Saturday program focuses on ‘the agrégée movement’

September 17, 2011 by  

Sister Marcia Allen, at right, welcomes the two "inquirers" to dinner with the sisters at the Nazareth Motherhouse Saturday.

The “agrégée team” played host Saturday to two women who wanted to learn more about this form of religious life offered only by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

The women came from Douglasville, Ga., and Wakeeny, Kan.

Sister Bette Moslander, considered the author of the agrégée movement, talks about the deeper meaning of "Christian vocation" and her own experience of being called to religious life.

Team members Sisters Bette Moslander, Pat McLennon and Rosabel Flax were joined in the five-hour presentation by other sisters, both agrégée and canonically vowed, and three of the five current agrégée candidates.

The term agrégée — pronounced ah-gre-ZHEY — comes from the French for “attached to” or “aggregated with.” It is a form of membership in the religious congregation that dates back to our founding in 17th-century France, when Sisters of St. Joseph were either canonically vowed “principal sisters” or so-called agrégée or “country” sisters. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia re-established — and revitalized — this form of religious life in 2006. Today there are six women who have professed the vow of fidelity to God and to the congregation as “agrégées.” Another four are in varying stages of the process of deciding if this form of religious life fits them and their spiritual needs.

Saturday’s “Agrégée Information Day” at the Nazareth Motherhouse was designed to allow more women to learn about this alternative. It also provided something of a crash course in the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and the mission and ministry of the sisters in Concordia. The two “inquirers” were not asked to make a commitment during the day, but they were encouraged to use the information as part of their process in discerning the next steps in their religious life.

“The faith life is something more than doctrine or following rules,” Sister Bette said in her presentation to the group. “It requires that we ask ourselves the deeper questions: Who am I? Why am I here.

The two newest professed agrégées, Sister Sharon Hayes, center, and Jan McCormick, right chat with Sister Agnes Bernita Green over dinner Saturday.

“A Christian vocation is a personal yielding to God’s love for us,” she added. “It is not a stage in life — like married, single or religious; it is a direction in life. …”

Sister Bette, who is considered the author of the agrégée movement for the Concordia congregation, urged the two women to give careful thought and prayer to their next step.

“A Christian vocation is a risky undertaking,” she said with a slight laugh. “Much is asked of you, as much was asked for the first disciples who followed Christ. But like those first disciple, it is a choice.”

If either of the two women decide that they want to pursue agrégée membership in the congregation, she will make a formal commitment to enter into a period of study and discernment with a mentor. That period has generally been about three years. The next step would be profession as an agrégée, which would take place as part of a Mass at the Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia.

Also taking part in Saturday’s presentations was Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Concordia congregation, a historian who described herself as the “chief educator” for agrégée candidates. Also on hand to introduce themselves to the two “inquirers” and answer questions were Sisters Jean Befort, Regina Ann Brummel, Agnes Bernita Green, Sharon Hayes, Loretta Jasper, Janet Lander, Jan McCormick, Mary Esther Otter, Liberata Pellerin, Carolyn Teter, Jean Ann Walton and Sylvia Winterscheidt. Several of those sisters serve as mentors to agrégée candidates.

Agrégée candidates who were able to attend were Beth Weddle of Concordia, Kathy Schaefer of Augusta, Kan., and Susan Klepper of St. Louis, Mo.

To learn more, contact Sister Bette at 785/243/4428 or by email at bmoslander@mannahouse.org.

Or, CLICK HERE to read everything that’s been published about the agrégée movement of the Concordia congregation.

Congregation welcomes newest agrégée sisters

June 2, 2011 by  

Two women who couldn’t seem more different spoke with one voice Thursday afternoon when they became the newest Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kan.

• • • • • • • •

In a Mass at the sisters’ Nazareth Motherhouse, Jan McCormick of Chapman, Kan., and Sharon Hayes of Kansas City, Mo., professed their vows as agrégées – a new form of membership in the 128-year-old congregation of Catholic women.

Jan McCormick

The 57-year-old McCormick graduated from Chapman High School and immediately went to work. But after nearly a decade, she enrolled at Cloud County Community College in Concordia and eventually graduated from Marymount College in Salina with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with an emphasis on chemical dependency. During her two years in school in Concordia, she met several Sisters of St. Joseph. But it was at Marymount — then operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia — where she really connected with them, she said. And when she went to work at St. John’s Hospital in Salina — then also operated by the sisters — she came to know even more about them.

