In an earlier post, we mentioned that our son will be attending the Paulist seminary.  That invites the question, “What is a Paulist?”

Before we can get to the answer to that, it might be helpful to explain the difference between diocesan priests and order priests — sometimes referred to as secular and religious priests.

The word “priest” often conjures up the image of a kindly fellow in a roman collar who works at the local parish.  Sort of a latter day version of Bing Crosby’s character in Going My Way.  There’s a bit of Hollywood hyperbole going on with Bing Crosby, but the image of a diocesan priest is essentially correct.

A man who is ordained as a diocesan priest promises to obey and respect the diocesan bishop and his successors and to live a life of chastity.  His task is to serve the people of the diocese primarily by administering the sacraments.

In a 2009 article from the Catholic News Service, Father Brian Doerr, vocations director for the Diocese of Lafayette in Indiana says:

From the beginning, you’ve discerned that you’ll be ordained and be in the world living and working

Most diocesan priests serve as pastors or associate pastors at local parishes, but some are assigned to other ministries such as teaching in parochial schools.

Order priests, on the other hand, belong to a particular religious community.  Religious communities are formally organized catholic groups working on the particular mission or charism of their founder.  For example, Pope Francis is a Jesuit.  That means he is a member of a religious community for men that is known as The Society of Jesus was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyla in 1540.

Fr. Warren Sazama (a Jesuit) uses a healthcare metaphor to explain the differences:

One diocesan priest I know referred to diocesan priests as the general practitioners of the clergy and compared religious to specialists. As in medicine, the Church needs both. So, while for the most part diocesan priests serve in parishes, religious can serve in a variety of ways according to the “charism,” or unique vision and mission of their founder. That might be in schools, hospitals, orphanages, missions, retreat houses, social justice centers, or other ministries in accordance with the inspiration, special vision, mission, and spirituality of their founder

Finally, just because I find it amusing, I wanted to share something I found while researching this post.  The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Department of Labor includes Roman Catholic Priest among the many thousands of other job titles it lists.  I’m not sure it’s proper to refer to a priestly vocation as a “job”, but I can’t disagree with the government’s assessment that:

Many priests will be needed in the years ahead to provide for the spiritual, educational, and social needs of the increasing number of Catholics.



3 thoughts on “Question: What is an "Order" Priest?

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