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Catholic Religious Communities. Yesterday and Today. History. From the Beginnings of the Monastic Movement to the Twentieth Century. The Desert Fathers. Men who went into the desert to become closer to God St. Antony was the most important

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Catholic Religious Communities

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Catholic religious communities

Catholic Religious Communities

Yesterday and Today



From the Beginnings of the Monastic Movement to the Twentieth Century

The desert fathers

The Desert Fathers

  • Men who went into the desert to become closer to God

  • St. Antony was the most important

  • St. Pachomius established the first monasteries and wrote the first Religious Rule to incorporate the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience

St. Antony of the Desert Monastery, Egypt, is one of the oldest monasteries in the world

First monastic communities

First Monastic Communities

  • Throughout the Middle East and northern Africa, others followed Pachomius’ example

  • Basil of Caesarea established communities for both men and, working with his sister Macrina, women

  • The Rule Basil wrote for his communities would become the basis for Orthodox monasticism

St benedict

St. Benedict

  • Benedict of Nursia established a religious community at Monte Cassino, Italy

  • The Rule he (The Benedictine Rule) wrote for the monks there would become the basis for monastic life in the Catholic Church

  • The order he founded still flourishes in the Church today

Benedict s abbey at monte cassino

Benedict’s Abbey at Monte Cassino

First built in the 7th century; it has been rebuilt several times. The most recent was in the late 20th century after its almost complete destruction during World War II.

Medieval monasticism

Medieval Monasticism

  • Communities for both monks and nuns were established throughout Europe

  • Communities were often open only to those who were wealthy

  • Communities were required to be self sufficient

  • Many had farms worked either by peasants or by “lay” brothers and sisters

  • Monks and nuns were the only educated people in Europe during the 8th through 11th centuries

Battle abbey england

Battle Abbey, England

A reconstruction of the abbey’s cloister

A medieval nun at prayer

A Medieval nun at prayer

Monk in scriptorum

Monk in Scriptorum

Medieval monks and nuns spent much of their time copying books for use both in the monastery and in churches and chapels throughout Europe

Liturgy of the hours

Liturgy of the Hours

Both monks and nuns spent a part of their day in Chapel reciting the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Liturgy of the Hours is seven periods of prayer and Scripture readings that are scattered throughout the day and night.

A new type of religious life the mendicants

A New Type of Religious Life – The Mendicants

  • In the 12th century there began to be the need for a more flexible type of religious community

  • This need was met by the formation of new orders called “mendicants”

  • Mendicants could travel from place to place and minister to the specific needs of the people, both as parish priests and in other ministries

The order of friars minor

The Order of Friars Minor

  • Founded by St. Francis of Assisi

  • Commonly called “Franciscans”

  • Practiced absolute poverty

  • Worked with the poor, preached, became doctors, later were missionaries

The order of preachers

The Order of Preachers

  • Founded by St. Dominic de Guzman

  • Commonly called Dominicans

  • Founded to preach to and convert heretics

  • Became teachers (especially in universities), pastors, confessors and later missionaries

Catholic religious communities

  • Mendicant Orders were open only to men

  • Although both Francis and Dominic did found orders for women, these orders were cloistered

  • Today, there are active orders of Franciscans and Dominicans for women

New orders for the 16 th century

New Orders for the 16th Century

After the Protestant Reformation, religious life in the Catholic Church changed again:

  • There was a need for teachers to teach the Catholic faith in an age when Protestants were converting Catholics throughout Europe

  • There was a need for missionaries to preach the faith to the peoples of Asia and the Americas as Christianity spread beyond Europe and northern Africa for the first time

The society of jesus

The Society of Jesus

  • The Jesuits, founded by St. Ignatius Loyola

  • Founded to become missionaries. They were active in both Asia and the French and Spanish colonies of the Americas

  • Became teachers, especially to the upper classes of Europe. Jesuit schools even today are known for the academic excellence

  • Jesuit led retreats, based on “The Spiritual Exercises” of St. Ignatius Loyola, are also popular.

The christian brothers

The Christian Brothers

  • Founded by John Baptist de La Salle in France

  • Mission: to teach the children of the poor

  • La Salle founded the first school to teach teachers and established the first Catholic elementary schools

  • He is the patron saint of teachers

Active orders for women

Active Orders for Women

  • For the first time, communities of women began to leave their monasteries and converts and work “in the world”

  • Most of these new communities were teaching or nursing orders and most worked primarily with women and children

The daughters of charity

The Daughters of Charity

  • Founded in Paris by St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac to serve poor women and children

  • The first religious order for women to not be cloistered

Catholic religious communities

  • Active religious orders for women expanded considerably throughout the 18th and 19th centuries

Elizabeth Seton

Founder American Daughters of Charity

Frances Cabrini

Founder of Missionary Sisters of Sacred Heart of Jesus

Katherine Drexel

Founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament

Religious life today

Religious Life Today

Catholic religious communities

  • Today there are two types of religious communities:

    • Contemplative – live and work in their monasteries and convents

    • Active – live in community, but work “in the world”

  • All members of religious communities take the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience

  • All communities have a specific “habit” – something in their clothing that identifies them as belonging to that particular community

The evangelical counsels

The Evangelical Counsels

  • Poverty – to own little; to live simply

  • Chastity – to remain unmarried; no sexual relations; no exclusive relationships

  • Obedience – to God; to the Rule of your community; to your religious Superior

    Different communities may interpret these a little differently

Contemplative communities

Contemplative Communities

Catholic religious communities

  • Live and work within their community

  • Spend much of their day in prayer – including the Liturgy of the Hours

  • Communities must be self sufficient

  • Some are more modern than others

  • Most allow the monks and nuns to leave the community briefly to spend time with family or to attend school or workshops

A typical daily schedule

A Typical Daily Schedule . . .

From Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky

  • 3:15 Vigils

  • 5:45 Lauds

  • 6:15 Eucharist

  • 7:00 Breakfast

  • 8:00 Work

  • 12:15 Sext

  • 12:30 Dinner

  • 1:30 Work; leisure; private prayer

  • 5:30 Vespers

  • 6:00 Supper

  • 7:00 Rosary

  • 7:30 Compline

  • 8:00 private time until bed

Contemplative orders include

Contemplative Orders include . . .

  • Benedictines (men and women)

  • Trappists (men)

  • Carthusians (men)

  • Domincans (women)

  • Poor Clares (women)

Carthusian monk in a french community

Carthusian monk in a French community

Monks in wyoming at recreation

Monks in Wyoming at Recreation

Cistercian brothers chanting

Cistercian Brothers chanting

Abbey of gethsemane kentucky

Abbey of Gethsemane, Kentucky

Traditional benedictine nun

Traditional Benedictine nun

Dominicans nuns at prayer

Dominicans nuns at prayer

Benedictine sisters in wisconsin

Benedictine sisters in Wisconsin

Active communities

Active Communities

Catholic religious communities

  • Work “in the world”

  • Often may work at any job that does not contradict Church teaching and beliefs, but most work for the Church in some capacity

  • Live in community

  • Attend Mass daily; pray a modified form of the Liturgy of the Hours

Sister of charity tutoring children

Sister of Charity tutoring children

Christian brothers

Christian brothers

Catholic religious communities

  • Most active orders in the Church today are for women

  • Active orders for both men and women have experienced a decline in membership in the past 50 years

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