Two women begin the journey to become Sisters of St. Joseph
When Amanda Wahlmeier and Emily Brito were welcomed into the Sisters of St. Joseph Thursday evening, they were also welcomed into a new approach for preparing women for religious life.
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Since the Concordia congregation began welcoming candidates for agrégée membership in 2006, there have been two “tracks” of what was traditionally called “formation:”
- For “canonically vowed sisters,” it was a formal process that included one year as a postulant and two years as a novice before professing vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
- For “agrégée sisters,” it was a less formal but still structured process that generally lasted about three years before professing a single vow of fidelity to the congregation and to God.
But the new approach does away with the distinction between the two tracks — at least for the first two years.
With the new “Preparation and Integration Program,” Wahlmeier and Brito were welcomed into the congregation together as candidates and will continue preparing for religious life together.
As they enter their third year, each candidate will decide which direction she is called to — either canonical or agrégée. At that point, canonical candidates — who in that final year of preparation will be called “novices” — will complete the study and other requirements of the Church as a woman religious. The agrégée candidates in their third year will continue the study required by the congregation to be received into the Sisters of St. Joseph.
The two forms of membership are the same in almost every aspect, but there are two significant differences:
- “Canonically vowed sisters” profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as defined by canon — or church — law. As part of the vow of poverty, an individual sister relinquishes all personal wealth and income; at the same time, the congregation assumes responsibility for her economic well being for the rest of her life.
- “Agrégée sisters” profess a vow of fidelity to the congregation, but it is noncanonical, meaning that it is not governed by Church law and is instead a private vow between that sister and the Concordia congregation. And while it encompasses the three canonical vows, they are applied somewhat differently. The agrégée is called to live a frugal lifestyle, but she does not relinquish her finances to the congregation, and the congregation assumes no financial responsibility for her.
Canonically vowed sisters have traditionally begun their religious life with a formal “formation” during which they leave their previous life and live as part of the congregation. Agrégée candidates have not left behind their outside lives. Instead, they met with mentors and study around their regular work and life schedules. And once they professed their vows, they continued in that work and life schedule.
One of the goals of the new approach, said Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, vice president of the Sisters of St. Joseph, is to be able to “craft” the preparation process to meet the needs of each woman entering religious life. Some may live in community with other sisters; others may not.
“It will be individualized,” she explained, “so we can meet both the spiritual needs and the real-life needs of the women who are called to our community.”
Amanda, 26, has expressed an initial interest in canonically vowed membership and will live with a group of sisters in Concordia; Emily, 65, of Bosque Farms, N.M., is interested in agrégée membership and will remain in her own home.
The word agrégée — pronounced ah-gre-ZHEY — comes from the French for “attached to” or “aggregated with.”
When the Sisters of St. Joseph were founded in France in the mid-17th century, two distinct forms of membership in the religious community developed: “City sisters,” who gathered in larger areas like LePuy, and “country sisters” (or agrégées) who lived and served in villages and throughout the most rural areas. That structure existed, and flourished, for nearly 150 years, until the French Revolution when religious communities were disbanded.
The Sisters of St. Joseph came back together in the early 1800s, but the autonomous small communities of “country sisters” had disappeared. It wasn’t until around 2004 that U.S. sisters researching their earliest roots realized that “agrégées” made up a distinct form of membership that had been recognized by the sisters themselves and the people they served as “real religious.”
The Concordia congregation approved a revitalized form of agrégée membership in 2006, and accepted the first two candidates, who would then become the first two modern agrégées: Sister Rosabel Flax of Ness City, Kan., and Sister Rosemary Foreman of Topeka.
Last June, the congregation welcomed Sister Elizabeth Weddle of Concordia as the 10th agrégée sister. The other agrégée sisters are living and serving in the Kansas cities of Topeka, Augusta and Chapman, as well as Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo., Grand Junction, Colo., and Fruita, Colo. In addition to Wahlmeier and Brito, there are another five women – from Kansas, Colorado and Georgia — who are agrégée candidates, in varying stages of the process of deciding if this form of religious life fits them and their spiritual needs. And one additional woman is a novice now living in Concordia for the final year of her preparation.
To mentor and serve all those candidates, the Sisters of St. Joseph have had separate “teams” for “Orientation To Membership,” canonical vocations and agrégées. Those three teams — and the position of vocation director — have now been eliminated, and will be restructured to serve all candidates.
“That’s an additional benefit,” Sister Jean added. “We will be using our time more wisely since we are not duplicating efforts and programs.”
The idea for a combined preparation approach came up in the sisters’ Assembly last June, when discussion about it filled an entire morning session. In the following weeks, the Leadership Council “received enthusiastic support” for the idea, Sister Jean said. So the Council met with the various teams, and in September approved the Preparation and Integration Program.
3 thoughts on “Two women begin the journey to become Sisters of St. Joseph”
Wonderful news-so happy for your decision Amanda-and Emily-I can’t help but mention; I thought I saw my old friend Sister Vera in one of the pictures!!
We welcome you both, Emily and Amanda, as you enter your journey with us.
We pray for your mentors as they accompany you! Congratulations!
This is BEAUTIFUL! I was with you all in spirit today. Welcome, Emily and Amanda. I’m glad you are here.