New sisters find their new home

October 26, 2022 by

When Father Barry Brinkman delivered the homily during a special Mass Oct. 16, he said there are many roads to religious profession. Some are paved and straight, with good lighting and accurate signs; they make for a quick trip. But others are graveled and rough, with sharp turns and twists and no signs at all to point you on your way; the difficulties often mean delays.

The two women sitting directly in front of Father Barry knew he was speaking to them. They had each taken the longer, more arduous road — and yet they had arrived, to profess their vows as the two newest Agrégée Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

Christine Carbotte and Connie Palacio each professed a vow of fidelity and commitment to “God, to the mission and to the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.”

The solemn ceremony was followed by a joyous response from the assembled sisters: A blessing and song welcoming them to the community.

Sister Christine Carbotte lives and serves in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and first met the Concordia sisters when she came here in 2015 as part of the novitiate program coordinated by the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph, a cooperative organization of about 20 individual congregations.

When that nine-month program ended, Sister Christine returned to the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada and in October 2015 professed her temporary vows as a canonical sister. For the next four years, she served at a St. Joseph retreat center in Cobourg, Ontario. But the work there led to some serious health issues, and at the end of 2019, she went back to Hamilton.

As she struggled with her health, she said she also struggled with her calling. “By January or February (of 2020), I realized, ‘I don’t think I can do this,’” she recalls. In deep discussion with her congregation’s leadership, she heard the message she needed:

“Sister Margo Ritchie, our president, said ‘You’re trying to put your foot in a shoe that doesn’t fit. There’s nothing wrong with your foot, or the shoe. It just doesn’t fit.’”

So she made the difficult decision to leave the community.

Covid lockdowns hit Ontario just as Christine began praying about where her path would take her. “The calling was still there, and the charism of the Sisters of St Joseph,” she says. “I needed to find a way of living it that was a better fit for me.”

That brought her back to thinking about Concordia, where she had heard about a new form of religious membership that the sisters had revitalized in 2006.

She got in touch with Sister Ann Ashwood, an agrégée who had served as program director here for the Federation novitiate, and those talks led to more discussion with the leadership here. Finally, in January 2021, Christine began the coursework required as an agrégée candidate. What is normally a three-year program was shortened to about a year and a half because of her background as a canonical sister.
It culminated Oct. 16 at the Motherhouse here.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” the 60-year-old said with a soft chuckle. “And now I go home.”

“Home” will again be Hamilton, where she volunteers with DeMazenod Door, a wide-ranging outreach program, and the Good Shepherd Brothers food bank. She also cares for her mother, who lives nearby.

Sister Connie Palacio of Anaheim, Calif., had retired as a teacher in 2010, and was staying busy with a long list of volunteer work connected to her church — various duties with St. Vincent de Paul, pastoral care at a St. Joseph hospital, prayer and meditation groups in her home parish…

But, she says, she was “looking for something away from home” when she found a Concordia, Kan., listing on the Catholic Network of Volunteer Services in 2014. So she came here and lived and worked at Manna House of Prayer for five months. The next summer she came back, this time as a volunteer at the Motherhouse. That stay lasted 16 months and she became a CSJ Associate while here.

Over the next few years she came back two more times, always with the focus, she says, of “What do you need me to do?”

Each time she went back to California, she sought out the feeling of community she’d found here — and then finally she realized, “I have a community, it’s just 1,500 miles away.”

So in October 2019, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia as a candidate.

Three years later — on Oct. 16, 2022 — when Sister Connie, now 70, professed her vow, her five siblings, her grown daughter and other family members were here to join her celebration. (She also has a grown son and two grandchildren.)

What will be different now, after the road from volunteer to CSJ Associate to candidate to agrégée sister?

“Honestly, nothing,” she says after a slight pause. “Maybe I’m more a part of the community. But I already felt that.

“When I come here, I feel like I’m coming home.”

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