The Order of St. Benedict comprises numerous monasteries of monks and nuns located in various regions throughout the world. Almost all Benedictine monasteries belong to a congregation, which consists of a single monastery at the centre, usually called the ‘motherhouse’, and then several other monasteries either founded from the motherhouse, or from other monasteries within the congregation. Thus, the Benedictine Confederation is a group of different congregations or families of monasteries.
Each monastery has a superior, an abbot or prior, who governs the community of monks rather like a father does his family. Although the monasteries belong to a congregation centred upon a motherhouse, each monastery is, nevertheless, autonomous and responsible for its own spiritual and temporal well-being, guided by the constitutions of the congregation. Some congregations consist of monasteries which are more ‘active’ in their manner of living the monastic life, perhaps running schools or parishes, while other congregations are more ‘contemplative’, with monasteries focussing more on a separation from the world, with a greater emphasis on prayer and work within the confines or cloister of the monastery.
What unites all Benedictine monasteries throughout the world is the rule that they use as the inspiration and norm for the lives of the monks, the Rule of St. Benedict.