By 1999, McCormick had moved back to Chapman and there she met Sister Carolyn Juenemann who was starting a CSJ Associates program. “I joined it, and it was life-giving and there was a real connectedness,” McCormick recalls.

She went to work in the Army’s substance abuse program where she is now a risk reduction analyst, yet her real passion was her deepening commitment to her CSJ Associates group.

Sharon Hayes

Meanwhile, Sharon Hayes had only a passing knowledge of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

Hayes, 65, had felt called to religious life very early. Born and raised in Denver, she joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. (The two congregations, along with nearly 20 others in the U.S. and Canada, share a history but are today separate and autonomous.)

Just out of high school, Hayes joined the Carondelet sisters and then attended Fontbonne University in St. Louis and then Avilla College in Kansas City, with majors in nursing and minors in psychology and theology. She went on to the University of Arizona to earn a master’s in science in physiology and nursing.

Then, after seven years as a Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, she made the decision to leave the congregation.

“For Catholics, the 1970s were crazy,” she says now. “The Church was modernizing but that meant tremendous upheaval in religious life. I left to search…”

It also meant a career in nursing, with ever increasing responsibilities, and a life in the Kansas City area.

And while no longer a member of the Carondelet sisters, “I stayed very close to members of that community for all those years,” Hayes says. “In some ways, I was always part of them, and they were always part of me. I didn’t know the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kan., but the broader Sisters of St. Joseph connection went back to when I was about 6.”

Unbeknownst to Hayes, the Concordia sisters had come up with something that would make that connection even stronger.

Over several decades, the Sisters of St. Joseph who shared roots in the original 17th-century French congregation — which includes both Concordia and Carondelet — had been studying their early history. In Concordia in about 2005, there was particular interest in a form of membership called “agrégées,” a French word that means attached to.

An agrégée — pronounced ah-greh-ZHEY — was a woman who undertook the same work and mission as the original Sisters of St. Joseph in LePuy, France, but for various circumstances could not take the traditional three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Instead, she made a single vow to be faithful to the congregation and to God.

After deep study, the Concordia sisters introduced agrégée membership and accepted the first candidate in 2006. Sister Rosabel Flax of Ness City, Kan., became the first professed agrégée in 2008, and three others soon followed.

Several of the Concordia sisters talked with Jan McCormick about agrégée membership, “but I didn’t know if I wanted to give up my Associates group,” she says with a laugh.

Ultimately, McCormick decided to become an agrégée candidate, to see if she was called toward religious life. But she remained unsure — until the fall of 2010.

McCormick had spent a couple of years as the driving force in organizing the St. Joseph Orphanage Reunion that was held last October in Abilene, and at the end of an exhausting and exhilarating day at St. Andrew’s Church, she finally knew the direction she needed to take. “That was the turning point,” she says. “I knew then that these were the women I wanted to be part of.”

About the same time McCormick had starting planning that orphans’ reunion, Hayes was attending a retreat with the Carondelet sisters in St. Louis. It was December 2008 and Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Concordia sisters and one of the “pioneers” in creating the agrégée form of membership, was giving a presentation on two programs offered at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia. Both of those programs focus on the history and original mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph — and both explain agrégée membership in depth.

Hayes signed up for the spring program on the spot. “I’d never heard of the word  ‘agrégée’ before, but I loved what I heard. It was consistent with how I lived my life,” says the retired nurse who now volunteers as a medical advocate.

On Jan. 1, 2010, Hayes became an agrégée candidate.

As candidates, each has a mentor for study and prayer. They have also worked with Sisters Better Moslander and Marcia Allen, who were principally responsible for designing the agrégée orientation program.

And McCormick and Hayes worked together to plan a vow ceremony that fit both of them.

“When Sharon and I first started talking about it, we knew we wanted it to be simple,” McCormick said on the day before the ceremony. “We wanted a weekday Mass without much hoopla.”

“We’ve done what we’ve done our whole lives without ‘credentials,’” Hayes added. “I’d rather walk the walk louder than I talk the talk.”

That, says Moslander, reflects the true origins of the agrégées, as well as the potential for the newest members of the Sisters of St. Joseph. “It’s a different kid of religious life for 21st century Catholic women,” she said. “We and the people they serve are truly blessed.”

With Hayes’ and McCormick’s professions Thursday, there are now six agrégées and five candidates among the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

To learn more about the agrégée program, CLICK HERE for more information.

