Agrégées may help define 21st century religious life

August 4, 2009 by

To view a Photo Gallery from Sunday’s ceremony, click HERE.


On her first full day as a Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia, Rosemary Foreman acknowledges that her “exterior life is not going to change much.”

It’s Monday, and she’s taken an extra day off work, to give her time to drive back to her apartment in Topeka. On Tuesday morning she’ll be back at work in the public information office of the Kansas Corporation Commission. She hasn’t decided yet whether she’ll wear to the office the black and gold cross she received Sunday morning.

But then she reflects on her “interior life” as Sister Rosemary, who a day earlier joined the Concordia congregation as its second agrégée:

“There’s an inner warmth,” she begins, trying to find the words. “It’s a belonging, an inner strength, a different kind of energy, a greater confidence in what I’m about and what I’m doing… That all feels like part of the mystery of religious life in today’s world.”

And she understands that she is part of what will define 21st century religious life.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia went back to their roots in 17th century France to discover agrégée membership, and then revived — and, perhaps, redefined — another way for women to enter religious life.

Rosemary Foreman, left, sings as she waits for her profession of her vow during Mass Sunday. Beside her is Sister Marcia Allen, president of the congregation.

Rosemary Foreman, left, sings as she waits for her profession of her vow during Mass Sunday. Beside her is Sister Marcia Allen, president of the congregation.

As the congregation envisions agrégées, they are mature individuals, probably well established in their professions. They may have debts they are paying off or other financial obligations; they may have family responsibilities, such as caring for aging parents. Or they may have professions or professional contracts that would keep them from entering into a long orientation process required by most religious communities.

Rosemary Foreman understands many of those factors. During the time she was feeling called to the Concordia congregation, she faced what she calls the “middle-of-life stuff” that is common: Both her parents became ill and required care before their deaths, and she now finds herself a couple of years away from a state retirement.

She also realized that at age 58, she is older than the “cut-off date” religious communities generally use when talking about vowed members.

Sister Rosabel Flax, shown listening to a lecture during the 2009 Theological Institute at Manna House of Prayer at the end of July.

Sister Rosabel Flax, shown listening to a lecture during the 2009 Theological Institute at Manna House of Prayer at the end of July.

That, too, was an issue for Rosabel Flax, the first agrégée to join the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia as part of the reconstituted program.
Sister Rosabel had retired as a high school principal in 2004, and although she says she “felt called,” she didn’t really intend to pursue a religious life. “I was too old to become a sister,” she says now with a laugh.

What she wanted to pursue was a new career teaching math.

She did that — but she also gathered more information about the Sisters of St. Joseph. Today, at 59, she is beginning her sixth year as a high school math teacher in Ness City, Kan., and her second full year as an agrégée. She professed her vow of fidelity in June 2008 after two years of study and discussion as a candidate.

She was joined by Sister Rosemary in much of that discussion. The two of them helped define what would be the agrégée form of membership for the Concordia congregation. They both talked with Sister Marcia Allen, who in mid 2008 became president of the congregation, and they even spoke before the Congregational Senate when final approval for the agrégée program was up for a vote.
“I told them this is 21st century religious life,” Sister Rosabel recalls of that Senate session in June 2006.

Sister Rosemary told the members of the Senate about her life, and about getting to know two Sisters of St. Joseph. She also told them about falling away from the Church in her early 20s and being attracted back by the way those two sisters — Anna Marie Broxterman and Jean Rosemarynoski — lived their lives.

“I had the benefit of watching how they lived and how they served ‘the dear neighbor,’” she said. “At the time, I was one of those ‘neighbors.’”
As she got to know more sisters and visited the Motherhouse in Concordia, Rosemary said she was “just drawn to what I felt here, what I saw here. I was overwhelmed by the historical strength of community that carries forward to today.”

New Sister Rosemary Foreman, left, accepts the ring signifying her entrance into the congregation from Sister Marcia Allen.

New Sister Rosemary Foreman, left, accepts the ring signifying her entrance into the congregation from Sister Marcia Allen.

Without having had that same experience, Rosemary’s family was surprised by her decision to join the Sisters of St. Joseph, she says. They, like her, had the experience of growing up in a Catholic home in the 1950s and ‘60s, but no real exposure to religious life today.

But having those family members — four sisters, a brother-in-law and a nephew — attend Sunday’s Mass and profession of her vow “opened up a whole new view for them,” she says. “They had not seen this community and had not seen what it is to be a sister today.”

She sees herself — and the agrégée form of being a sister — as part of the way the congregation will move from today into the future.
As religious communities, and the broader Catholic Church, struggle with the challenge of fewer people making a serious commitment to serve, Sister Rosemary believes agrégées and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia can be a model that could be emulated.

“This is a true blending of real everyday life experience and the spiritual charism of this congregation,” she says. “It allows us to benefit from the strengths and wisdom of both.”



SIDEBAR: What is an agrégée, and how did program come about?

