Sister, I've discovered many new religious orders are springing up in the Church. It's so wonderful! I'm curious though, how is a religious order started?
This is probably my favorite question ever. I can't answer it.
Yes I can. It's just so much. There's just .....so much. St. Ignatius, St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Frances Cabrini, Carol Gerhardinger..hundreds of founders of hundreds of orders .Like babies, the stories of their births are completely unique and utterly the same.
So let's say you want to start a religious order. You have to make some choices. Habit? or no.
Habit? You'll need to design one. Or get a habit designer. If so many new orders are springing up, it seems to me someone is missing out on a fine niche career opportunity.
What is your order going to do? If you just want everyone to lock themselves into a house and prayer all day, then just go join an order that is already doing that. If you want everyone to do something that no one else is doing, in terms of meeting the needs of human beings on the planet, write that down.
How is your order going to sustain itself financially? The Church is not responsible for the financial well being of your group. You're on your own with several mouths to feed and bodies to house. But not necessarily. St. Francis of Assisi had a group of followers that just roamed all around and begged while they preached. But then, he really wasn't trying to start an order. He started doing something, some people started doing it with him, and making it an order was foisted on him. He didn't even want to be a priest (he thought he was unworthy). That was foisted on him, too.
But I digress. As the founder, you will responsible for your community. Right now you have three people and you. Is that enough? Sure.
Your new idea and little group is called a "Charism". A gift to the Church and to the world. Get your mission statement ducks in a row and deal with that habit question and figure out how you will carry out your mission financially speaking (most of us still beg, one way or another).
So far so good. Love your habits! And look, now you have another person joining! You can take some vows among yourselves to dedicate yourself to Christ through your Charism. Are you an order? No.
You have to gather you habit patterns and mission statement and talk to the bishop. He might tell you to go home and join some other order. He might tell you that he wouldn't approve of your order if all the other hundreds of orders disappeared in a puff of smoke. He might tell you that you habit design needs work.
(I'm not joking. A community of men who were all wearing the same T-shirt were reprimanded because it looked to much like a habit and they weren't a religious order. I cannot picture this. I've never seen the T-shirt habit, but I think more people would consider religious life if the T-shirt habit was more widely employed.)
It the bishop thinks you've got something there he will give you his blessing, but that's just step one. Like canonization, approving an order goes on for years and there are many steps that lead all the way to Rome.
As your group grows, so do your chances of getting full approval. Ditto for longevity.
If this is all too much for you, you might consider starting a lay order. All you have to do to start a lay order is start a lay order. Done and done.
If you like we can come back and talk about how various orders were founded. Who was Carol Gerhardinger? Now know as Blessed Theresa, she founded the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She was a German girl who gathered a group of women to teach. They taught me and wore this habit until I was in high school. I particularly love this rendition of her. Someone truly captured the facial expression of a lifelong teacher.