic community. It must advertise itself as a community of Catholics, which is different. Once the bishop gives permission to use the word Catholic in its title, then it becomes a Catholic community.

The first step is to prove all of the above to be recognized as a community of diocesan right. Later, if the Church decides that the new community has earned the privilege, the Holy Father elevates it to a community of pontifical right. In that case, he is the highest authority. But as long as they are of diocesan right, the local bishop is the highest authority.

This sounds very confusing, but it’s actually very simple. You need to begin with a gorup of people who share the same vision and live in community. You go from there.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


Agreed Br. JR. While no new orders can be formed in the Church, new congregations can.

But do you think that new congregations are necessary, or are we just re-inventing the wheel here? I mean, every charism I can think of seems to be covered by the congregations that are already formed. While I believe that new congregations might keep the Church youthful or fresh, I do think that the newer congregations might also take away possible candidates from the older congregations, thereby hurting them for the mere possibility of something new succeeding…

Again, just asking…:slight_smile:


Br. JR, haven’t you forgotten the Carthusian and Dominican orders?


I think alot of the womens communities that are around right now need to be reformed. I know some people may get mad at me for saying this, but I’m truely disgusted with the state of many of them. No habits, border line feminists, gluttony. Do you think the Vatican would ever alloy a Priest to celebrate mass in blue jeans and a tshirt? Nope. So why are most womens communities allowed to get rid of the habit all together? I can understand where some modified the habit, but completely getting rid of it? It’s like they were ashamed of it or something. The habbit to me is a silent way of evangelizing. Nuns that wear a habit don’t even have to open their mouths, you see one and you think of God.
Nuns are in my opinion supposed to live a simple life, but I see so many in my area that are grossly obese. Doesn’t that count as gluttony?
I’m 24 and know other girls my age or younger that have a vocation, but like me refuse to even look at orders that don’t have the habit. So many orders that were thriving 50 years ago are dying out because young women with vocations are looking for communities that have a stricter way of life and wear a habit. I really hope the vatican sees this problem and reforms a lot of the womens communities.


[quote="JMJ_coder, post:7, topic:200510"]
Br. JR, haven't you forgotten the Carthusian and Dominican orders?


No I have not. The Dominicans have never been allowed to have a rule of their own. What happened was that Dominic wrote a rule, but Pope Innocent III refused to approve it, because there were already rules in existence. He demanded that Dominic adopt one of the existing rules and follow it. Dominic adopted the Augustinian Rule, which all Dominicans are bound to follow to this day. Dominic wrote a constitution to address points that St. Augustine did not address in his rule. He gave this constitution to his sisters. After the founding of the sisters, Dominic then founded the friars.

The reason that Pope Innocent changed his mind a year later and allowed Francis of Assisi to write a rule was because Francis' rule was of divine revelation. Pope Innocent put a Papal Bull on it so that it could never be changed or deleted from the Church. Francis' rule was the last rule ever approved.

The Jesuits are also an order, just like the Dominicans. But they do not have a rule either. St. Ignatius presented a rule, but it was denied because it was not of divine revelation and was not necessary. Ignatius decided to write a constitution and adopt no particular rule. To this day, the Jesuits are free to change what Ignatius wrote, because it is not protected by papal infallibility as are the rules.

The Carthusians were founded by St. Romuald (sp?) to be hermits. Hermits do not have rules. They are an order, but each house is autonomous. Each house makes up its own rules by popular vote. They guide themselves by the teachings of the founder. But they are not bound to his teachings, since Romould's teachings were never declared to be a rule. They were teachings.

For example, you have the Benedictine Rule. Under that rule are the Benedictines, Camaldolese, Cistercians, Trappists, Benedictine sisterhoods and Benedictine Oblates. They all follow the rule of St. Benedict, even though they were founded by different men and women. Since they have chosen to follow the rule of St. Benedict and in his rule St. Benedict demands absolute obedience to his will, even after his death, all of these groups must obey him and can only add or delete points that Benedict never addressed. Augustine was a little different and so was Albert. Neither of them ever demanded to be obeyed. They demanded that the rule be obeyed. Anything they taught outside of the rule is not binding on those who follow the rules of either Augustine or Carmel.

Francis of Assisi did demand to be obeyed even after his death under threat of sending his brothers and sisters to hell. Therefore we not only obey what he wrote in the rule, but everything else that he taught but never wrote and everything that he did. On the bright side is that he never taught anything that is not already in the Gospels. Since you have to obey the Gospels, it is easy to obey Francis.

