NEW PHOTOS: Sister prepares for the ‘fuss’ of her 100th birthday

September 6, 2010 by  

Just days before her 100th birthday, Sister Generosa Walker reflects on her life as a Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia, and the view from her second-floor window at the Motherhouse.

Sister Generosa Walker would just as soon no fuss be made over her 100th birthday. But, she concedes with a soft chuckle, it is something of a milestone — even though it’s something she never anticipated.

“I was sure I wouldn’t,” she say about turning 100 years old next week. “No one in my family had ever lived to be 100, and only a very few of our sisters had. So it just wasn’t something I thought about.”

But now she is, if only because so many people keep bringing up the centennial of her birth.

“I’ve decided I’m going to be as peaceful and as gracious as I can be, even when everyone asks questions and wants to make a fuss,” she says. After a moment, there’s that chuckle again: “But it’s going to take patience to be as kind as possible.”

The humor and humility are part of the fiber of her being; she has had a lifetime of practice being both patient and kind.

Gertrude Cecelia Walker was born Sept. 6, 1910, on her parent’s farm about 2 miles outside of Mayetta, Kan. The only girl in a family of seven children, she and her brothers attended a country school about a half-mile north of the farm. And although the family was Catholic, she had little exposure to nuns as she was growing up, and she doesn’t recall as a girl ever seriously considering religious life.

After high school, she attended Wayland Baptist College in Texas for a year and then returned to Kansas to attend Marymount College in Salina, operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

“They were so pleasant and kind to us,” Generosa recalls of the sisters at Marymount. “I liked the spiritual possibilities in their lives; that appealed to me.”

But not enough to keep her from family and home.

With a teaching certificate from Marymount in hand, she returned to the Mayetta area and taught for the next three years at “country schools” on the Potawatomi Indian Reservation.

The Marymount sisters had made a lasting impression, though, so in 1933 the almost-23-year-old Gertrude Cecelia became a postulant in the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. She became a novice — or “took the habit,” as it was referred to then — in March 1934. It was also then that she was given her religious name, and she became Sister Mary Generosa.

She was one of 13 novices received into the congregation in that ceremony, and is one of only three surviving “band” members: Sister Jane Guenette, who was 18 when she became a novice, and Sister Redempta Eilert, who was 20. Sisters Jane and Redempta also live at the Motherhouse in Concordia today.

Sister Generosa would return to teaching a year later, just days after professing her final vows in March 1935. Her first assignment was at the Catholic high school in Aurora, Kan., and she would spend the next 37 years in Catholic school classrooms in the Kansas towns of Concordia, Tipton, Leoville, Beloit and Park; plus Boonville, Mo., and St. George, Ill. Her specialty was mathematics, including algebra and geometry, but small schools required versatility so she taught whatever was needed.

During the last few years of her teaching, many sisters used the freedom given them by the Second Vatican Council to stop wearing religious habits and change to secular clothing. Many of them also returned to their birth names in favor of the religious names they had been given when they entered the congregation.

Sister Generosa didn’t feel a need to do either.

“I never had any reason to stop wearing the habit,” she explains simply. “I just never saw a real need for me to change it.”

And that same simplicity applied to her religious name: “It wasn’t that different from my family name, and that’s how people knew me.”

In 1972, she decided to leave teaching and take on the challenge of becoming the bookkeeper for St. Mary’s Convent, what was then a nursing facility for older sisters in Concordia. She remained there for a dozen years.

But Catholic schools beckoned one more time, and she spent the 1984-85 year in Junction City, Kan., serving as an assistant principal.

In 1985, Sister Generosa returned to Concordia and the Motherhouse for good.

Today Sister Generosa, now the eldest member of the congregation, spends her days quietly praying in a small chapel tucked well away from the public areas of the historic building, playing “team Scrabble” with Sister Margaret Schreck, maintaining correspondence with family and friends — including several students from 70 years ago in Park, Kan. — and watching the world from her second-floor windows that face south from the Motherhouse.

From there she can see the main parking lot and beyond it, the Motherhouse garden and the congregation’s tree-lined cemetery.

“There were only 70 graves there when I entered the community,” she says. “Now there are, what? More than 600.”