Four women join agrégée orientation

November 14, 2010 by  

The Sisters of St. Joseph welcomed on Saturday three candidates and one pre-candidate into the process of becoming agrégée sisters.

• • • • • •

The four women were received at a special Mass in the Sacred Heart Chapel at the Nazareth Motherhouse, at the end of the congregation’s annual Assembly.

Three of the women are now agrégée candidates, beginning what is expected to be a three-year process of study and spiritual discernment with mentors from the Concordia congregation. Those three are:

  • Dian Hall of Cartersville, Ga.
  • Susan Klepper of St. Louis, Mo.
  • Beth Weddle of Concordia

Dee Morris of Fort Collins, Colo., is a “pre-candidate,” who will spend another year deciding whether she is called to become an agrégée candidate.

The term agrégée — pronounced ah-gre-ZHEY — comes from the French for “attached to” or “aggregated with.” It is a form of membership in the religious congregation that dates back to our founding in 17th-century France, when Sisters of St. Joseph were either canonically vowed “principal sisters” or so-called agrégée or “country” sisters. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia re-established — and revitalized — this form of religious life in 2006.

Today there are four women who have professed the vow of fidelity to God and to the congregation as “agrégées.” Another four are in varying stages of the process of deciding if this form of religious life fits them and their spiritual needs. Two of those four are expected to profess their vows as agrégées in June 2011.

Each of the new candidates has a mentor or mentors from within the congregation to help with her spiritual discernment. Those mentors are Sisters Helen Mick and Jodi Creten from Atlanta, Sisters Sylvia Winterscheidt and Loretta Jasper of Concordia and Sister Rosabel Flax of Ness City, Kan.

To learn more about the agrégée form of membership, contact Sister Bette Moslander at 785/243-4428 or by email at bmoslander@mannahouse.org.

Or, click on any of the links below to read recent stories about the agrégées who are now part of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia:

Agrégées and Canonical Sisters

June 11, 2010 by  

(UPDATED: June 11, 2016)

In reaching back to our roots in 17th century France, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia 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 “agrégée sisters,” 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.

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

The first modern agrégée sister — Rosabel Flax of Ness City, Kan. — professed a vow of fidelity to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia in 2008.

Sister Emily Brito of Bosque Farms, N.M., was the 14th to enter the congregation, in June 2016, with other agrégée sisters living and serving in the Kansas cities of Concordia, Augusta, Chapman, Norton and Topeka as well as Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo.; Elizabeth, Fruita and Grand Junction,  Colo.; and Douglasville, Ga.

There are also currently two candidates who live in Junction City Kan., and Norman, Okla.

Agrégée sisters are defined as single Catholic women (who may be never married or widowed, or who have had their marriage annulled) 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 members of the congregation, meaning they have a voice and a vote on congregational issues.

There are three significant differences, however.

• “Canonically vowed sisters” profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as defined by canon — or church — law. 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 governed by 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.

• Women interested in either form of membership begin their candidacy with about two years of discernment and study. At the end of that time, those who feel called to canonically vowed religious life will enter a “novitiate,” when they leave their previous life and live as part of the sisters’ community but have not yet taken up their works as a Sister of St. Joseph. For a woman who feels called to agrégée membership, there is also a third year of study and preparation, but they do not leave behind their outside lives. Instead, they meet with mentors and study around their regular work and life schedules. And once they have professed their vows, they continue in that work and life schedule.

The definition of who may become an agrégée sister is continuing to 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.”

 

Sister Ann Ashwood-Piper

June 11, 2010 by  

Ann Ashwood was born in Moline, Ill., but her family soon moved to Phoenix, and then to Indiana. That pattern, it turned out, would repeat itself over and over for half her life.

Ann, now 65, graduated from high school in a suburb of Milwaukee and then enrolled at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. While there, she spent a semester at Knoxville College, a historically black college in Mechanicsville, Tenn. (“It was the ’60s and I was one of three whites on a campus of 900 blacks,” she recalls. “And I was exactly where I wanted to be.”)

When she transferred to Marquette University, she had a different kind of immersion experience: Rasied as a Presbyterian, she was surrounded by Catholic students and Jesuit priests. She was struck by importance religion played in the lives of her classmates. “I really admired their faith,” she says. “These were college kids who went to daily Mass.”

She also became acquainted with the Jesuit priests who taught at Marquette — “very bright, very committed men,” Ann recalls — and ultimately asked one of them for instruction in the Catholic faith, and she eventually converted.

