Congregation welcomes newest agrégée sisters

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.

One thought on “Congregation welcomes newest agrégée sisters

  • June 14, 2011 at 5:41 pm


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