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In 1839, when Pere Lacordaire wanted to reestablish the Dominican Order in France, he was faced with the restrictions put in place by the French Revolution. In his letter to the French people, Pere Lacordaire pointed out that after trees are cut down, new shoots spring from the stumps and additional trees rise from buried seeds. His analogy was that religious life cannot be suppressed for long but will reemerge from new shoots and buried seeds, as he put it, "Oak trees and monks are eternal."

The Holy Spirit has given and continues to give to the Church a marvelous variety of charisms through the founders and foundresses of religious communities. This particular essay focuses on the orders founded before the seventeenth century, which we will refer to as "classical orders" in deference to their longevity.