But, she adds with another soft chuckle, she doesn’t spend a lot of time looking to the cemetery: “I like to watch the garden, and the cars in the parking lot.”

She is also practicing the patience she’ll need to endure the fuss on her birthday, and the standard questions that are a part of it — such as, What is her secret for such a long life?

“Put God in all things in your life, and keep in touch with him through daily prayer,” she says. “Then surround yourself with kind and loving people like our sisters.”

21st-century lacemakers learn 17th-century art

August 4, 2010 by  

The 17th-century art of bobbin lacemaking is in no danger of being lost to history, if 24 women gathered at the Manna House of Prayer in Concordia this week have anything to say about it.

The Sisters of St. Joseph, gathered from congregations across the country, are learning — or perfecting — the meticulous threadwork to create delicate bookmarks, angels and other decorations. Sisters Ramona Medina and Janet Lander, both members of the Concordia congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, are leading the weeklong “Weaving Threads of Love” retreat to give participants the opportunity to experience and integrate the spirituality and practice of making bobbin lace in a contemplative setting.

The Sisters of St. Joseph was founded in Le Puy, France, in 1650, and members of that early congregation made bobbin lace as a way to support themselves and their works.

Today, Sisters Ramona and Janet lead the retreats at Manna House to share the craft as a contemplative practice that “creates in us heart-space where the connections with God and the dear neighbor may be woven in prayer, as surely as the design of threads and spaces evolves on the lace pillow before our eyes.”

The workshop ends at noon Saturday.

Participants in the 2010 "Weaving Threads of Love" lacemaking retreat pose for a group photo Thursday morning.

For information on upcoming retreats
at Manna House of Prayer, click HERE.

Red Cross ‘gig’ takes sister to flooded Rio Grande area

August 3, 2010 by  

Both ends of the Laredo bridge connecting the U.S. and Mexico are underwater in mid July as flooding on the Rio Grande damages towns in both Mexico and Texas.


Sister Loretta Jasper poses on the flooded steps along the Rio Grande in Laredo, Texas, in mid July. In the distance is the Mexican shoreline.

Sister Loretta Jasper has a number of catchy phrases to explain her role as an American Red Cross volunteer:

“I help people who are having a hard time breathing sane air,” she says without even a hint of a joke. Or, “I’m a barometer for everyone involved in a disaster.” Or even, “Literally and with no pun intended, I play a part in getting people out of the water.”

Literally and with no pun intended, her job included all three explanations when she took on her first “gig” — her word — in July as a Red Cross “national responder” and certified Disaster Mental Health Counselor.

Her role with the North Central Kansas Chapter of the American Red Cross actually began nearly a year ago, when Sister Loretta and several other members of the Sisters of St. Joseph went to a workshop about how to create an emergency shelter in case of a natural disaster, such as a tornado or flood.

Turns out, there’s already such a Red Cross shelter in Concordia — the First United Methodist Church is the designated location here — but she learned that what was needed even more were the skills of professional mental health counselors.

During the course of her career, Sister Loretta has specialized in helping people deal with substance abuse and gambling addictions and has more recently focused on play therapy. Late in 2008 she completed the last of three stints in Sri Lanka with Heart to Heart International, working with children in areas devastated by the 2004 tsunami.

For the past year, she has worked in a government-funded program that provides support for military families where one parent is deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. She will return to that job when school begins in the fall.

She holds a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., and a post-graduate certificate in play therapy from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.  She is a native of Cawker City, Kan., and has been a Sister of St. Joseph for 46 years.

The interior of a southwest Texas home destroyed by the July flooding.

Together, that meant she had the much-needed skills of a Disaster Mental Health Counselor. So last December, after completing the Red Cross training for certification, she became available to help families or individuals get through the trauma of tragedy striking their lives.

So far she has “supported and assisted” — her phrase — about half a dozen families.

“A lot of what Loretta does is to help people get out of the ‘trauma’ stages and into picking up the pieces,” explained Traci Speed, assistance executive director of the local Red Cross chapter based in Salina. “She may be the catalyst for them to move forward.”

Or, as Sister Loretta put it “getting people out of the water.”

Literally and with no pun intended, that’s what she did when she was called to respond to flooding in south Texas along the Rio Grande River.

