Different paths bring agrégée sisters to profession ceremony

June 13, 2015 by

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By what each describes as a “very circuitous route,” two women found a new home this morning (Saturday, June 13) when they professed their vows as Agrégée Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

Denise Schmitz of Norton, Kan., and Kathleen Stairs of Elizabeth, Colo., bring the number of women who have entered the congregation as agrégées to 13, since the Concordia sisters re-introduced and revitalized this alternative form of membership in 2006.

Sister Christina Brodie

Sister Christina Brodie

Also as part of the special Mass at the Nazareth Motherhouse celebrating the Year of Consecrated Life, the Sisters of St. Joseph received a canonical novice into the community.

Sister Christina Brodie has already been living and studying with the congregation as a candidate for membership, and she now begins a more structured “novitiate” that will continue for a year before she professes her vows as a canonical sister.

Since coming to Concordia from Florida in the fall of 2012, Sister Christina has been a fulltime volunteer with the Sisters of St. Joseph, serving as director of the Hands Across Our Community anti-poverty program. She lives at Manna House of Prayer.

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For Sisters Denise and Kathy, the word agrégée — pronounced ah-gre-ZHEY — comes from the French for “attached to” or “aggregated with,” and exactly describes the appeal of the new form of membership in the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

To learn more about agrégée and canonical membership, CLICK HERE.

To watch the video of the Mass & Ceremony, CLICK HERE.

 

Sister Denise Schmitz

Sister Denise Schmitz

Kansas native Sister Denise Schmitz was born in Plainville and moved with her family to Norton when she was 4. After attending St. Mary of the Plains and Fort Hays State University, she moved to Colorado for several years and then returned to Kansas to get married and give birth to her daughter Shelley. When she and her husband divorced, she came back to Norton and went to work for the USDA’s Farm Services Agency, where she is now in her 30th year as a program technician.

She was raised a Catholic and some of her fondest childhood memories are of Catholic sisters. She remembers one during a vacation Bible school who she describes as “a Godsend — she was so compassionate and caring.”

Later, in ninth grade and a member of the local Catholic Youth Organization, she met three Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia who she describes as “the dream team:” Sisters Barbara Ellen Appaceller, Vera Meis and Jean Befort.

“They really lived the charism (of the Sisters of St. Joseph), and I wanted to be a sister just like them,” Sister Denise recalls. First, though, she wanted to go to a Catholic high school – but her mother said no. “She probably thought I would grow out of it.”

And it may have seemed like she did.

Over time she drifted away from the Catholic Church, but she attended other denominations. “I always had a strong faith,” she says — and seven years ago that faith drew her back to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Parish in Norton. She said her friend and coworker Charlene Weskamp encouraged her to listen to what God was trying to tell her about her life.

She became active there as part of the St. Francis Altar Society and as a eucharistic minister, commentator and religious education teacher.

Then, in 2012, she read an article in The Register of the Salina Diocese about agrégée membership in the Sisters of St. Joseph and an upcoming Information Day at the Motherhouse in Concordia.

“When I walked into this building, I was home,” she says. And so she began the three years of study, discernment and prayer that brought her to Saturday’s profession of vows.

With her at the special Mass and profession ceremony were her sisters, Dr. Beverly Schmitz Glass and Betty Schmitz Rossouw. Her daughter Shelley — eight months pregnant with Sister Denise’s first grandchild — and her son-in-law David will watch a livestream of the ceremony at their home in South Carolina.

“There’s such a peace in my heart,” the 57-year-old said, days before professing her vow as an agrégée sister. “There is a completeness as a child of God, a feeling that this is where I was always meant to be.”

Sister Kathleen Stairs

Sister Kathleen Stairs

Sister Kathy Stairs expresses almost exactly the same sentiment, although her path to the profession ceremony Saturday was very different.

The California native went to a Catholic school where her teachers for eight years were Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet — “so the Sisters of St. Joseph were always very dear to me,” she says.

Then she and her family moved to Colorado, where she married her husband Charles, had two sons — and eventually two grandchildren and a great-granddaughter — and worked in Denver for United Airlines for 30 years. Throughout the years she remained active in her local Catholic parish.

Then she retired from United Airlines and in mid-2011, her husband of 53 years died.

“I found myself searching for something,” she recalls. “I wanted a deeper spiritual life.”

That was when a lifelong friend who lives in Grand Junction, Colo., invited her to join her on a parish-sponsored trip to Israel.

And that would be when she learned about agrégée membership in the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. As she tells it, “When I got off the plane in Tel Aviv, I met Ann Ashwood,” an agrégée sister who professed her vow in 2010 and who lives in Grand Junction. “I spent the rest of the trip asking Ann questions and learning more about it.”

Within a week of returning home to Elizabeth, Colo., she had contacted the sisters in Concordia; within two weeks, she was making the 400-mile drive the Nazareth Motherhouse to meet Sisters Bette Moslander and Marcia Allen.

“It was a very circuitous route for God to get to me,” the 76-year-old adds, laughing.

Like Denise, Kathy began the three-year program of study, discernment and prayer in 2012.

And while the studying itself was intense, she said, “The curriculum wasn’t just what was on the page; I learned about myself and I know and understand my God better. Today I’m looking at the whole of my religion in a more loving, less judgmental way.”

Joining her to witness her profession ceremony Saturday were her entire family — sons Mike and Douglas, their wives and children — as well as six fellow members of Our Lady of the Visitation Parish in Elizabeth, Colo., and her lifelong friend from Grand Junction.

When they return home this week, both new sisters say they will take a part of the Nazareth Motherhouse and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia with them.

“We are part of something so much larger than myself,” Sister Denise explains. “It’s a new family; I’m a part of something that is so filled with love.”

Agreed, says Sister Kathy.

“There is gratitude in my heart for being able to do this and gratitude for becoming a part of a very special community of women,” she says. “To be a sister… that carries a special prayer.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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