While at Marquette, Ann also met the man who would become her husband, and the driving force behind several more moves in the coming years as he launched his career. First the couple moved to St. Paul, Minn., and then “to the outback of West Virginia.” It was there they adopted their first child, daughter Rebecca, now 36.

The next move took them to Minneapolis, where they adopted son Zachary, who is now 35.

Then, 33 years ago, they made one more move — to Grand Junction, Colo., where Ann still lives. There they adopted Hannah and then a year and a half later added brother and sister Tony and Abby to the family. Hannah and Abby are both 30 now, and Tony is 31.

(“My last three kids are all within 10 months of each other, so it’s kind of like a litter,” Ann wisecracks.)

And Ann was doing more than tending the growing family. She completed a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University, taught in a number of Catholic schools, then taught in public schools for 17 years, eventually earned another master’s degree — this time in educational administration from Northern Colorado University — and seven years ago took over as principal at Grand Junction’s Holy Family Catholic School, which has some 420 pre-school through eighth-grade students.

It was during those years that Ann and her husband divorced, and a year later he died.

She had always been active in her local parish, but it was through her role as an educator that she got to know Sisters Pat Lewter and Faye Huelsmann, who live and work in Grand Junction. After Ann became principal at Holy Family, she invited Sister Pat to work there as a part-time counselor.

“About four years ago, I went out to dinner with them and (Sister) Nancy Meade, and Faye told me about this new form of membership their congregation was introducing,” Ann recalls. “The more I heard, the more I felt it was designed exactly for me.”

Ann came to Concordia in 2008 to begin the formal process of becoming an agrégée sister. She returned in the summer of ’09 to take part in an intensive monthlong seminar on the history and origins of the Sisters of St. Joseph. And this summer she is here to profess her vow of fidelity to the congregation.

“I love God and I love God’s people, and this is my avenue for expressing that love,” she explains. “Being an agrégée is about my relationship with God.”

That is not something that her five children necessarily understand. There is a hint of sadness in her voice when she explains that none of her children, or her six grandchildren, attends any church regularly. But, she adds, they support her decision to become a Sister of St. Joseph even if they don’t completely understand it. “I have a very loving family, and by loving me, they allow me to make choices for myself.”

Those choices include adding “Sister” before her name when she returns to her job this fall. “I’ll be Sister Ann as a witness, both to the kids and to their parents, of service to God and the dear neighbor,” she explains.

But with Ann, the seriousness doesn’t last. “This has to be an authentic choice directed by God,” she says before adding with a laugh, “Whoever heard of a 65-year-old mother of five kids becoming a sister?”

Sister Jean Ann Walton

June 11, 2010 by  

Jean Ann Walton literally began life with the Sisters of St. Joseph: She was born almost 61 years ago in the Sabetha, Kan., hospital then owned and operated by the Concordia congregation.

Her family soon moved to Augusta, Kan., where she grew up and lives today. After graduating from high school in 1967, she enrolled at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan.  While there, she says, the young woman raised in a Protestant family “became aware of Catholicism.” By the end of her second year in college, she had converted.

But as she left her childhood religion behind, so did she leave behind college. In 1969 she enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served for six years.

Returning to Kansas, she began a spiritual quest that led her — eventually — back to the Sisters of St. Joseph. She spent a year at Manna House of Prayer as a lay volunteer, but she also spent time in the inner city of Houston as a volunteer with the Jesuits.

By 1982, she believed she was ready for a total commitment to religious life, and entered the Concordia congregation as a postulant. In 1985 she professed temporary vows, but two years later asked that those vows be dispensed with.

“I came to realize that I wasn’t called to religious life at that time, even though I was grateful for what I learned from the sisters,” she says now of her decision to leave. “What I didn’t realize was that they planted a seed in me for down the road.”

And, she notes with some lingering pain, “When I left, I also basically left the Church. But I never left God. And God never left me.”

About seven years ago, Jean Ann explains, “I began to feel a need to go back to church — and I found a church where they are very mindful of ‘the dear neighbor,’ as the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph puts it.”

That was St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Andover, Kan., roughly 12 miles from her home in Augusta.

“Because of that welcoming church,” she says, “it began to tug on my heart to come back to this community.”

It was then she learned of the agrégée program launched in 2006 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, to recapture a form of membership that existed when the congregation was founded in the mid 17th century.

