What Do the Letters After Some Priests’ Names Mean?

The letters following the names of men and women religious refer to the different “orders” a priest or sister might belong to. For example:

  • Father David Dwyer, C.S.P.: C.S.P. stands for Community of St Paul which is the formal name for the Paulists. So, Father Dave is a Paulist Father.
  • Father James Martin, S.J.: S.J. stands for Society of Jesus which is the formal name for the Jesuits. So, Father Jim would be a Jesuit priest.
  • Sister Christine Wilcox, O.P.: O.P. stands for Order of Preachers which is the formal name of the Dominicans. So, Sister Christine is a Dominican Sister.

Sometimes the letters stand for a description of the order’s charism, as it does for the Dominicans, who have a central mission regarding preaching.

If a priest does not have letters following their name, they are most likely a diocesan priest — which means that they haven’t joined a particular religious community or order, but instead, chose to join the diocesan priesthood. Diocesan priests tend to 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 on the charism of their founder, and not on the parish’s administration. For example, the Jesuits are educators, so they build and run many schools and universities. Franciscans work with the poor, so they wear a simple brown robes, give away their belongings and open soup kitchens and homeless shelters. 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.

If you’re curious about the letters following the name of a priest or nun in your parish, just ask! A priest friend of mine with the initials O.M.I after his name will gladly tell you all about the Oblates of Mary Immaculate if you give him the chance. Many clergy and religious enjoy educating others on the history, values, and mission of their order.

(Originally published December 2009)