Some Of The Great Founders Of Apostolic Religious Orders Of Men

Below you will find some biographical notes on some of the great founders of the Apostolic Religious Orders of men and a brief summary of the essence of their spirituality. The differing spiritualities of various religious communities are not contradictory in any way. Rather, they represent a wonderful prism of diverse ways in which their members reflect God in the world, always attempting to love with the love of Jesus. A spiritual tradition embodies beliefs, attitudes and expressions of mission and ministry rooted in the Gospel and in tradition, always open to new expression in a changing world. What is particularly characteristic of an Order or Congregation is the emphasis placed on certain aspects of the expression of God’s love and truth in our world. The founders highlighted below are those men who founded some of the largest worldwide apostolic religious orders of men comprised of priests and brothers and in turn they initiated or influenced the founding of many women’s communities too. Their legacy continues and their work goes on in our world today. Perhaps you are called to join one of them as a religious priest for the sake of the Gospel, for love in our world? (Over time this website will add others to this great community of founders.)

ST. DOMINIC (1170 – 1221)

St. Dominic was born in 1170 in Caleruega, Spain. He received the privilege of a good education in the arts and in theology but in 1191 when Spain was subjected to a terrible famine Dominic gave away most of his possessions to help those around him who were hungry. Around the age of 25 Dominic became a member of the Canons Regular, priests living in community, celebrating public worship. As part of this commitment Dominic was sent out on various diplomatic assignments. During this time he became aware of heresies or beliefs deviating from the faith of the Church. This concerned him and sparked within him a great desire for the sharing of the truth of God’s love. Like many of us, Dominic’s vocational search continued in light of new situations and so in 1215 with six followers he moved into a donated house in Toulouse and founded the great Dominican Order, an order called particularly to “seek truth”. As Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, a very well-known contemporary Dominican priest has said: “For me this wholehearted gift of one’s life … is more than just necessary flexibility which a complex organization needs to respond to new challenges. It belongs to the freedom in Christ that we preach.” (See the book by Timothy Radcliffe: “Sing a New Song: The Christian Vocation”, Templegate Publishers, Springfield, IL, 1999 – a great read on Dominican Life!)

Dominican spirituality: In their central call to “seek truth” Dominicans are called to “praise, bless and to preach”. For the member of the Dominican Order all of God’s creation is seen as gift and thus through a life of active contemplation or prayer and contemplative action they gratefully praise God, blessing the world. Since all life is a Word from God their particular expression of God’s love and truth is through preaching. (If you know any Dominicans you will be aware that they have the letters O.P. after their names – meaning the “Order of Preachers). In seeking truth, a member of the Dominican order today continually seeks new ways of expressing that truth in prayer, study, community and ministry. The art of preaching includes, but sometimes goes beyond the taught word, meaning that Dominican Spirituality is always a fresh expression of God’s love in a changing world. It is as alive and dynamic today as ever. A former leader (Master General) of the Dominican Order, Fr. Carlos Aspiroz Costa, O.P. has said, “Hands are a projection of what is in our heart”! What is in your heart? Could you be called to project it through the life of a Dominican Priest, the hands and heart of a preacher?


St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order and its many branches, was born in Italy, the son of a very wealthy cloth merchant. As a young man, Francis was high spirited, full of life, a soldier and by all accounts very popular with the women around him! In 1204 while engaged in his military commitments Francis experienced a spiritual awakening leading him to leave all his wealth, popularity and ambitions for great success in the world to follow Christ more closely. There were hints of this call even earlier. After helping his father sell cloth one day he encountered a beggar and moved to pity he gave the beggar the day’s profits. As you can imagine he was none too popular with his father! Indeed, as Francis moved more closely to his following of Christ, he was rejected by his father but stood firmly with his growing sense of vocation.

The shape of that vocation was not immediately clear though. Like many of us Francis first had to move to a quieter space in his life. He would go to lonely place to pray asking God for direction and seeking it in his own heart. At one point, when in a “tumble- down” country chapel, Francis had a moving mystical or spiritual experience in which he “heard” God telling him to rebuild his house. Francis took this literally and began searching and begging for stone to do this. Over time though he came to realize that what was being asked of him was to re-build God’s Church spiritually and in service especially to the poorest of the poor. At the end of February, 1209 Francis listened to a sermon on the Gospel of Matthew 10: 9 in which Jesus asks His followers to spread the Word and in doing so to take no extra coat or sandals with them. This was the light of God for which Francis had prayed and patiently waited. His life became one in which he preached the Good News of Jesus through a life of simplicity and poverty. He even preached to the animals and birds as is well-known of him. No wonder Pope John Paul 11 named St. Francis, the Patron Saint of modern-day ecology!