Hurricane Alex, which was the season’s first named storm late in June, had already  caused widespread flooding throughout northeastern Mexico and southwest Texas. But that was followed by a week of continuous rain, with reports of up to 20 inches in parts of the Rio Grande region, forcing water to be released from two major dams in an effort to prevent them from collapsing.

On Wednesday, July 7, the Red Cross division that includes Laredo, Texas, sent out a call to neighboring divisions — including the one that encompasses North Central Kansas — for volunteers. By Friday, July 9, Sister Loretta had made arrangement to fly to Texas and by 3 p.m. Saturday she was in San Antonio, Texas, with nine other workers headed by car to Laredo.

The home is still standing, but all the family's possession — now piled on the street — are destroyed by floodwaters.

For 12 days, she says, her job was to “be a barometer for everyone involved — the people staying in the shelter, the nurses and medical staff, the sheriff’s officers, the Red Cross coordinators, the people trying to figure out what was needed next…

“The intent of the Red Cross is to get people, literally and no pun intended, out of the water — and my job begins with them. But everyone there is affected, and I can be conscious of when they need a little help.”

Together there were about 150 Red Cross volunteers, working in four or five “satellite areas” around Laredo, including Rio Bravo and McAllen.

Sister Loretta was scheduled to be there for 14 days, but after 12 the need had lessened enough that she was sent home.

She is one of only about three “national responders” in the North Central Kansas Chapter who is certified as a Disaster Mental Health Counselor, Speed said. When a request for their help comes in to the chapter, volunteers are asked to make a commitment of 10 days to two weeks. And more volunteers are always needed, she noted.

Other sisters might be interested in volunteering as members of the “spiritual car teams,” which specialize in helping families after aviation emergencies, or as “health services” workers.

Sister Loretta, meanwhile, is looking for her next “gig.”

“I may have time before I go back to the kiddos,” she says, referring to the children of military families who make up her school-year clients. “If I can help people breathe sane air, I’ll go.”

Sign up now: Sisters’ lives in troubled times

July 30, 2010 by  

As both the Church and women religious face complex and troubled times, Manna House of Prayer in Concordia, Kan., has developed an intensive program for sisters who are earnestly searching for deeper meaning in their lives.

“I believe this program can make a significant contribution in awakening our awareness of both the mystical and the prophetic nature of consecrated religious life,” explains Bette Moslander, csj, who has helped develop “Deepening the Mystery of Religious Life” and who will be one of the presenters.

“Deepening the Mystery” is a four-week intensive retreat at Manna House this fall, designed for women religious who are “moving into a time when they’re thinking about the rest of their lives,” Sister Bette adds.

The program is designed specifically for women religious who entered their communities before 1990.

“Women get into their stride in ministry and works, and can lose sight of their original reasons for choosing religious life,” says Janet Lander, csj, another of the program’s presenters. “This is 30 days to step back and refocus.”

It is also an opportunity to see the “traps of complacency and workaholism,” adds presenter Marcia Allen, csj. “We get so caught up in what we do that we forget who we are.”

The presenters and spiritual directors — all staff members at Manna House — want to give participants the opportunity to remember, and to feel again the love that grasped each heart in her original consecration. To that end, the subtitle of the program is “A Renewal of Heart.”

Questions at the center of the program include:

  • Are you competent and successful and yet feel there’s something more to be gained from your life?
  • Has your work these last 20 or more years dampened the fire of your passion for God?
  • Are you at an impasse in how to live your religious life?
  • Are you yearning for a deeper relationship with God?

For the last dozen years, Manna House has hosted the “Sarah Sabbatical,” a much-recognized program for women religious making the transition from active ministry to retirement. Most of the sisters who developed the new program have also been leaders in the Sarah Sabbatical.

But “Deepening the Mystery” is not simply a Sarah Sabbatical for younger women; rather, says Carolyn Teter, csj, “This is about our lives, as we live them today, and the mystical and prophetic nature of religious life. This is about the questions we ask ourselves.”

“The substance of this program pertains to all women religious,” Bette adds. “This is about the passion that brought all of us into religious life.”

The program is from Sept. 13 through Oct. 10, with an optional 10-day directed retreat following it. Registration is $500. Room and board at Manna House, a nationally recognized spiritual retreat center in northwest Kansas, is $1,400 for the four-week program or $1,900 for the program and directed retreat.  The maximum number of participants is 38, and the registration deadline is Aug. 15.

