The Founding Fathers and Mothers of the Catholic Church
Just as a country honors its founding fathers and mothers, the Catholic Church honors the holy men and women who helped establish religious communities that have served the needs of many throughout the centuries. Following is a list of the men and women who are considered the founders of various religious orders.
These founding fathers and mothers determined the name of the society they established as well as the charism, or spirit of the group. Even though a more formal name may have been used when these religious communities were created by their founders, many times the nickname of the organization comes from the personal name of the founding mother or father (Dominicans for the Order of Preachers; Franciscans for the Order of Friars Minor; Vincentians for the Congregation of the Mission; and so on).
St. Alphonsus Ligouri
Campania, Kingdom of Naples (current Italy) (1696–1787)
Patron: moral theologians, ethicists, arthritis sufferers
Feast day: August 1
He inaugurated a new religious community for men known as the Redemptorists after Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ the Redeemer. The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (CSsR from the Latin initials) was established as an order of missionary preachers who, to this day, are renowned for their eloquent homilies and sermons.
St. Augustine of Hippo
Algeria (ad 354–ad 430)
Patron: theology and philosophy professors, former playboys
Feast day: August 28
Augustine’s religious order was named after him, the Order of St. Augustine. The abbreviation OSA comes at the end of the name of an Augustinian monk — for example, Rev. Dudley Day, OSA.
St. Benedict of Nursia
Cassino, Italy (ad 480–ad 543)
Patron: Europe, poison victims
Feast day: July 11
He established a monastic way of life. He and his monks lived by the creed ora et labora, or “prayer and work,” which left him to divide his days equally between spiritual reflection and manual labor.
Benedict’s twin sister, Scholastica, established the female counterpart to her brother’s monastic order. Benedictine nuns operate much like their male contemporaries, also following the “ora et labora” way of life. Both men and women of the Benedictine order have the letters OSB after their proper names to designate that they’re members of the Order of St. Benedict.
St. Clare of Assisi
Assisi, Italy (1194–1253)
Patron: television, goldsmiths
Feast day: August 11
Clare established the community of the Poor Ladies (now known as the Poor Clares) to meditate day and night and offer prayers for the Church.
St. Dominic de Guzman
Calaruega, Province of Burgos, Kingdom of Castile (current Spain) (1170–1221)
Patron: preachers, astonomers, the Dominican Republic
Feast day: August 8
The religious order Dominic would one day establish is called the Dominicans (Order of Friars Preachers) — domini cani, the Italian equivalent, means “hounds of the Lord,” a phrase used to describe steadfast preaching.
St. Francis de Sales
Château de Thorens, Savoy, France (1567–1622)
Feast day: January 24
Francis established the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales (Oblati Sancti Francisci Salesii, O.S.F.S) to help promote the faith beyond the confines of the parish and diocese. The spirituality is based on Introduction to a Devout Life, a book Francis wrote for those struggling to become better Christians.
St. Francis of Assisi
Assisi, Italy (1181–1226)
Patron: animals, pet owners, veterinarians; San Francisco
Feast day: October 4
Pope Innocent III gave Francis permission for him to establish a new religious community, the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), which would later be known as the Franciscans.
St. Ignatius of Loyola
Loyola, Spain (1491–1556)
Patron: military personnel
Feast day: July 31
He established a community of men he called the Society of Jesus, later to be known as the Jesuits.
St. Lucy Filippini
Corneto, Tuscany, Italy (1672–1732)
Patron: Catholic grammar schools
Feast day: March 25
Lucy established the Religious Teachers Filippini in 1692 to educate and train religious women, who in turn taught the young, especially young women, to prepare them for life, whether they married or entered the convent.
St. Philip Neri
Florence, Italy (1515–1595)
Patron: U.S. Special Forces
Feast day: May 26
Philip established the Congregation of the Oratory (CO) to help priests become holier and thus help their parishioners as well.
St. Vincent de Paul
Patron: social workers, seminary professors
Feast day: September 27
Vincent established the Congregation of the Mission (CM) to work on service to the poor and education of the clergy.