14. The Office of Superior

Read by Br. Geoffrey Tristram

The professed brothers elect one of their number who they believe has the necessary gifts of the Spirit to lead the Society.  The community, faithful to our tradition and vocation that calls for strong leadership, entrusts authority to him which he exercises in these ways as the servant of all.

The Superior is empowered to distribute leadership and share administration throughout the community by choosing the officers and allocating specific areas of responsibility to the brothers.

All the brothers are accountable to him in the exercise of their responsibilities.  He coordinates the ministries of the community and no new work can be accepted without his permission.  The Superior is also the chief pastor of the brethren and has the ultimate responsibility in Christ for the well-being of all. Although the Superior never acts as confessor within the community, and must honor the boundaries of each brother’s inner life, if he is to serve and cherish the brothers he needs to know what is important in their lives.  By fulfilling his share of the responsibility for staying genuinely in touch, each brother helps make sure that the Superior’s ministry to him is timely and effective.

He is responsible for guiding the community as it makes plans and decisions.  He presides over meetings of the Chapter in which important decisions are made by vote, and makes sure that less formal decisions are made with appropriate discussion and consultation.  The Superior has the freedom to make various decisions about community policy on his own authority.  The limits of this freedom are defined by the Statutes and maintained by the collective wisdom of the community.  Once a year the community shall hold a discussion in which the Superior’s ministry of leadership is reviewed.

The Superior serves the community as chief interpreter of the Rule.  He is expected to enrich the community through his own spiritual teaching and by inviting men and women of the Spirit to give us guidance and inspiration.  The Superior also receives a mandate to lead the community as a prophet who looks to the future and fosters our collective vision.  This orientation towards God’s future finds a particular expression in the way the Superior cultivates gifts of leadership within the community and equips potential successors.  The Superior may not serve more than three consecu­tive terms of three years, to make sure that the gift of leadership is renewed.

The office of Superior needs outside resources of support.  In addition to a spiritual director, the Superior shall have regular recourse to a consultant of his choice who is qualified to help him monitor his ministry.

The benefits of endowing our leader with strong authority are great, but so are the demands. We need to be aware of both the negative and positive psychological forces that are inevitably brought into play wherever authority is strong.  The Superior can be overwhelmed by the number of expecta­tions placed upon him.  He will not be equally gifted in meeting them all and will fall short through his own weakness.  Only prayer and genuine love can sustain him in his office.  The brothers shall fre­quently call upon God to give our leader the graces needed for his ministry day by day, and to show them how to support and cherish him.


  1. Polly Chatfield on March 14, 2009 at 15:16

    This chapter of the Rule reminds us that a good leader is also a good colleague; and it describes both the duties of leadership and the duties of collegiality. No more important gift can be given to a leader than to be upheld by the loving support of his or her colleagues. When we pray for those who lead us, I think we should also pray for those who are their comrades in service, that the one may guide us well and rightly and that the others may never fail in their cherishing.

  2. Polly Henninger on March 10, 2009 at 18:33

    I find it helpful to be reminded that leadership is a gift, and also that it is appropriate and not a weakness, to ask someone to monitor us and also to seek spiritual direction when we carry out a leadership role. Leadership can be taxing and demanding. It is useful to remember that leadership is temporal, that the responsibilities will be given to someone else in time, that leadership can and ought to be renewed, and that seeking God’s will, and support from others, is good. This awareness can make the responsibility of leadership gratifying, effective and even joyous.

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