For more information on “Deeping the Mystery of Religious Life,” go to or call Manna House at 785-243-4428. You may also CLICK HERE for a printable brochure.

Helping military families: ‘Do what’s in your heart’

July 22, 2010 by  

Sister Loretta Jasper speaks to the Salina Sunflower Lions Club June 14, urging members to reach out to military families in their communities.

When Sister Loretta Jasper spoke to the members of a Salina service club recently, she had the same message she’s been delivering for a year and a half: Reach out to the spouses and children of people serving in the military, and “do what’s in your heart.”

Since January 2009, Sister Loretta has been serving as a family counselor under a program ­designed and funded by the U.S. government. In that role, she has been to military bases in Germany, Alaska and the South, and has just completed the school year working with the children of military personnel at a Midwest Army base.

But, she told the members of the Salina Sunflower Lions Club — many of whom are retired military — the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today include nearly a third National Guard members and Reservists, and those families face different challenges.

Unlike military families who either live on a base or close to one, and have the support of other similar families and the base structure, members of the Guard and Reserves are “isolated” all around us, among people who may not understand what they’re going through.

“These are people in your community,” said Loretta, who has been a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia for more than 45 years. “These are people sitting next to you in church or who are in school with your kids and who you run into at the grocery store.”

Her job — and the challenge she posed to the Lions Club members — is to “help the kiddos and spouses who are left behind move through that time, when Mom or Dad is deployed and away and then when the parent comes back.”

In her June 14 talk, she urged the club members to “be a friend, a neighbor, a member of your church… Be aware that these families are in your community, and just be willing to be there when they need you.”

That, in fact, describes Sister Loretta’s job.

“I ‘support and assist,’ ” explained the Catholic sister with more than 25 years experience as a mental health counselor. “Sometimes that means doing nothing, just listening, just being the one who’s there all the time.”

Other times, it means organizing informal sessions for high school students, like she did at an off-base school from January through March. Some 30 teenagers from military families came to talk every day.

As part of those sessions, Loretta helped the teens create quilt blocks, that she described as “small snippets of visual history — that depict the effect war and multiple deployments have upon teenagers and families who have a caregiver in and out of the battlefield.”

One block, in particular, sums up the mixed feeling experience by these teens, she said: “I love the Army; I love the USA; I hate the war.”  Other blocks in the quilt include issues related to changing friends and schools; learning how to deal with the returning soldier/parent affected by the war; assuming the role of surrogate parent either by absence of the one parent; or inability of the remaining parent to tend and juggle the multiple levels of need in the household; and, the teenager re-directing personal anger related to all of these issues.

Two of Loretta’s family members volunteered to piece the quilt blocks together, and it now adorns a hallway at the school where it was made.

The names of the teens who created it are not part of the quilt, though. Loretta explained that confidentiality is an important part of her work with military families and children.

“We don’t do any documentation, we don’t write reports on people or even keep track of their names, and that’s pretty unusual in the military,” she notes. “But it’s important because in the military, you don’t want to be a wimp or a wuss, you don’t want it to look like you need help. So when they talk to us, no one knows about it — there’s no electronic record.” (That confidentiality also explains why details about Sister Loretta’s location have been intentionally omitted from this story.)

That privacy, though, can sometimes have the unintentional result of more isolation, particularly in the small, rural communities the many Reservists and Guard members call home, she said.

“That’s why you need to pay attention,” she told the Lions Club members, who included her brother-in-law, John Hunt of Salina. “There are families around you who need you to just be there for them. Do what’s in your heart — that’s all I can tell you.”

New police chief believes in ‘a community informed’

June 23, 2010 by  

Police Chief Chris Edin has been on the job just three months, but he’s already making an impression on the city and its police department.

“I think of it in terms of a ‘community informed’ vs. a ‘community uninformed,’” he told participants at Wednesday’s community needs forum at the Nazareth Motherhouse. “I believe in a community informed.”

The new chief then spent half an hour explaining to the engrossed crowd some changes he’s making and how he views Concordia.

