CMSM Leaders with Pope Francis

The CMSM Story

Formed in 1956

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) was formed in 1956 as a conference for leaders of men's religious congregations and institutes in the United States. It was organized at the request of Pope Pius XII who, in 1950, urged religious around the world to come together in national associations. The conference received canonical status in 1959 by decree of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes.

Composition and Purpose

The newly established conference, which is made up of the leaders of institutes and congregations of religious priests and brothers, established several goals that have been refined and expanded over the years.

  • Support leaders and provide them with the resources necessary to be effective leaders.
  • Promote the dialogue and collaboration among the leaders of religious institutes and with the Catholic Church and society;
  • Provide a corporate influence and voice for male religious leaders through its national and regional structures.

Early Years

The first decade of the conference was one of steady growth. During this period, the Second Vatican Council opened the door to renewal within the church and religious life. Faced with the need for change that this era brought, the conference moved its headquarters from New York to Washington and expanded staff. Realizing that research in the church and religious life would assist members, CMSM helped to create a research center that has since developed into CARA (the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University).

In the 1970s and 1980s, the conference continued to expand. CMSM took a leadership role in helping its members to effect the renewal that had been called for by Vatican II. The conference also saw the need to reach out to parallel religious organizations in Canada, Latin America, Europe, the Near East, and the Philippines. CMSM also established working relationships that continue with the (then) National Conference of Catholic Bishops (now USCCB), Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and the Vatican congregation responsible for religious life. CMSM also collaborates with the newer Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious.

Promoting Justice

In 1970, Pope Paul VI called the bishops of the world together to discuss the cause of justice in the world. The document that followed, "Justice in the World," defined actions that the church felt it should take on behalf of justice for all peoples. CMSM welcomed this call to action, assuming a new role as a prophetic witness for change in society.

This advocacy role has expanded considerably from its beginnings. Today, the conference speaks out on a variety of issues consistent with Catholic Social Teaching. It works ecumenically on efforts to reduce violence in society and to promote the human rights of all. It advocates against legislation to eliminate the rights of documented and undocumented immigrants; it supports the sacredness of life from conception to death and stands in firm opposition to the death penalty; it advocates for peace in the Middle East; it calls for the redistribution of resources between rich and poor nations.

CMSM provides leadership in the area of child protection; represents the perspective and needs of men religious to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican; provides leadership development and mentoring opportunities; and supports collaboration among men religious nationally.

Getting Together

The conference is organized into six regions of the United States, whose members meet twice a year in their region. The leadership of men's institutes, who represent the  12,000 religious priests and over 4,000 vowed brothers, meets annually for a National Assembly each August, and workshops and programs are offered throughout the year.