July 2009: Sister Marcia meets with ‘visitator’ in Chicago

July 10, 2009 by

(Published in the July 2009 edition of The Messenger of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia)

Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia surround Sister Marcia Allen with prayer during a June 2006 meeting at the Motherhouse.

Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia surround Sister Marcia Allen with prayer during a June 2006 meeting at the Motherhouse.

When Sister Marcia Allen first learned of the Vatican’s planned study of women’s religious orders in the United States, she resolved to be a part of the discussion about our “quality of life,” and the quality of our service to people in need.

As president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, and an acknowledged expert on the order’s history and missions, she talked about the “apostolic visitation” in terms of opportunity.

“This will give us the chance to talk about our lives and our community and our work,” she told the members of her order one day at lunch. “We can choose to be concerned — or we can choose to continue to be committed.”

When Sister Marcia returned from Chicago where she met privately with the “apostolic visitator,” Mother Clare Millea of the Rome-based Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, she expressed the same quiet yet positive resolve.

“(Mother Millea) said she is learning how passionately we love our communities … how much we believe in our communities, and how selflessly we are applying ourselves to our mission,” Sister Marcia wrote in a letter to the Sisters of St. Joseph upon returning from Chicago in mid-June.

During her one hour and 15 minute meeting, Sister Marcia reviewed the report she had written for this phase of the apostolic visitation. Some of the highlights were:
• A brief synopsis of the order’s history, from its roots in France in 1650 to its arrival in the United States and founding in Kansas in 1883. Sister Marcia also briefly explained its tradition as a “far-flung enterprise” throughout the United States and, since 1963, in Brazil.
• The order’s decision in 2006 to remain an independent congregation rather than to join other communities of St. Joseph. The Concordia order believes this decision allows its sisters to remain better focused on the needs of rural areas.
• Establishment in 2006 of the agrégée form of membership, which dates back to the order’s 17th century founding in France, according to Sister Marcia. An agrégée has the full rights and responsibilities as a sister, except that she does not take the three canonical vows and is not financially dependent on the order.
• The creation in 2008 of “Circles of Community Life,” to which every sister must belong. The circles allow each sister a greater voice in order-wide decisions while also demanding more accountability and personal responsibility.
• A growing focus on spiritual renewal, with a specific emphasis on annual retreats for Sisters of St. Joseph from around the world that delve into the origins of the order and its original calling, or charism. The monthlong “Bearers of the Tradition” this summer has attracted sisters from seven countries and eight American states to Manna House of Prayer. (See related story, page 1.)
• Growing outreach to the broader communities where sisters live and work. As one example, Sister Marcia cites a series of civic forums in Concordia, where she and other sisters have worked to help residents identify local problems and seek realistic solutions.

In addition to the positive elements, Sister Marcia also included a shorter list of “challenges” facing the Sisters of St. Joseph. That list included:
• A new Leadership Council, which took charge just a year ago with a new governance structure.
• The global economic crisis, which has forced the order — like every other organization and institution — to be increasingly cautious about finances.
• The need to stay focused on missions and serving people in need while maintaining our own sense of “community” and life in communion with each other.
• Fewer young women expressing an interest in religious life as vowed sisters grow older.

Sister Marcia also included two “concerns” specifically addressed to the Apostolic Visitation.

The first raised the question of why such a visitation is needed, when the order is faithful to the Church, the sisters’ vows, the order’s Vatican-approved constitution and the mission of serving those in need.

The second, though, was Sister Marcia’s “personal concern” that Mother Millea and all of those involved in the visitation process would understand and appreciate the historical development of the order in the rural Midwest and its fidelity to the Church through its 125 years of history.

“As leader of this community,” I am constantly struck by the wholeness and holiness of the members of our (order),” Sister Marcia wrote. “Our 1694 constitution calls us the ‘Congregation of the Great Love.’ That is what we have committed ourselves to and what we pray daily to be.”

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