The first of those changes is about ensuring that Concordia residents have information readily available about crime in the city and what the police department is doing about it. “That’s why I have a working relationship with the media,” Edin said, “and we’ll use the Internet and have a Facebook page. I don’t ‘tweet’ yet, but we’ll use Twitter, too.”

As a first step, the department now has a web page — — which Edin said is “a work in progress, but it’s up.”

He also wants to reach out to people in the community, in much the same way he did during his 18 years with the Thurston County (Wash.) Sheriff’s Office, where until leaving for the Concordia position he was a patrol supervisor-sergeant.

Thurston County, which includes the state capital of Olympia and lies just south of Seattle and Tacoma on Interstate 5, has a population of roughly 250,000. And while Concordia is just 1/50th of that size, it faces many of the same challenges, Edin said. He then cited out some issues that he has already seen here:

• “We have a domestic violence problem here in Concordia, and it’s bigger than you think,” he told the 40 residents at the lunch meeting. “We have to address that.” He said he is putting together a task force and will work toward intervention and education, “but that all takes time.”

• “There are drugs here,” he said bluntly. “That’s about a ‘community informed.’ It’s not new, but it may seem like it to you.” He said U.S. Highway 81 is a “drug transportation alley — you can take it from the Mexican border straight through to Canada.” Nationwide, he said, in study after study, illegal drugs and drug abuse have been shown to be “the cause of 90 to 95 percent of all other crime.”

• In Concordia, the police departments volunteer programs — including the adult reserves and the youth Explorers — “have fizzled away.” He is particularly interested in re-energizing the Explorers for teens who want to learn more about law enforcement.

In one very bright spot in his short time here, Edin noted all the ways kids can be active  in the community. Ticking off a range of sports and other activities his own two children are taking part in, he said, “Kids who are involved are less likely to get in trouble.”

Making sure those kinds of activities exist is part of the community’s responsibility, he said.

He also emphasized that helping the police is another part of the community’s responsibility.

“We will aggressively enforce the laws here,” Edin said of the city’s police force, “but we need the community to help. If you don’t call when you hear the next-door neighbor beating his wife or a mom screaming at her kids, we can’t help. We aren’t proactive; we are totally reactive. You have to get involved, you have to be willing to call.”

A case earlier this month in which a Concordia woman was charged with mistreating dogs came from a concerned neighbor who called the police, Edin said. “Without that call, we probably would never have known about it.”

Other reports detail services for the poor

Forty people from throughout Concordia showed up Wednesday to learn more about services available to the poor and those hard hit by the economy.

It was the latest in a series of “working lunches” at the Nazareth Motherhouse and part of the Community Needs Forum organized by the Sisters of St. Joseph in January 2009. This was the 11th meeting designed to identify challenges in the community and work together on solutions.

Those presenting information Wednesday included:

• Jen Warkentin of Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Cloud County, who discussed the need for adult volunteers to match with children waiting for “Bigs.” Her agency now serves children in Cloud, Republic and Mitchell counties, and together there are 23 “community-based” (or adult) matches of a “Big” with a child. During the school year, the number of matches will increase to 75 to 90 when high school students match with younger children.

“There are only 10 on the waiting list right now,” Warkentin said, “but that’s because a lot of them drop off. They may be on it for up to three years, and they just get tired of waiting for a Big.”

She urged anyone interested to contact her office in Concordia — at 243-1620 — to find out more.  Noting that 80 percent of the children in her program are from single-parent homes and 70 percent live below the poverty level, Warkentin said, “This teaches kids what else is out there, just by doing what you already do — fixing a meal, playing games, raking leaves. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s a huge deal for these kids.”

• Rose Koerber from Cloud County Medical Center, who explained the hospital’s Charity Care program. “No one is refused care,” Koerber told the group as she outlined the structure for helping people without adequate insurance cover their medical bills. In 2009, she noted that the hospital provided nearly $146,000 in free care under the program.

• Susan LeDuc of the Helping Hands program at Manna House of Prayer, who said that in the past year her she has seen “more new people, people who didn’t need help before.” Helping Hands provides a wide range of emergency help, including arranging a place to stay overnight, money for gas and emergency food. She estimated that about 30 families a month receive some assistance through Helping Hands.

