Novices discover ‘hidden treasures’ in Concordia

When asked what they discovered during their two-week visit with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, seven women early in their religious lives used the words “simplicity,” “commitment,”  “vibrancy” and “freedom to explore.”

They may very well have been describing themselves.

• • • • • •

The seven women, ranging in age from 28 to 57, are novices in six separate congregations of Sisters of St. Joseph. This is the second year that they have spent part of their “novitiate” in Concordia, studying with the sisters here.

On Wednesday (Jan. 30), they will return to the Chicago home they share during the eight-month program.

The visiting novices were:

  • Sister Clare Bass from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Louis, Mo.
  • Sister Mary Flick from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Louis, Mo.
  • Sister Heather Ganz from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, N.Y.
  • Sister Zita Obiageri Iwuoha from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Pa.
  • Sister Alison McCrary of the Congregation of St. Joseph
  • Sister Carmen Rojas from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto
  • Sister Kelly Smock from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania
Sister Alison McCrary
Sister Carmen Rojas

The novice directors accompanying the group are Sister Anne Davis, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet-Los Angeles Province, and Sister Bernadette Dean, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph (and formerly a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth, Mich.).

About a dozen years ago, the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph — a cooperative organization of more than a dozen independent congregations that share a “genealogy” that began in LePuy, France, in 1650 — created the yearlong “novitiate” program, in which novices from all the congregations live and learn together. The idea, according to Sister Anne, was to ensure that novices have a foundation in understanding the congregation’s history and mission, and to have a “peer group” of other sisters about their same age and experience.

Sister Clare Bass
Sister Heather Ganz

The program has evolved into an eight-month residential program, which for the second year now is being hosted by the Congregation of St. Joseph — a community that formed when seven smaller communities (including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita) merged in 2007. (To learn more about the Federation novitiate and the steps toward religious life, CLICK HERE.)

The novices’ stay at Manna House of Prayer has included extensive study on the history and mission of the original Sisters of St. Joseph, under the direction of Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. They have also had ample opportunity to visit with sisters here — including a day at the Neighbor to Neighbor center in downtown Concordia and a trip to Belleville to meet Sisters Mary Savoie and Margaret Nacke.  And they have had time to explore North Central Kansas and southern Nebraska.

Sister Kelly Smock
Sister Mary Flick

“There are two ways to see the United States,” explains Sister Carmen Rojas, a native of Mexico City who immigrated to Canada and joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto. “You can go to a big city like Chicago and see the influence it has around the world, and you can come to a small town where the sense of community is palpable, where people are really connected.”

And in a small city like Concordia, added Sister Mary Flick, a native of St. Louis, “You can really see the impact that the Sisters of St. Joseph have had here over the years, and all the ways they are an important part of this community.”

On one hand, the novices were struck by the “universality” of the Sisters of St. Joseph — how an estimated 14,000 women worldwide share the same mission as members of the religious communities that grew from that first one in 17th century France.

Sister Zita Obiageri Iwuoha

On the other hand, several of the novices mentioned the wisdom and experience concentrated in Concordia.

“I’ve discovered the hidden treasure we have here as Sisters of St. Joseph,” said Sister Zita, a native of Nigeria who immigrated to Pennsylvania a number of years ago. “All these wonderful women hidden here — Sister Marcia wrote the book we are studying, Sister Bette (Moslander) was president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious…”

That’s part of the reason the novitiate includes visits to Concordia and other congregations, Sister Anne adds: It helps novices see how Sisters of St. Joseph put into practice their mission of “loving God and neighbor” no matter who or where they are.

“This has deepened my appreciation of Sisters of St. Joseph and how to be present to those around me wherever I am,” says Sister Alison, a New Orleans native.

Or, as Long Island, New York, native Sister Heather explains, “I’ve been given a bundle of treasures that I’ll be unpacking for the rest of my life.”


2 thoughts on “Novices discover ‘hidden treasures’ in Concordia

  • February 23, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    Love the program…….
    What a wonderful part of their education and initiation into religious life….a breath of fresh air! It’s so good to see the Sisters changing and adapting to the times…to welcome new members to religious life. CONGRATULATIONS to the Sisters of St. Joseph…….who are always in my heart and prayers!

  • February 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    I love the pictures ,also the ones with Kelly Smock. And what they discovered on their trip.

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