“I went to the very first ‘Agrégée Information Day’ (about three years ago) and here I am,” Sister Jean Ann notes with a laugh. “It’s been an awesome journey.”

It hasn’t been a journey that’s taken her away from Augusta, however.

After Sunday’s ceremony, she will return to her job as a shipping clerk for Aerospace Logistics at Hawker Beechcraft in Wichita. She will also continue her service at St. Vincent de Paul, as a religious education teacher, lector, eucharastic minister “or anywhere else God calls me to be.”

“There won’t be any huge changes because I already carry the charism within me,” she says. “This really is a calling from God. And what God wants, God gets — even if it takes a lifetime.”

Different paths lead women to profess vows Sunday

June 11, 2010 by  

The very different life paths taken by three very different women brought them together in Concordia Sunday to profess vows as Sisters of St. Joseph.

Concordia native Julie Christensen, 28, has completed one year as a postulant and two years as a novice and has now made her temporary profession as the youngest Sister of St. Joseph. This profession will be in place for three years, when she will make the decision whether to make final vows.

Jean Ann Walton, of Augusta, Kan.,  and Ann Ashwood-Piper of Grand Junction, Colo., each professed a vow of fidelity to the congregation as agrégée sisters. With their professions, the number of agrégées in the Concordia congregation is four, with another four women in various stages of formation to become agrégées.

Family and friends crowded the Sacred Heart Chapel at the Nazareth Motherhouse for the 2 p.m. ceremony and Mass, with a reception that followed in the Auditorium.

To learn more about these three women — and the two forms of membership in the congregtion — click on the links below:

Sister Julie Christensen

Sister Jean Ann Walton

Sister Ann Ashwood-Piper

What is an agrégée and what is a vowed sister?

Community welcomes agrégée candidate

January 7, 2010 by  

Sister Bette Moslander, standing, introduces the gathered sisters to the newest agrégée candidate during a ceremony at the Motherhouse Jan. 1.

Sister Bette Moslander, standing, introduces the gathered sisters to the newest agrégée candidate during a ceremony at the Motherhouse Jan. 1.


Sharon Hayes, right, chats with Sister Mary Julia Stegeman during the New Years Day reception at the Motherhouse.

Sharon Hayes, right, chats with Sister Mary Julia Stegeman during the New Year's Day reception at the Motherhouse.

Sister Bette Moslander offered the official welcome to the newest candidate to become an Agrégée Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia. But more than 60 other sisters also came to the ceremony New Year’s Day at the Nazareth Motherhouse, to receive Sharon Hayes into the community.


The afternoon ceremony marked the official beginning of an orientation process for Sharon, who lives and works in Kansas City, Mo., to consider becoming an agrégée — pronounced ah-gre-ZHEY.


There are two agrégée sisters in the Concordia congregation now, and three others in the formation process.


Sharon Hayes talks to the gathered sisters.

Sharon Hayes talks to the gathered sisters.

At the Jan. 1 ceremony, Sister Bette, who chairs the agrégée committee, welcomed Sharon and introduced her to the sisters present. Then Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Concordia congregation, received her into the community. Sharon, who is a nurse who provides private care to patients, then had a chance to tell the gathered sisters a little about herself.

Sister Carm Thibault of Salina, who will serve as Sharon’s mentor during her orientation process, was not able to attend Friday’s ceremony.

In 2006, 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.

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.

They 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.

To learn more about the agrégée form of membership, click HERE.

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.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Newest agrégée joins Sisters of St. Joseph

August 2, 2009 by  

As a part of a special Mass this morning (Sunday) in the Sacred Heart Chapel at the Motherhouse in Concordia, Rosemary Foreman, left, made her vow as an Agrégée Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia. Seated with her is Sister Marcia Allen, the president of the congregation.

As a part of a special Mass this morning (Sunday) in the Sacred Heart Chapel at the Motherhouse in Concordia, Rosemary Foreman, left, made her vow as an Agrégée Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia. Seated with her is Sister Marcia Allen, the president of the congregation.


Rosemary Foreman, left, and Sister Marcia Allen practice part of the ceremony at a rehearsal Saturday evening.

Rosemary Foreman, left, and Sister Marcia Allen practice part of the ceremony at a rehearsal Saturday evening.


As part of Saturdays rehearsal, Rosemary Foreman, foreground, and Sister Anna Marie Broxterman arrange decorations at the altar.

