By Rosabel Flax
(Published July 25, 2008) The Community of St. Joseph began in France in the mid 17th century, a century of cultural chaos bought on by wars and economic deprivation. The Sisters who belonged to the community were to do any work of which women were capable, particularly the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
The Agrégées, though not part of the new congregation, served the people like the Sisters did, and were attached to the community by the vow of stability. The Agrégées lived according to the rules of the Sisters of St. Joseph just as the Sisters did. They were unmarried women who did not have sufficient means to enter a religious community, or great ladies who by necessity or social status remained in the world. These small communities of Agrégées and Sisters were dispersed throughout the central mountains of France where they visited the sick and the imprisoned, provided hospitality for the homeless and outcasts, educated and trained prostitutes for more dignified work, and dedicated themselves to the poor while supporting themselves with lace making. The Agrégées were recognized by the local people and churches as Sisters of St. Joseph. During the Senate of June, 2006, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia revived the Agrégée form of membership for the 21st century.
The 21st century Agrégées are single, baptized, Catholic, mature lay women who are financially self-supporting and who believe they are called to the mission, spirit and spirituality of the Community through the charism of active and inclusive love. These women express a desire to surrender themselves to God and deepen their relationship with God through service to people. They are desirous of being part of a community that is dedicated to the love of God in this way. They desire to share the communal life inasmuch as they are able. They wish to show their commitment through a vowed life; however, their personal situation is such that they promise to live the spirit of the Institute through the vow of fidelity, which is a life-long commitment.
The candidates for Agrégée membership agree to a period of orientation not less than one year nor more than three years. During this time, through quarterly classes at Manna House, the candidates become acquainted with the community members and deepen their understanding of the mission, charism and spirituality and how it is lived out. Also, during the orientation period, each candidate has a canonically vowed member as a mentor. Mentor and candidate meet frequently and together they discern whether or not Agrégée membership is the person’s vocation.
Once the individual and the mentor agree that the candidate is ready to request membership through the non-canonical vow of fidelity, the candidate submits to the president a request for admission and recommendations from other persons. In consultation with the mentor and the executive council, the president may admit the candidate to Agrégée membership
At the present time, the Community has five Agrégée candidates. On July 20th, the community will receive my commitment as the first 21st-century Agrégée. (UPDATE: As of October 2011, there are six Agrégée Sisters who have professed their vows, and another six women invarious stages of candidacy.)