A Superior General, or General Superior, is the leader or head of a religious institute in the Roman Catholic Church. The Superior General usually holds supreme executive authority in the religious order, while the general chapter has legislative authority.
The figure of Superior General first emerged in the thirteenth century with the development of the centralized government of the Mendicant Orders. The Friars Minor (Franciscans) organized their community under a Minister General, and the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) appointed a Master General.
Due to restrictions on women religious, especially the obligation of cloister for nuns, congregations of women were not initially able to organize with their own Superior General. In 1609, Mary Ward was the superior general of a religious institute that imitated the Jesuit model, but the institute was not accepted by the Roman Curia. It was in the nineteenth century that religious congregations of women were able to organize with a General Superior and the role is now very common. Mother Teresa, for example, was the Mother General of the Missionaries of Charity.
In canon law, the generic term Supreme Moderator is used instead of Superior General. Many orders and congregations use their own title for the person who holds this position. Some examples are:
- Abbot general
- Master general
- Minister General
- Mother General
- Prior General
- Rector general
- General Director / Directress.
In many cases there is an intermediate level between the Superior General and the superior of the individual monasteries or of equivalent communities, often named the provincial superior.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. passim