I hope this clarifies matters.


Br. JR, OSF :)


[quote="jimcav, post:6, topic:200510"]
Agreed Br. JR. While no new orders can be formed in the Church, new congregations can.

But do you think that new congregations are necessary, or are we just re-inventing the wheel here? I mean, every charism I can think of seems to be covered by the congregations that are already formed. While I believe that new congregations might keep the Church youthful or fresh, I do think that the newer congregations might also take away possible candidates from the older congregations, thereby hurting them for the mere possibility of something new succeeding...

Again, just asking...:)


We cannot handcuff the Holy Spirit. All of these charisms are gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to the Church. Once these religious communities are approved, it is a given that their existence is the will of the Holy Spirit. No one worries about them taking away vocations from other communities, because the Holy Spirit allows those communities to survive that he sees as necessary and allows the unnecessary ones to die. There were communities that no longer exist, because they are no longer necessary. However, they were necessary in their day.

We should never tamper with the hand of the Holy Spirit.


Br. JR, OSF :)


The Vatican has solemnly declared in Vita Consacrata that religious must be allowed the freedom not to wear a habit. It has also defined that the habit is for the benefit of the religious, not for the benefit of the laity. Most of the founders never wrote about a habit. Habits were added later.

For example, in our order the only thing that the Franciscan rule says about a habit is that it must be a tunic with or without a cowl and a chord around the waist. The style, color, length, etc etc was up to the individual to decide. There was no uniform. That’s why you see Franciscans in many different styles of habit. What we have in common is the chord and the tunic. Francis wanted to leave the brothers and sisters the freedom to wear whatever was available to them.

Today, we have decided to create habits for our communities. But Francis wrote the rule in 1209 and we Franciscans did not adopt a habit until 1898. Until that time every friar, nun or sister wore whatever tunic was available with a chord. There was no uniform color, style, length or fabric. That’s all very new for us. I say new, because we’re 800 years old and we made uniform habits only 112 years ago. Even among us, there are over 100 variations of the Franciscan habit. The chord is what is very unique to us.

In addition, it is up to the general chapter of the community to canonically decide if the order or congregatioin should or should not wear a habit and laity, bishops and the Vatican may never interfere. This has been decided once and for all by Pope Benedict XVI. The reason for this decision was the desire of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to allow religious more freedom to govern themselves. Religious communities are to be autonomous. Each religious community decides what is better for it according to its rule or constitutions, its ministry and the vision of the founder. When you get away from the vision of the founder, then you’re in serious trouble. You risk losing your identity. Your identity is not in the habit, but in your founder’s vision.

Finally, let us not forget that it is not the function of religious life to evangelize. The function of religious life is twofold, to save the souls of its members first and to live in such a manner that their life speaks to people about life in the Kingdom of God, which is a prophetic function.

Any ministry that a religious community undertakes is an extra that they choose to undertake, not something that they have any obligation to do. Religious are not bound to serve outside of their religious houses.

Some of us do serve outside of our religious houses, some more than others. This decision is not made for us by the Vatican or the laity. This decision is made for us by the founder. Some founders wanted to educate the masses or to build up parish life. Those religious are very involved in evangelization and education.

Other founders wanted to create an oasis of peace and silence so that the religious could save their souls through prayer and solitude. These religious are never involved in evangelization.

The mendicants were founded to bring the monastic into the world. We do not live in monasteries with enclosures; but we observe all of the monastic traditions in the middle of the noise and activity of the world. It was the vision of Francis and Dominic to create communities of “monks without walls”. But we were never to take on the mission to evangelize. Our mission was always to be together as brothers in places where people could see our charity toward each other and imitate it in their own communities. We evangelized by our presence, not by our work. The work is irrelevant to this day.

The difference between the mendicant Franciscan and the mendicant Dominican is that the Dominican lives the Gospel in a manner that is very visible to the non-believer. The Franciscan was to live the Gospel in a manner that would convert the Catholic to Catholicism. For Franciscans the conversion of Catholics was more important than the conversion of non-believers. There were already religious to convert non-believers.

Hope this helps.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


To get back to the essence of the posed question, not that I didn't gain new insights because of the above 'discussion'.

