The Order of Saint Benedict (OSB) is not a religious order in the usual sense – ie with a superior-general and headquarters in Rome. The basic unit of Benedictine life is the individual independent monastery. Most of these are abbeys, with an Abbot as superior, but some which have not yet reached the status of abbey are called conventual priories with a conventual Prior as superior. Superiors are elected by the monks of their communities.
Monasteries are grouped in loose federations called Congregations, of which there are 19 in the world. The purpose of these is for general oversight of monastic life and for mutual assistance. Glenstal belongs to the Congregation of the Annunciation, which has houses all over the world. Every Congregation has an elected Abbot President, whose main function is to arrange for the regular visitation of the monasteries to review monastic life and discipline and give any help that may be necessary. He also presides at the election of an Abbot or conventual Prior. The current Abbot President of the Congregation of the Annunciation is Abbot Ansgar Schmidt OSB, of the Abbey of St Matthias, in Trier, Germany.
In 1886, Pope Leo XIII united the then existing Congregations into the Benedictine Confederation. At the head of this is the Abbot Primate who is based in the Abbey of Saint Anselm (Sant’ Anselmo) on the Aventine Hill in Rome. This monastery also houses a Benedictine university and serves as a centre of unity for men and women Benedictines from all over the world. Sant’ Anselmo is the property of the Benedictine Confederation and the superiors of the monasteries and Congregations that make up the Confederation meet every four years to discuss and decide matters relating to Sant’ Anselmo itself and to Benedictine life in general. It is this congress that elects the Abbot Primate, who is the first among equals in the Confederation. His main roles are to represent Benedictines to the Holy See and to civil authorities in Italy and abroad and to foster the unity of Benedctines. The current Abbot Primate is Abbot Gregory Polan OSB, from Conception Abbey in Missouri, USA.
Women Benedictines, both enclosed nuns and sisters involved in apostolic or other work, are grouped in the Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum (CIB) which is under the aegis of the Abbot Primate but is responsible for the conduct of its own business.