Superior general (Christianity)

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A superior general or general superior is the leader or head of a religious institute in the Catholic Church and some other Christian denominations. The superior general usually holds supreme executive authority in the religious community, while the general chapter has legislative authority.[1]



The figure of superior general first emerged in the thirteenth century with the development of the centralized government of the Mendicant Orders. The Friars Minor (Franciscans) organized their members under a Minister General, and the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) elected a Master of the Order.[2]

Due to restrictions on women religious, especially the obligation of cloister for nuns, congregations of women were not initially able to organize with their own superior general. In 1609, Mary Ward was the superior general of a religious institute that imitated the Jesuit model, but the institute was not accepted by the Roman Curia. It was not until the nineteenth century that religious congregations of women were able to organize with a general superior, and the role is now very common. Mother Teresa, for example, was the superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, known by the honorific title of Mother.[3][4] Following the Second Vatican Council, women religious formed the International Union of superiors general.[1]

Canon law


In canon law, the generic term Supreme Moderator is used instead of superior general. Many orders and congregations use their own title for the person who holds this position. Some examples, in addition to those named above, are:

In many cases there is an intermediate level between the superior general and the superior of the individual monasteries or of equivalent local communities, often named the provincial superior.[5]

See also





  1. ^ a b Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes (31 May 1983). "Section II: Characteristics; 9: Government". Magisterium on Religious Life, 1983. Vatican. p. 51. Retrieved 16 November 2021.
  2. ^ Vermeersch (1911a).
  3. ^ IANS: HT Correspondent (26 March 2009). "Sister Prema is new head of Missionaries of Charity". Hindustan Times. Retrieved 16 November 2021.
  4. ^ Cooper, Kenneth J (15 September 1997). "Mother Teresa, 1910 - 1997". The Washington Post. p. A16. Seven years ago, Mother Teresa tried hard to step down as superior general of her Missionaries of Charity, obtaining the Vatican's permission to retire ...
  5. ^ Vermeersch (1911b).


  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainVermeersch, Arthur (1911a). "Nuns". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainVermeersch, Arthur (1911b). "Provincial". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company.