The Immutable Characteristics of the Oratory, Part 3: The Autonomy of Each House

The two essential characteristics of Oratorian life are:
1) common life without vows, founded on the bond of fraternal charity, and 2) the autonomy of each Oratorian house. Having explored the first, we now attend to the second.

For a Congregation of the Oratory, autonomy means that there is no central government, no provincial structure or general superior as are found in religious orders. Each Oratorian house is self-governing and answerable directly to the Holy See. Every three years, each community elects its own superior, whose title is Provost, and who is referred to simply as “the Father”. Fr. Peter is our current Provost.

The transfer of members between houses is extremely rare, and only takes place in exceptional circumstances. When a man joins an Oratory, he joins a particular house with the intention to remain until death.

Oratorian houses are linked by a common rule, called the Constitutions, and each community has been canonically erected (formally established) by decree of the Holy Father. Our Congregation was recognized as an Oratorian house by Pope St. John Paul II on September 8, 1998.

Each house belongs to the Confederation of Oratories, an organ of fraternal assistance and support. The Confederation meets in Congress, in Rome, every six years to consider matters of mutual interest and concern, while still respecting the autonomy of each house.

Autonomy can be a double-edged sword. It allows each community to develop its own customs and practices for living out the Oratorian vocation in a particular time and place - a dynamic family life, always developing. However, autonomy also leaves each house vulnerable to the possibility of extinction through lack of members. This underscores the importance of fraternal charity for maintaining the vitality of the Congregation across the years.

Note: This article is part of our ongoing series on St. Philip Neri and the Oratory, in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Philip.
Please direct any questions or comments to Fr. Jeff.

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