Vader and ShenFu: The Surprising Titles of Priests in Other Languages

This week a priest from Holland named Father Johannes van Voorst liked an Easter photo that I posted on Instagram (drtaylormarshall).

I clicked on his profile and saw that his title is Vader Johannes. Vader. You know, as in Darth Vader.

Vader in Church Procession

I have long known that Vader means “father.” That’s the hook in The Empire Strikes Back: Darth Vader is the “dark father” of Luke.

Yet somehow it never registered with me that those black cassock-wearing priests in Holland would be affectionately called “Vader” by the faithful. Super cool.

So here are some various titles for priest in various languages. I do this to celebrate the 46th nation now represented in the New Saint Thomas Institute for theological studies:

Titles for Catholic Clergy in Various Languages:

Shénfù. Mandarin Chinese refers to Catholic priests with the title “Spirit Father” or shénfù (神父). I was a (Protestant) missionary for a summer in college and I love learning more about Christianity in China. One name for “Catholicism” in Chinese is gongjiào (公教) meaning “universal teaching.”

Shinpu. The Japanese title for a priest. Similar to Chinese. It also means “spirit father.”

Abouna. Syriac or Aramaic for “our father,” as used by Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian Christians (and the Maronites).

Bathyushka. The Russian title for Orthodox priests, meaning “father.” Incidentally, the wives of Russian Orthodox priests also have a title: Matushka, meaning “mother.”

Cha. Vietnamese for “Father.”

Dom. This is actually a shortened version of the Latin Dominus meaning “Lord.”  Dom is an honorific prefixed to the given name. It derives from the Latin Dominus. It’s used for Benedictines, Carthusians, and Canons Regular in English and French (eg. Dom Columba Marmion, O.S.B.). For Portuguese, it signifies a bishop.

Don. Italian and Spanish version “Dom.” Don can be used in writing and in direct address (e.g. Don Bosco). You see this among monastics, but Opus Dei (Spanish in origin) also often refers to their Prelate as Don Avlaro or Don Javier. It’s not by any means restricted to clergy. Don is an honorific in all Spanish cultures. Don Juan of Austria is a notable example.

 

Sagart or Sacart. Irish or Old Gaeilge corruption of the Latin word for priest: sacerdos.

Athair. Irish address for “Father.”

Monsignore. Italian for “my lord.” The final “e” is often dropped. In Romance languages, it’s used to denote bishops, but in English it is restricted to presbyteral Prelates or Chaplains to His Holiness.

Otets. Ukrainian priest is usually addressed as “otets'” (отець), father, and his wife- dobro`dyjka, literally, “one who is doing good deeds” or “benefactress.”

Ojciec. Polish. When addressing a priest (vocative), it is Ojcze.

Padre. Corruption of Latin Pater. Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian for “Father.” It Italy, “Padre” is for mendicant religious priests (e.g. Padre Pio) and “Don” is for diocesan priests (e.g. Don Bosco).

Pappa. In Greek towns, priests are called Pappa, which means “daddy.” Our Latin Papa or Pope is the same word. I suppose each Greek Orthodox priest is papal in his own town.

Părinte. Romanian for “parent” or “begetter.” Corruption of the Latin Parens. There is a Romanian word for “Father” but Părinte is used instead. Romanian Christians address their priests with: “Sfinția Voastră” or “Your holiness” (“Your” in Romanian actually being a “pluralis majestatis”). Sfinția coming from the Latin word sanctitas meaning “holiness.”

Père. French corruption of the Latin Pater meaning “father.”

Abbé. A member of the French secular clergy in major or minor orders. It derives from the Aramaic “Abba” meaning “father.”

Romo. Indonesian for “Father.”

Vader. Dutch for “Father.”

Vater. German for “Father.”

 

Question: Do you know of more priest titles in other languages. Please leave a comment below and I’ll add them to the list. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

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