Founding a New Religious Order

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"For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me—oracle of the LORD—and I will change your lot; I will gather you together from all the nations and all the places to which I have banished you—oracle of the LORD—and bring you back to the place from which I have exiled you" (Jer 29:11-14).

  1. Fall in love with Jesus.
  2. Receive and develop a vision for a particular way of expressing that love.
  3. Work out the vision in detail. You need both an expression of that vision in spiritual terms that others can examine to see if it interests them as well as a "rule of life" for anyone who joins you in your new community.
  4. Get permission from the proper authorities (bishop, Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, sometimes the pope himself). Most new religious orders begin at the diocesan level and can only obtain pontifical status after a time of growth and testing.
  5. Take the kind of vows or promises outlined in your constitutions.
  6. Enlist and train new members.

How many hurdles you have to cross along the way depends on the kind of body you are trying to form. The easiest is an association based on promises that are easily made and easily dissolved. The hardest is an order with solemn vows (on par with marriage vows).

Many new orders are founded by priests or religious who have already been formed in another way of life. If the founders are not already priests or religious, the founder of the new order is the local bishop. They do not start from scratch, but must adhere to the norms of canon law for religious life. Many of them aim to go back to the sources of well-established communities (Franciscan, Trappist, Benedictine, Carthusian, etc.).