In reaching back to their roots in 17th century France, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia have discovered — and revitalized — a type of committed spiritual life for women known as “agrégées.”

The order, which has grown worldwide over the centuries and now has autonomous congregations in more than 50 countries, began in the French city of LePuy in 1650. Based on research into the original constitution and rules for the congregation, written by founder and Jesuit priest Jean-Pierre Medaille, the sisters now recognize that in addition to vowed members of the order, there were also “agrégées,” from a French word meaning “attached to” or “aggregated with.”

An agrégée — pronounced ah-gre-ZHEY — did not make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. But she lived according to the rules of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and was recognized by the local people and the local churches as a Sister of St. Joseph.

Rosemary Foreman, right, offers suggestions as Sister Marcia Allen decorates the altar Saturday evening, in preparation for the Sunday Mass and Rosemarys profession of her vow as an agrégée.

Rosemary Foreman, right, offers suggestions as Sister Marcia Allen decorates the altar Saturday evening, in preparation for the Sunday Mass and Rosemary's profession of her vow as an agrégée.

In the past decades, the modern Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia studied their origins and their original spirituality, and have now revived that early practice based on what they learned. The Senate of the Concordia congregation approved agrégée membership in 2006.

The first modern agrégée professed a vow of fidelity to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia a year ago. Sister Rosabel Flax is a high school math teacher in Ness City, Kan., who spent more than two years talking and praying with the Concordia sisters before making her vow in July 2008.

On Sunday, Sister Rosemary Foreman became the second agrégée to join the Concordia congregation.

Three other women are currently agrégée candidates.

Agrégées are defined as those persons who commit themselves to active and inclusive love of God and the dear neighbor as expressed in the spirit and spirituality of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. In almost every aspect, they are viewed as full members of the congregation, meaning they have a voice and a vote on congregational issues.

There are three significant differences, however.

• “Vowed sisters” profess the canonical — meaning governed by Church law — vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. As part of the vow of poverty, an individual sister relinquishes all personal wealth and income; at the same time, the congregation assumes responsibility for her economic well being for the rest of her life.

• “Agrégée sisters” profess a vow of fidelity to the congregation, but it is noncanonical, meaning that it is not part of Church law and is instead a private vow between that sister and the Concordia congregation. It also means that the agrégée does not relinquish her finances to the congregation, and the congregation assumes no financial responsibility for her.

• Also, vowed sisters begin their religious life with a formal “formation” that includes a postulancy and novitiate that are, together, about three years. During this time, they have left their previous life, but haven’t yet taken up their works as a Sister of St. Joseph. For agrégées, the period of being a candidate may be about the same length of time, but they do not leave behind their outside lives. Instead, they meet with mentors and study around their regular work and life schedules.

Other congregations of St. Joseph have developed similar definitions or are doing their own study, but the Concordia congregation is believed to be the first to recognize agrégées as full members of the community.

In Concordia, the definition of who may be an agrégée will be refined as individuals feel called to the community, explained Sister Marcia Allen, the president of the congregation.

“This opens up our charism to people who might not have traditionally given thought to religious life,” Sister Marcia said. “We haven’t answered all the questions, but we will — as they’re asked.”

Comments

6 Responses to “Agrégées may help define 21st century religious life”

  1. Sarah on June 4th, 2011 9:00 am

    Thanks for the question, Joan. Generally, no, agrégées maintain their own homes. Here’s a link that may answer more of your questions: http://www.csjkansas.org/2010/06/11/agregees-and-vowed-sisters/

  2. Joan McCawley on June 4th, 2011 5:45 am

    Do the agregees live with the canonically vowed sisters?

  3. Imad Jundi on October 5th, 2009 7:16 am

    I am a moslem man from the middle east who had lived in the US for several years and continue to visit regularly, I have known Sister Rosemary Foreman for maney years. During those years I hgad always felt a sence of refinement and purity in her. But I want to register here what her late mother meant to me, she was my mentor. Rosemary’s mother was a great person, she recognized the neighbor in me and helped me as “Sisters of St. Joseph” are now serving the “dear neighbor”. I have appreciated this and continue to respect and admire her. In my View Sister Rosemary is now following on the foot steps of her dear mother. I want to wish her all the goodness that she also deserves. May God bless her always.

    Imad Jundi

  4. Carm Thibault on August 9th, 2009 7:51 pm

    This coverage is great and for those not present you can feel the event! Thanks, Sarah…and also for the great articles in the Diocesan Register last week of this event and the Theol Institute!

  5. Bette Moslander on August 6th, 2009 1:47 pm

    This is a wonderful story and the pictures are great. We are blessed with these two women, Rosemary and Rosabel. And we are confident there will be others who will join them and find spiritual strength and courage as they continue the inner journey in companionship with members of our Congregation.

  6. Loretta Jasper, CSJ on August 6th, 2009 4:56 am

    I continue to truly appreciate having the active and poignant accounts of the CSJ Mission. Thanks so much.

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