As part of Saturday's rehearsal, Rosemary Foreman, foreground, and Sister Anna Marie Broxterman arrange decorations at the altar.


Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, center, and Agrégée Sister Rosabel Flax, right, represent the whole congregation Saturday evening for a practice of the ceremony welcoming Rosemary Foreman to the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, center, and Agrégée Sister Rosabel Flax, right, represent the whole congregation Saturday evening for a practice of the ceremony welcoming Rosemary Foreman to the Sisters of St. Joseph.


Sister Anna Marie Broxterman welcomes those attending this mornings special Mass at the Motherhouse.

Sister Anna Marie Broxterman welcomes those attending this morning's special Mass at the Motherhouse.

Sister Jean Rosemarynoski was one of the speakers at this mornings Mass.

Sister Jean Rosemarynoski was one of the speakers at this morning's Mass.


Father Jack Schlaf welcomes the congregation this morning.

Father Jack Schlaf welcomes the congregation this morning.

Rosemary Foreman's family and friends from Topeka, as well as Sisters of St. Joseph from throughout the region, took part in this morning's Mass.

Rosemary Foremans family and friends from Topeka, as well as Sisters of St. Joseph from throughout the region, took part in this mornings Mass.


Sister Beverly Carlin brings incense to the altar in preparation for the profession of Rosemary Foreman's vow.

Sister Beverly Carlin brings incense to the altar in preparation for Rosemary Foremans vow.

After inviting Rosemary and Sister Marcia Allen to the altar, Sister Beverly Carlin circles them with incense.

After inviting Rosemary and Sister Marcia Allen to the altar, Sister Beverly Carlin circles them with incense.

Rosemary Foreman, left and Sister Marcia Allen pour water from two pitchers to join together in a bowl, symbolizing the joining of a new sister with the Sisters of St. Joseph. The bowl used was one Rosemary's parents received as a wedding gift. Rosemary's pitcher was a gift she made while in high school for her mother.

Rosemary Foreman, left and Sister Marcia Allen pour water from two pitchers to join together in a bowl, symbolizing the joining of a new sister with the Sisters of St. Joseph. The bowl used was one Rosemarys parents received as a wedding gift. Rosemarys pitcher was a gift she made while in high school for her mother.

Sister Carolyn Teter reads from Ephesians 4:17 during the Mass this morning.

Sister Carolyn Teter reads from Ephesians 4:17 during the Mass this morning.

Father Jack Schlaf blesses the water that has been poured together by Rosemary Foreman, left, and Sister Marcia Allen.

Father Jack Schlaf blesses the water that has been poured together by Rosemary Foreman, left, and Sister Marcia Allen.


Sister Bette Moslander reads the Prayers of the Faithful during the Mass.

Sister Bette Moslander reads the Prayers of the Faithful during the Mass.

Sister Rosabel Flax, who was the first to join the congregation as an agrégée, reads from Exodus 16 this morning.

Sister Rosabel Flax, who was the first to join the congregation as an agrégée, reads from Exodus 16 this morning.

Sister Betty Suther was the soloist during this morning's Mass, accompanied by Sister Janis Wagner.

Sister Betty Suther was the soloist during this mornings Mass, accompanied by Sister Janis Wagner.

Sister Marcia Allen, right, presents the ring signifying her vow to Rosemary Foreman.

Sister Marcia Allen, right, presents the ring signifying her vow to Rosemary Foreman.

Rosemary Foreman reads her formal vow as an Agrégée Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia.

Rosemary Foreman reads her formal vow as an Agrégée Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia.

Now-Sister Rosemary Foreman signs her vow profession.

Now-Sister Rosemary Foreman signs her vow profession.

In very brief remarks, Sister Rosemary thanks the congregation and her family and friends for being a part of this morning's celebration.

In very brief remarks, Sister Rosemary thanks the congregation and her family and friends for being a part of this mornings celebration.

At the end of the vow profession, Sisters Marcia and Rosemary share on unscripted moment.

At the end of the vow profession, Sisters Marcia and Rosemary share on unscripted moment.


All the Sisters of St. Joseph — including even those sisters in the choir loft — face toward the center of the chapel to welcome their newest member.

All the Sisters of St. Joseph — including even those sisters in the choir loft — face toward the center of the chapel to welcome their newest member.

Sister Rosemary Foreman stands at the center as the Sisters of St. Joseph sing,

Sister Rosemary Foreman stands at the center as the Sisters of St. Joseph sing, We Are With You on the Journey.

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