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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, August 01, 2013


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.


Anonymous said...

Sister, thank you for your blog and your time. I love reading,learning and being scolded at times :) I have a toddler whose speech is very delayed for unknown reasons. He is perfectly fine other than that. Do you have any patron saint suggestions? ~derya

Nily said...

And how do we have so many orders with (kinda) like names... School Sisters of Notre Dame, Sisters of Notre Dame of (etc., etc.), different Franciscians, oodles of different Sisters of Charity and, when they wore them, different habits? It seems to me now that they all do pretty much the same things.

Evelyn said...

Sister, St Francis was never a priest. He was a deacon. ;)

Shannon B. said...

Wow, awesome info Sister, thank you! Another question about this same subject, after one has established an Order, gotten permission from the Bishop, but hasn't yet gotten the approval from the Holy See, what are they called? Is it a Private Association of the Faithful or something of that sort? What are the stages exactly? Thank you for your wisdom!:)

Anonymous said...

Hello Sister,
I'm not sure if I submitted my question properly or
in the right place some days ago so I thought I'd give
it another go.

I recently obtained some salt blessed as a sacramental by a priest, and I want to know how it should be used. I can't imagine putting it in a salt shaker on
the table, but I've read that some people do that. Is that proper? Or do you have other suggestions for how I might use the salt respectfully?
A faithful reader.

SAC said...

And yet another question on the same topic: my mom told me when I was little that habits (the kind that Julie Andrews wore in The Sound of Music) looked the way they did because in the Middle Ages, it was not uncommon for widows to become nuns, and that was what widows wore.

Is this totally bogus? And, how did Mother Theresa come up with the habit for her Sisters of Charity (I think that's what they're called)? I noticed some sisters walked around dressed in white-with-blue saris in a picture of Pope Francis' visit to Brazil, and at first I thought, "Gosh, I thought he was in Brazil, not India!" and then I felt dumb because, oh yeah, Sisters of Charity can be in Brazil, too. But it make me think of it. And I think they're beautiful. And they remind me of Mother Theresa, so even if I hadn't thought they were beautiful to start with, I would love them for her sake.

Anonymous said...

I find it fascinating on how Orders began and now there are as many as stars in the sky in the Latin Rite, but in other rites of the Catholic Church, I don't think they have all these Orders, but they get the job done just fine with ministering to their people.

Anonymous said...

Sister, I’m hoping you can help match my family to an appropriate saint; we are looking to start a novena on behalf of my sister. She is a practicing Catholic and has been in a romantic relationship for around 9 years with a non-Catholic who has expressed discomfort with even discussing marriage. She knows she is in a bad situation but cannot bring herself to end the relationship; she genuinely loves him, he does not have many friends, or a close connection to his family and she believes if she leaves he will do something to himself. She has also struggled for the past two years with finding another full time job. Her life seems to be on pause and we wish to unite our prayers for her guidance. Who would you recommend? Many blessings! A faithful reader.