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Order, Order

It was one of the ironies of the Catholic Reformation that monasticism played such a role in the renewal of the Catholic spirit. After all, numerous Protestant reformers had denounced monastic life and claimed that it had no basis in the scriptures. Because the Catholic Reformation began largely as a bottom-up movement, much of the commitment to a new and better Catholic Church came from within the monasteries, specifically from common monks and nuns. Monasteries and convents originally were founded on the principles of obedience, poverty, and chastity. Those principles, according to Protestant and Catholic reformers alike, had gone missing from many of the clergy. In order to return those principles to the Church and draw people back to Catholicism, several new orders, or groups of clergy, most of them monks, appeared during the Catholic Reformation.

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A convent is a community of nuns, or women who have taken the vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity; it is comparable to a monastery.

The Somaschi Order of Regular Clerics, so named for its place of origin in Somasca, Italy, started with the work of Jerome Emiliani (1481-1537). Emiliani began with just a handful of followers who formerly had brief affiliations with other orders. They formed their own order and made their life’s work caring for the poor, the sick, and the orphaned. Only a few years after the founding of the Somaschi, the Capuchins branched away from the Franciscan Order of monks founded by St. Francis of Assissi (c.1181-1226). The Capuchins adhered to the Franciscan monastic rules and even

Continental Quotes

One of the mottos of the Barnabites shows their dedication to helping their fellow man: “Let us run like madmen, not only toward God but toward our neighbor as well."

dressed like Franciscan monks with their brown, hooded robes. Soon after that, Anthony Zaccaria (1502-1539) founded the Barnabites, the first order named for St. Paul. The Order of the Barnabites counted among its members priests, uncloistered nuns, and even married couples. Eventually, the Barnabites created the Angelice, a female branch of the order. The Barnabites, like other orders, were committed to living pious lives.

The Society of Jesus-No Girls Allowed

Perhaps the most influential of all the orders that grew out of the Catholic Reformation was the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, founded by Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556). Born in Spain, Ignatius went into the military and served there until he was wounded in battle in 1521. During his period of recuperation he spent time reading about the saints. His readings so moved him that he began a new life of meditation, prayer, and flagellation in a cave. After a year in the cave, Ignatius traveled to Jerusalem and back and then enrolled in school. After he finished his university program, he gathered together a few followers and formed the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits.

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In the mid-sixteenth century, Jesuit numbers hovered around 1,000. Less than 100 years later, the Jesuits numbered more than 10,000.

The small Society of Jesus traveled here and there, tending to the poor and gathering more followers. Ignatius used great discretion in whom he allowed into the order but the numbers grew anyway. In 1538, Pope Paul III recognized the Jesuits as an official order within the Catholic Church. The Jesuits built their order on a set of very strict rules for living and developing spiritually.

Ignatius and the Jesuits had a passion for education and for the Church. The decision to educate youth through the Church came naturally for the Jesuits. Ignatius believed that he could give children one of the finest educations anywhere and at the same time create loyal Catholics. Because the Jesuits set such high standards for those admitted into the order, the Jesuits maintained a membership highly suited to teach the children of Europe and to model for the children exemplary lifestyles. With considerable funding from Rome, the Jesuits founded schools and colleges across Europe. In no time, the Jesuit educational institutions earned outstanding reputations.

The Jesuits also placed great emphasis on missions. Jesuit priests traveled with explorers across the Atlantic to the New World. Other Jesuit priests traveled throughout Europe and even to Asia. Everywhere they went they successfully won souls for the Catholic faith. Perhaps the Jesuits’ greatest success, though, occurred in Brazil.

In each place, the Jesuit missionaries ministered to the people and taught them about Christianity.

The Jesuits are due much credit for the success of the Catholic Reformation. The Jesuits effectively spread Catholicism not just in Europe but all over the world. They brought countless non-Catholics to Catholicism, and they brought many former Catholics back to the Church.

The Ursuline Order-No Boys Allowed

While the Jesuits were out teaching all over the world, a woman in Italy, in the midst of the Renaissance, wanted women to be able to teach the way the Jesuits did. There were plenty of orders for women, but women who became nuns were forced to be cloistered; because unmarried women could not be sent out into the world by themselves, nuns were forced to live in convents.

In 1535, Angela Merici (1474-1540) decided to change that tradition, so she founded the Ursuline Order for women in Brescia, Italy. The Ursuline Order was to be a teaching order, and the Order’s number-one priority was the education of young women. The women in the Order were not nuns and they did not hide behind the cloistered walls of a convent. Rather, they met in various homes and then went into the world to do their work.

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Angela Merici named the order for St. Ursula, the saint famous for her 11,000 virgin companions.

At the time of the founding of the Ursuline Order, women were expected to be beautiful and to inspire. They were not given the chance to be educated. Angela wanted girls, rich and poor, to have that chance. In much the same manner as the Jesuits, the Ursulines hoped to Christianize their students. More specifically, Angela wanted to Christianize her young women through education so that the homes and families they might one day begin would already have a solid religious foundation. The Ursuline Order did such great work that the pope praised Angela. He offered her the chance to be the head of an order of nuns, but Angela refused. She chose to stay with the Ursulines and in the world.

Visions of Avila

Women in Spain got the chance to be part of the Catholic Reformation, too, but in a more traditional manner. Theresa of Avila (1515-1582), the daughter of a converso family in Spain, read letters of St. Jerome and decided to become a nun. She entered a convent in Avila at the tender age of 20, where she grew very ill over the next several years. She left the convent to recover.

Upon returning to her devout religious life filled with prayer and meditation, she received visions. Her visions evoked deep emotions and feelings of religious ecstasy. She traveled across her native country forming new convents called Carmelites of the Strict Observance. Teresa advocated strict rules for pious living and deeply personal religious experiences for believers. Teresa was part of a movement known as mysticism. The Carmelites, like the Jesuits, Ursulines, and other orders, played huge roles in renewing and reforming the Catholic Church.

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In Spain, a converso was one who had been converted to Catholicism. The Church still kept a close eye on conversos because they rarely trusted them, particularly the converted Jews.


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