Provincial superior

A provincial superior is a major superior of a religious order acting under the order's superior general and exercising a general supervision over all the local superiors in a territorial division of the order called a province (not to be confused with an ecclesiastical province which is a group of particular churches under the supervision of a metropolitan). The division is generally geographical, and may consist of one or more countries, or of a part of a country only; however, one or more houses of one province may be situated within the territory of another, and the jurisdiction over the religious is personal rather than territorial. The title of the office is often abbreviated to provincial.


The old orders had no provincial superiors; even when the monasteries were united to form congregations, the arch-abbot of each congregation was in the position of a superior general whose powers were limited to particular cases, almost like the powers of an archbishop over the dioceses of his suffragans. Provincial superiors are found in the congregations of more recent formation, which began with the mendicant orders. The Holy See hesitated for a long time before allowing the division of congregations with simple vows, especially congregations of women, into different provinces as a regular institution, and some congregations have no such division.

The provincial superior is ordinarily appointed by the provincial chapter, subject to confirmation by the general chapter: in the Society of Jesus; he is appointed by the general. The "Regulations" (Normae) of 18 June, 1901, vest the appointment of the provincial in the general council. The provincial superior is never elected for life, but ordinarily for three or six years. In religious orders he is a regular prelate, and has the rank of ordinary with quasi-episcopal jurisdiction. He appoints the regular confessors, calls together the provincial chapter, presides over its deliberations, and takes care that the orders of the general chapter and the superior general are properly carried out. He is an "ex officio" member of the general chapter. His principal duty is to make regular visitations of the houses in his province in the name of the general and to report to the latter on all the religious and the property of the order; his authority over the various houses and local superiors differs in different orders. He has in many cases the right of appointment to the less important offices. At the end of his term of office, the provincial is bound, according to the Constitution "Nuper" of Innocent XII (23 December 1697), to prove that he has complied with all the precepts of that decree concerning masses; if he fails to do so, he loses his right to be elected and to vote in the general chapter.

In accordance with the privilege granted to the Society of Jesus, the provincial superior of a religious order is authorized to approve of oratories set apart for the celebration of Mass in the convents of his order; these oratories may receive the blessing usually given to public oratories, and may not be permanently diverted from their sacred uses, except for good reason and with the approval of the provincial. In congregations with simple vows and not exempt, the provincial has no power of jurisdiction. According to the "Regulations" of 1901, his duty is also to supervise the financial administration of the provincial procurator and the local superiors.


A unique case was eastern Paraguay, where the Spanish colonial authorities allowed the Jesuit missionaries to establish both the Catholic faith and a unique, humane regime for the local Guarani Indian tribes, making their provincial superior the governor of the first autonomous Indian reserve, known as the (Jesuit) Misones or Reductiones, till 1667, ten years after a Guarani rebellion against increased abuse by the regular colonial authorities: the territory lost its status and was divided up between Spain (then under the viceroyalty of la Plata, previously part of Upper Peru) and Portugal (Brazil)

List of famous provincial superiors

* Society of Jesus
** Brazil: José de Anchieta
** Brazil: Manoel da Nóbrega

External links


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