Franciscan Spirituality: It was from his call to follow Christ in simplicity and poverty that the Franciscan Order of men and its branches were founded. Rooted deeply in Scripture, Franciscans place great emphasis on the Incarnate (God-with-us) Christ at the centre of all they are and do. Christ incarnate is their model as they minister in the world reminding us all of the presence of God in and with us always. Their special expression of this is through community, the continual call to conversion or transformation of their lives, through simplicity, voluntary poverty and service especially to the poor and always in a spirit of peace and joy that was so well seen in the vibrant life St. Francis. Today that spirit continues through Franciscan life. How important such a spirit is in our present world of materialism, ever increasing divisions between rich and poor and associated ecological destruction. As a Franciscan, what a difference you could make in THIS world of today. Perhaps you too feel the call as did St. Francis, to a life of increasing simplicity – to rebuild Church in our world – to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ – with – us. Try reading the Gospel that called so strongly to St. Francis (Matthew 10: 9). How is it speaking to you? For some further reflection on one expression of Franciscan life click here to read the short article on “Capuchin Holiness” by Brother Michael Mascarenhas and then explore other communities of Franciscans too!


Iñigo de Loyola (later known as Ignatius of Loyola) was born in the Basque region of Spain in 1491. He was a knight and was born into a very wealthy, influential Spanish family. Ignatius went on to found the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). James Martin, S.J. a Jesuit today, reminds us that Ignatius wasn’t always what we might think of as “holy”! He quotes the Jesuit historian John Padberg, who has pointed out that St. Ignatius might be the only saint with a prior police record “for nighttime brawling with the intent to inflict serious harm”! NOT that this website or the Jesuits recommend such behavior but it does help us to keep in mind that the Christian life and indeed the religious life is ALWAYS a life of growth and conversion of heart!

In 1521, Ignatius the soldier, while fighting in the battle of Pamplona, sustained a serious leg wound. While recovering in a family castle in Loyola, Ignatius’ sister in law gave him two books, a life of Christ and a Life of the Saints to read. Ignatius wasn’t too impressed. His preference would have been to have books about the glorious life of knights and the women who admired and loved them. Perhaps today, our preference might be to search the Web, go to movies, play action games, text friends for things to excite us rather than taking time out for reflection on life’s meaning and on our deeper purposes for God and rather than reading something “spiritual”. So we’re not that unlike Ignatius. But he didn’t get a choice! So he read what was given him and something amazing happened; something that brought him great joy and new purpose; something that lead to the founding of one of the world’s great orders of men, the Jesuits. Maybe if we were to choose to take a bit of a techno-fast and take some time out to think, pray and feel we too would discover something quite amazing that brings us deeper purpose and happiness. Try it!
What Ignatius discovered was that in reading he was drawn into a deep desire to follow Jesus. He began to feel closer and closer to God, closer to his true self, happier than he had ever been and ready to live the Gospel in the world. It was a new beginning of life.

Jesuit Spirituality: The spirituality of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, is a “down-to-earth” spirituality lived out in all the wonderful changing realities of our Church and world while claiming the Gospel and the dynamic traditions of our Christian life as meaningful for all time. Jesuit priests and brothers engage in a wide and ever-wider range of ministries across the world. But in all they are and do, in all of their diversity they are united in their great Jesuit tradition and spirituality which embraces four main expressions. (1) Finding God in all things: Ignatius and all of his followers for Christ since, do not box God in. They do not preach a God separated from the realities of life. God can be found in all things, in each expression of God’s love in creation and in every human experience and in all persons, every moment. What is important is that we seek God in all things asking what brings us closer to God and what moves us away from God – offering us the choice of choosing FOR God in our lives and letting go of that which keeps us from God and therefore from one another. (2) Becoming contemplative in action: Jesuit or Ignatian spirituality teaches us to pray always! Yes, a Jesuit does take time daily for time set-aside for prayer but every moment is an opportunity for prayer, for gratitude to God, for praise of God, for asking God something, most importantly for listening to God in all events and moments. While never a substitute for committed prayer time, I can be praying as I socialize, communicate with others, spend time with those I love, learn, work and walk! A Jesuit is always called to be “contemplative in action”! (3) Looking at the world from a meditative stance: Being contemplative in action means that in each moment and event of my life I’m drawn into a reflective or meditative stance REAL-IZING God’s presence in all things, communicating and sharing that presence with all I meet, making it real in peoples’ lives, giving thanks for all that is beautiful, good and gift in life. (4) Seeking freedom and letting go for God: Sometimes a spirituality of God in all things causes me to consider what it is in life that needs to be let go in order to let God’s presence be known in all of life. This may be letting go of certain attitudes, possessions, habits or attachments, not as a negative experiences necessarily but so that I and others can truly find joy in real freedom. It is the freedom of letting go that St Ignatius experienced that lead to his great comfort and joy. It is the freedom to help realize God’s “always-presence” in our life and world. Could this be your freedom and happiness too!

For a deep, clear and humorous read on Ignatian spirituality try the New York Time’s best seller by Fr. James Martin S.J. “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life”, published in New York by HarperCollins in 2010. Enjoyment and invitation guaranteed!