Community welcomes Colorado candidate

Sister Marcia Allen, right, welcomes Sharon Bolton as a candidate during the June Assembly
Sister Marcia Allen, right, welcomes Sharon Bolton as a candidate during the June Assembly
The five members of the “Grand Junction community” join Sister Marcia Allen, second from left, in acknowledging Sharon Bolton, left, as the newest candidate for membership in the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

As part of our June Assembly, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia welcomed our newest candidate for membership.

Sharon Bolton is a business owner who lives half of the year in Grand Junction, Colo, and the other half in Gove, Kan. She has children and grandchildren in both areas and divides her time between them.

Sharon comes in to the congregation’s newly created “Preparation and Integration Program,” which brings together candidates for both canonical and agrégée membership for the first two years of what was traditionally called “formation.”

She is the third woman in the Preparation and Integration Program, joining Amanda Wahlmeier and Emily Brito who were welcomed as candidates last November. There are also four other candidates for agrégée membership.


Last year Sharon saw a poster in her Grand Junction parish about a faith formation program. There she met Sister Lorren Harbin of Fruta, Colo., one of four Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia who live and serve in the Grand Junction area. She got to know the other sisters there and then visited Concordia in November. She said she feels called by “the peacefulness and joy among the Grand Junction sisters and those she met in Concordia,” adding, “I haven’t experienced this inner peace before.”

She will spend about two years studying and praying with the sisters in Grand Junction. Then, as she enters her third year, she candidate will decide which direction she is called to — either canonical or agrégée. At that point, canonical candidates — who in that final year of preparation will be called “novices” — will complete the study and other requirements of the Church as a woman religious. The agrégée candidates in their third year will continue the study required by the congregation to be received into the Sisters of St. Joseph.

The two forms of membership are the same in almost every aspect, but there are two significant differences:

  • “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. And while it encompasses the three canonical vows, they are applied somewhat differently. The agrégée is called to live a frugal lifestyle, but she does not relinquish her finances to the congregation, and the congregation assumes no financial responsibility for her.

The word agrégée — pronounced ah-gre-ZHEY — comes from the French for “attached to” or “aggregated with.”

When the Sisters of St. Joseph were founded in France in the mid-17th century, two distinct forms of membership in the religious community developed: “City sisters,” who gathered in larger areas like LePuy, and “country sisters” (or agrégées) who lived and served in villages and throughout the most rural areas. That structure existed, and flourished, for nearly 150 years, until the French Revolution when religious communities were disbanded.

The Sisters of St. Joseph came back together in the early 1800s, but the autonomous small communities of “country sisters” had disappeared. It wasn’t until around 2004 that U.S. sisters researching their earliest roots realized that “agrégées” made up a distinct form of membership that had been recognized by the sisters themselves and the people they served as “real religious.”

The Concordia congregation approved a revitalized form of agrégée membership in 2006, and accepted the first two candidates, who would then become the first two modern agrégées: Sister Rosabel Flax of Ness City, Kan., and Sister Rosemary Foreman of Topeka.

This month, the congregation welcomed Sister Crystal Payment of Douglasville, Ga., as the 11th agrégée sister. The other agrégée sisters are living and serving in the Kansas cities of Topeka, Augusta, Chapman and Lindsborg, as well as Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo., Grand Junction, Colo., and Fruita, Colo.

One thought on “Community welcomes Colorado candidate

  • July 25, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Canon law certainly does cover private vows! See this link:

    A woman in private vows would not be called “sister” in Catholic practice, that would mislead because people would think she is in the consecrated state of life. I know quite a few privately vowed Catholic woman, in fact I am one. Even though of course I dress in a normal modest way as a lay person I am sometimes asked if I am a nun or sister, I explain I am privately vowed in celibate chastity for the sake of the kingdom of God but not a sister.

    A canonical “third order” member similarly is never called sister even if she is celibate. There is one third order (and only one to my knowledge) that permits some members to make vows (which under canon law have the status of private vows), that is the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order. They would never call themselves sisters, because they are not.

    A small group in my local area that left religious life, left the Church and now runs a non Catholic group with a priestless Sunday “eucharist” call themselves “sister.” They are not religious sisters at all anymore though, and they are not practicing Catholics (they do not go to Mass, for instance). They say they “went non canonical.” For them it’s a euphemism for leaving the Faith. The phenomenon of ersatz “sisters” labeled as “sisters” or as “women religious” is harmful to real religious life, which is currently struggling with an identity crisis as lines are already so blurred in some communities between religious life and secular life. “Sister” means for us as Catholics a woman in a canonical consecrated state of life. “Let your yes be yes or your no be no”– let a woman either enter the convent or not, or leave the convent or not. But as a Catholic you cannot say “no” to canonical consecrated life and be legitimately called a sister or a religious. That’s a false claim about one’s state of life.

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