"To found a congregation":

1) Can anyone, regardless of him or her being laity, religious or a priest, simply found a congregation?
2) Can somebody explain me the difference of a congregation and a society of apostolic life. And preferably a bit more exhausive then the difference in vows (solemn and simple).
3) Can anyone, regardless of him or her being laity, religious or a priest, simply found a society of apostolic life?
4) Who are the members of a society of apostolic life and want is their main work in society?
5) What is a community called with more members of laity then ordained members?
6) Should a Catholic community always be led by an ordained person?


[quote="JReducation, post:9, topic:200510"]
Hermits do not have rules.


Some hermits do have rules.

The original rule of St Albert was for a group of hermits living on Mount Carmel, they eventually became the Carmelites and adopted the mendicant lifestyle to survive in Europe though there has always been a tension within the order between the hermit lifestyle and the mendicant one.

This is why, I believe, our rule is the shortest of all the rules. It is also why it includes things such as a rule stating that we must eat together in a refectory because generally hermits do not do so.

The Carmelites still have hermits today, though they are out numbered by the active brethren.

Something that Brother JR alluded to but did not explicitly state, Dominicans and Carthusians are orders along with the early list he gave of Benedictines, Carmelites, Augustinians, Basilians and Franciscans (and Jesuits) they just do not have a unique rule of their own.


Br JR, a point of clarification: The Carthusians were founded by St Bruno. St Romuald founded the Camaldolese.


[quote="SPQR, post:14, topic:200510"]
Br JR, a point of clarification: The Carthusians were founded by St Bruno. St Romuald founded the Camaldolese.


Thanks. I always mix those two up. The Camaldolese are Benedictines while the Carthusians are not.


Br. JR, OSF :)


A congregation is a religious community in vows. A society of apostolic life is also a community and may often live like religious, but the member do not make any kinds of vows. Therefore, they may own property individually and collectively. They owe obedience to the their superior and the local bishop.

And preferably a bit more exhausive then the difference in vows (solemn and simple).

Only an order can make solemn vows. A solemn vow of poverty means that neither the individual or the community can own property unless it is approved by the Holy See. In a simple vow of poverty, both can own property, but the individual cannot administer his property or reap its benefits. They go into an account for the benefit of a loved one or his favorite charity, etc.

In a solemn vow of obedience the superior governs by force fo law. He does not need the approval of the governed to make law. He can order whaterver the constitutions allow him to order and whatever the Church allows him and he need not consult. His voice is final. It’s like having a little pope. In a simple vow of obedience, obedience is by consensus.

In a solemn vow of chastity any attempt to get married is invalid. The vow trumps the sacrament. Until 1983, the simple vow of chastity did not trump the marriage. The marriage was illegal, but valid and binding. This is no longer the case. Today even persons in simple vows are bound by the vow.

  1. Can anyone, regardless of him or her being laity, religious or a priest, simply found a society of apostolic life?

Yes, Saints Francis and Clare were lay people.

  1. Who are the members of a society of apostolic life and want is their main work in society?

The members are those who join it and commit themselves to it. The work depends on the reason for their existence. For example the Maryknoll are missionaries. The Vincentians are also missionaries. The FSSP promote the EF and so forth.

  1. What is a community called with more members of laity then ordained members?

It is called a lay order or a lay congregation, such as the Franciscan Friars and many Benedictine Monasteries. We have less ordained religious than we do ordained religious. In some communities ordination is prohibitted.

  1. Should a Catholic community always be led by an ordained person?

Only if the community is a clerical order or a clerical congregation. Then the superior must always be at least a deacon. For example, among Franciscans we have superiors who are not ordained. Everyone has the right to be elected. The superior need not be a priest, but he is alwasy called Father. We still refer to Francis as Father and he was never a priest.

What we do, to take care of our brothers who are priests is the following: if the superior is a non-cleric, then his vicar is a cleric. If the superior is a cleric, then the vicar can be either a cleric or a non cleric. This only applies to the major superior. The superior of the house can be either a cleric or non cleric. I’m a major superior and I’m a non-cleric. My vicar is a cleric. The reason for this is faculties. Only a cleric can grant faculties to another cleric. When the brother priests need faculties they come to me and ask for permission to hear confessions or witness a marriage. I then direct the Vicar to grant the faculties. The letter goes out with both signatures.

In all other matters, I govern by force of law, meaning that I do not need to have the vicar’s help or the input of the brothers. If the law says so, I can do it. Most of us try to avoid this and we ask for input and feedback. Sometimes you run into some people that are difficult. This is just human nature. Then you pull rank on them. That’s called force of law.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


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