Religious Orders, Denominations, Groups, etc.
both within and outside of the Catholic Church
by Felix Just, S.J.

[Note: This page is still under construction.]

Introduction and Definitions:

Within the Roman Catholic Church today there are literally thousands of different religious "orders," "congregations," "institutes," "societies," and other groups officially recognized by the Church, not to mention many other local and/or unofficial communities of believers. In contemporary Christianity outside of the Catholic Church there are also thousands of other "churches" or "denominations" or variously-named groups of Christians, some world-wide and quite large, others very small in number and geographically limited. Moreover, throughout the 2000-year history of Christianity there have been a large number of other "sects" or "heresies" or other groups of Christians, many of which eventually died out, although some still exist today.

The names used for all of these groups, both within and outside of the Catholic Church, have various origins: a founder's name, a geographical location, a theological emphasis, etc. So anyone unfamiliar with Christianity will have a hard time knowing or even guessing whether a particular group is within the Catholic Church, or another Christian denomination, or a "heresy" of the past. Who are or were the Augustinians, Adventists, or Albigensians? the Benedictines, Baptists, or Basilidians? the Dominicans, Davidians, or Donatists? the Jesuits, Jehovah's Witnesses, or Jacobites? the Marianists, Methodists, or Montanists? etc.

"Religious Life" in the Catholic Church:

Some of the oldest and largest groups of clergy and/or lay people within the Roman Catholic Church are the so-called "Religious Orders"; yet there are many other officially recognized groups called "congregations" or "institutes" or "societies" or "communities." The members of these groups might be clergy (priests), religious (brothers and sisters), and/or laity (lay men & women). The groups have various designations for their leaders, members, and/or associates.

Many different descriptive terms are used for these groups, with much overlap:

Religious Orders and Congregations in the Catholic Church: some of the oldest/largest, and some of the most recent and/or American ones

Popular Name Official Name Abbr. Founder [or Namesake] Founding Date/Place Emphases/Highlights


Order of St. Benedict O.S.B. St. Benedict of Nursia 529 / Montecassino large monasteries; liturgy; music; books
Carthusians Order of Carthusians O.Cart. St. Bruno 1084 / Chartreuse, France hermetic (live in isolation & silence)
Cistercians Order of Cistercians O.Cist. St. Bernard of Clairvaux 1098 / France rural monasteries; agriculture
Franciscans Order of Friars Minor O.F.M. St. Francis of Assisi 1209 / Assisi, Italy service of the poor; peace & justice
Dominicans Order of Preachers O.P. St. Dominic Guzman 1216 / Spain preaching; philosophy & theology
Augustinians Order of St. Augustine O.S.A. [St. Augustine of Hippo] 1244 / Tuscany, Italy almsgiving; hospitality; "Black Canons"
Jesuits Society of Jesus S.J. St. Ignatius of Loyola 1540 / Rome education; missions; spirituality
Trappists Order of Cistercians
of the Strict Observance
O.C.S.O. Armand-Jean de Rancé 1664 / La Trappe, France Thomas Merton
Redemptorists Congregation of the
Most Holy Redeemer
C.SS.R. St. Alphonsus Liguori 1732 / France rebuilding post-Revolution Church
Sisters of Charity Sisters of Charity S.C. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton 1805 / Maryland schools; hospitals; first U.S. women's cong.
Sisters of Charity
of Nazareth
Sisters of Charity
of Nazareth
S.C.N. Catherine Spalding 1824 / Kentucky teaching; medical care of Civil War soldiers
Holy Cross
Fathers & Brothers
Congregation of Holy Cross C.S.C. Basil Moreau 1837 / France University of Notre Dame
Salesians Salesians of Don Bosco S.D.B. St. John Bosco 1854 / Turin, Italy education of urban youth
Paulists Congregation of St. Paul C.S.P. Isaac Hecker (1819-88) 1858 / New York ecumenism; publications
Legionaries of Christ Congregation of the L.of C. L.C. Marcial Maciel 1941 / Mexico fidelty to Christ, Mary, and the Church
Missionaries of Charity Congregation of the M.of C. M.C. Mother Teresa of Calcutta 1950 / India service to the destitute & dying
Military Orders:          
Knights of Malta, or
Knights Hospitallers
Knights of St. John
of Jerusalem
. . ca. 1100 providing hospitality & medical care
to Holy Land pilgrims
Templars Knights of the Temple . . 1118 / Jerusalem protecting Holy Land pilgrims

Note: there are dozens of offshoots of some of these groups; hundreds of other congregations of men; literally thousands more of women; and many "new" forms, incl. lay & ecumenical communities.

See these linked websites that give partial lists by name and by abbreviation.


Christian Churches and Denominations outside of the Catholic Church:

[coming soon]

Electronic New Testament Educational Resources

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This page was last updated on July 12, 2009