Fr. Bart Geger, SJ Who are Diocesan Priests? A Catholic bishop is the spiritual leader of Catholics living in a certain region, which is called a diocese. Michael Sheridan is the bishop of the Diocese of Colorado Springs. Charles Chaput is the archbishop in the Archdiocese of Denver. (The prefix “arch” designates a bishop or diocese with an especially large number of Catholics.)
Under the bishop are men who have been given a share of the bishop’s ministry and authority. These priests usually work in the parishes of the diocese. They make promises of celibacy and respect to their bishop. The bishop can assign them anywhere in his diocese. Large dioceses usually have a special school (seminary) where priests are trained.
All bishops are successors of the 12 Apostles, who were the first leaders of the early Church. The Apostles laid hands on other men, who became bishops, who laid hands on other men, who became bishops, and so on. (Because St. Peter had a special authority among the Twelve, and because he was the first bishop of the Church in Rome and was martyred there, his successors, the bishops of Rome, likewise enjoy a certain preeminence among the other bishops of the world. The bishop of Rome is also known as the Pope.)
Who are the Jesuits? How do they relate to Diocesan Priests? In addition to the above, there are groups of Catholic men and women who dedicate their lives to Christ and the Church, usually by following the spirituality of a certain saint or other holy person. There are many different kinds, but most of them make some kind of vow or commitment to poverty, chastity, and obedience, which they profess in front of their own religious superior (not the bishop). These groups are usually called religious orders, religious communities, or religious institutes. (The differences between the three terms are complicated, and do not need to concern us at this point. I’ll keep using the term “order” to keep it simple.)
St. Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscans. St. Dominic founded the Dominicans. Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity. The Society of Jesus (or “the Jesuits”) was founded by St. Ignatius Loyola. Some orders have a men’s and women’s branch, like the Franciscans and Dominicans. For historical reasons, the Jesuits have only a male branch.
Members of men’s orders can be priests. To distinguish them from diocesan priests, they are called religious priests. Since only a bishop can ordain a man a priest, and men’s orders and communities do not have their own bishops, they have to ask an “outside” bishop to ordain their members for them. For example, I was ordained in St. Louis by the bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Members of religious orders attach abbreviations to their names to designate the order to which they belong. “Fr. Bart Geger, SJ” means I belong to the Society of Jesus. “Fr. Bill Jones, OFM” means Fr. Jones belongs to the Order of Friars Minor, better known as the Franciscans.
Some orders and communities devote their lives almost entirely to prayer. They are called monastic orders. Men in monastic orders are called “monks”. Women are called “nuns”. They live in monasteries. St. Benedict is perhaps the most famous example of a saint who founded a monastic order. Other orders, like the Jesuits, devote themselves primarily to working “in the world” in one form or another: schools, missionary work, intellectual research, social justice, etc. Religious orders are responsible for training their own members. They do not go to a diocesan seminary. (I for example did my Jesuit studies at St. Louis University, Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, the University of London, and the Universidad Pontificia de Comillas in Madrid, alongside laystudents and members of other religious communities.)
Unlike diocesan priests, members of religious orders go about their business relatively independent of the bishop’s supervision. In other words, they need his permission to live and work in his diocese, but once he gives it, he generally lets them go about their own business, running schools, working with the poor, etc. Instead of the bishop, it is the superior of the order which assigns its members to various works. For example, it was not Archbishop Chaput, but my own Jesuit superior, who assigned me to Regis University.
The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540. It currently has about 14,000 members worldwide, including priests, brothers and scholastics (Jesuit seminarians). The superior of the entire order is called “Father General”. He lives and works in Rome. He is appointed for life. He coordinates the works of the worldwide Society. The current General is Nicholas Adolfo, SJ. (The Superior General in the 1970s was Pedro Arrupe, SJ, a holy and widely-revered man whose statue is located in Fortune Plaza at Regis University.)
Jesuits operate in organizational units called “provinces,” which contains usually anywhere from 100-500 men. Each province is led by a Jesuit called a “provincial”. There are ten provinces in the United States. The Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus includes Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and East St. Louis, Illinois. It is headquartered in St. Louis.