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What is the difference between a Religious Priest and a Diocesan Priest?

September 17, 2020

What is the difference between religious and diocesan priests?

by Father Steven Huber, CSB

This is a question that often gets asked by young men who are discerning a vocation- and rightly so! After all, don’t all priests celebrate the same Mass and the same Sacraments? So what is the difference?

The difference between a diocesan priest and a religious priest lies in the type of work that they do and where that priest is called to serve. Diocesan priests, as their name implies, are ordained to serve a particular diocese in the Church. They take a promise of obedience to their bishop, and can be sent to serve at any parish within the diocesan territory.

Religious order priests, on the other hand, serve the Church according to a specific charism, or spirit that unites members of a community around the ideals of its founder. This charism usually carries with it a certain spirituality that all members strive to incorporate into their daily lives. This charism informs the work that religious order priests do, which is why in addition to their sacramental ministry, you will find members of religious orders engaged in a wide variety of ministries. For example, an important charism of the Basilians is Christian education. As a result, you will find many of our members work in education in some way, either as a teacher, administrator, chaplain, coach, or counselor, depending on the unique gifts that person brings to the community. Basilians who are not actively engaged in an educational institution also strive to be educators in their roles- especially in their parish ministry.

Another key difference is that religious order priests can be sent to serve wherever the mission of their community takes them. For example, in my time with the Basilians, I spent my associate year in Novi, Michigan, working at Detroit Catholic Central High School. I then spent six years in Houston, Texas for my formation, and I currently live in Windsor, Ontario, where I serve at Assumption Parish, and as chaplain of campus ministry at the University of Windsor. It can be a challenge to leave behind friends and family as a religious, but I have always found that there is great joy in being given the privilege to serve where the Lord calls us.

May the Lord continue to bless you as you discern how God is calling you to serve him with your life!


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