• Karen Hauser of Catholic Charities of the Salina Diocese, which includes Concordia, said her office is working to “fill the gap” left when social worker Husch Hathorne moved away early this year. She is also hoping to place an AmeriCorps worker in the Concordia office, and to train that person to assist those needing help here.

The next “working lunch” is scheduled for Aug. 4, from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Motherhouse. Anyone interested in working on Concordia’s challenges is urged to attend; you do not have to have been involved in the process before to join now.

For information on that session or details about the community needs forum, contact Sister Jean Rosemarynoski at 243-2149 or

55-year-old doll brings teacher, pupil together

June 22, 2010 by  

Sister Rose Marie Dwyer remembers Jean Marie DeForest as a “little, tall blond girl” in first grade at Salina’s Sacred Heart School in 1955.

Jean Marie DeForest, now Smith, remembers Sister Rose Marie as “so good and kind, so loving toward all of us.”

But what neither remembers is why Sister Rose Marie — who today most often just goes by Rosie — handmade an exquisitely detailed Sisters of St. Joseph habit to adorn a 15-inch tall doll Jean Marie’s mother provided.

The three of them — Sister Rosie, now 60-year-old Jean Marie and the doll, who the little girl named Sister Eva Marie — were together this week for the first time in 55 years. When Jean Marie learned that Sister Rosie was visiting the Motherhouse from her home in Plainville, Kan., she decided to bring the doll to see if the now-elderly sister remembered her.

“As soon as I heard her name (on the phone), I could see her face,” Rosie said as she waited for Jean Marie to arrive from her home in Salina Monday. “That was just my second year teaching and there were about 60 children, but I knew her.”

Rosie also knew the doll as soon as she saw it, and she pointed out all the details that made the black habit worn by Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia unique: Black serge, 10 pleats on the bodice, turned-back cuffs, a guimpe made from an old one of her own, hidden inside pockets and a white band across the forehead that formed a triangle to symbolize the Trinity. There is also a tiny cross and a rosary, as well as a braided black belt. The complete outfit includes a black slip and black stockings.

Lifting up the veil, Jean Marie points out that the doll’s long, blonde hair was cut short just like that of a sister of that era.

Jean Marie says Sister Rose Marie told her mother to go buy a high-quality doll, and her mother found a completely dressed Madame Alexander “little girl” doll. She turned it over to the young teacher, who sometime later returned it to Jean Marie dressed in the pristine black serge of a Sister of St Joseph.

Today, remarkably, the doll is still in pristine condition. “That’s the box it’s been in all these years,” Jean Marie says, gesturing to the pinkish pressboard carton on the floor at her feet. “It’s always been very, very special to me.”

She was too young when she received it to remember if there was any specific reason for the unusual gift from a favorite teacher. And the then-young teacher — who taught for 10 years at Sacred Heart and then at St. Marys, Kan., before serving in Teresina, Brazil for 40 years — can only guess at the reason.

“Evidently, you were a special little girl,” Sister Rosie tells Jean Marie. “I would only have done something like this for someone who was very special.”

Congregation honors two sisters at Mt. Joseph

June 20, 2010 by  

As the 2010 jubilee celebration wraps up, the Sisters of St. Joseph honored two of their members Sunday, in recognition of their anniversaries in the religious community.

Sister Leo Frances Winbinger, originally of Cuba, Kan., celebrated her 60th anniversary as a Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia. Sister Viatora Solbach, originally of Clifton, Kan., celebrated her 70th jubilee.

Another 15 sisters celebrating jubilees this year were honored in a special Mass and program at the Nazareth Motherhouse two weeks ago. The 18th jubilarian for 2010 is a sister serving in Teresina, Brazil, and is celebrating with her mission sisters there.

For more on the celebration at the Motherhouse June 5, CLICK HERE.

For Sunday’s celebration at Mount Joseph Senior Village in Concordia, sisters, family and friends proved a standing-room-only crowd in the small chapel. A short and simple ceremony with prayer and song paid tribute to the service Sister Leo Frances and Viatora have given God and the dear neighbor over the years.

After the ceremony, participants gathered for cake and coffee, as well as catching up and taking pictures.

To read the reflection given at the ceremony by Sister Marcia Allen, CLICK HERE.

Discover Camp, Day 2 — June 18, 2010

June 19, 2010 by  

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.”


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