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Mike Hayes
Our readers asked:

What do the letters after some priests’ names mean?

Mike Hayes Answers:

The letters refer to the different “orders” that the priest or sister belong to.   For example:

Fr James Martin, S.J. :   S.J. stands for Society of Jesus which is the formal name for the Jesuits.  So Fr Jim would be a Jesuit priest.

Fr David Dwyer, C.S.P.:  C.S.P. stands for Community of St Paul which is the formal name for the Paulists.  So Fr Dave is a Paulist Father.

Sr. Christine Wilcox, O.P.:  O.P. stands for Order of Preachers which is the formal name of the Dominicans.   So Sr. Christine is a Dominican Sister.

As you can see sometimes the letters stand for what the order’s charism is as it does for the Dominicans who have a central mission regarding preaching.

Now I know what your next 2 questions will be:

1)  How do you know what all the orders’ “letters” are?
Well some you just start to see more often and you’ll memorize them.  But occasionally, you’ll see one that is unfamiliar.  Priests and Nuns are quite used to that and they enjoy telling people what their particular order is all about so don’t be afraid to ask them what order they come from.  Cardinal George from Chicago has O.M.I after his name and he’ll be glad to tell you all about the Oblates of Mary Immaculate if you give him the chance.

2)  What if they don’t have any letters after their name?
Then, most likely, they are a diocesan priest–which means that they haven’t joined a particular religious community or an order but instead, chose to join the diocesan priesthood.  Diocesan priests tend to simply be responsible for the administration of parishes and schools in a particular geographic area (known as a diocese).  “Order” priests usually serve in a parish church as well but their main focus is not on the parish’s administration but on the charism of their founder.  For example the Jesuits are educators so they build a lot of schools and universities.  Franciscans work with the poor so they wear a simple brown robe and give away their belongings and open soup kitchens and homeless shelters.  Etc.  Sometimes communities break off from other communities.  Like there are a bunch of different types of Franciscans…they all follow St Francis as the one who inspired them, but they all might have slightly different approaches as to how they do that.

The Author : Mike Hayes
Mike Hayes is the senior editor for the Googling God section at BustedHalo.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • squint9

    Excellent article. Thanks, Mike.

  • Mlbc2930

    What do the initials VF mean after a priest name?

  • kt

    what do the r t stand for like rt reverend Terrell

  • Helga Schliesmann

    What do the letters MFVA after the priests name mean

  • Peter

    O.P.N. on a medal is an abbreviation of the latin “Ora pro nobis,” which means pray for us.

    + before, not after, a prist’s name is normally the sign of a bishop.

  • Steve

    Nancy, I could be wrong, but it might mean that they are deceased.

  • Nancy Bosch

    What does the symbol + after a priest’s name signify?


  • Peter Quandt

    We have a medal depicting St. Jean Baptiste Vianney. What does the O.P.N., after his name, stand for? What order did he belong to?

  • cathyf

    Just to make it more confusing, priests and religious can also have the initials of their academic degrees. STL and STD are Licentiate or Doctorate in Sacred Theology. M Div is Master of Divinity. D Min is a Doctorate in Ministry. A special case is DD. There is a real Doctorate in Divinity degree which involves intensive scholarly work. Also, there was a long tradition that bishops could claim an honorary DD. (Similar to the honorary doctorate often handed out to graduation speakers.) In modern times, a bishop who would stick the “DD” after his name would be considered clownishly tacky…

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