Two women explore religious life in special weekend

April 26, 2014 by

Each spring, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia have invited young Catholic women to “come and see” what religious life is all about, by spending a weekend at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

And each fall for the past several years, the sisters have invited mature, single Catholic women to an “Agrégée Information Day” to learn about another form of membership in the religious congregation that might be a fit for them.

This year for the first time the two events were merged as part of a new approach to what is traditionally called “religious formation.”

 

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Two “inquirers” – one from Norman, Okla., and one from Lawrence — took part in Saturday’s program during the first-ever “Weekend of Exploration” at the Motherhouse. Also on hand were about two dozen Sisters of St. Joseph and current candidates for membership.

The day included a history of the Sisters of St. Joseph from 17th century France to today, a presentation on the charism or mission of the Concordia sisters and discussions about the vows that all sisters profess.

But central to the program were the two forms of membership in the congregation.

In its earliest days, the congregation had two forms of membership: agrégée, pronounced ah-gre-ZHEYs and from the French for “attached to,” and sometimes called “country sisters,” and what would become known as canonical, or “city sisters.”

“From our very beginnings, you can call us variations on a theme,” explained Sister Marcia Allen, president of the congregation. “There were two distinct forms of membership in one charism.”

As all religious life became more regimented and institutionalized, agrégée membership faded away by about 1800.

So it was roughly 200 years later that the Concordia sisters began to hear questions from older, single, Catholic women who felt called to religious life. The primary question they asked was, Is there anything available for me?

From that question and lengthy historical research and congregational discussion came a rebirth of agrégée membership, which the Concordia sisters approved in 2006.

Since then 10 women have professed their vows as agrégées and one as a canonically vowed sister. Eight women are currently candidates for membership.

But that one canonically vowed sister – Sister Julie Christensen — laughed as she explained the “track envy” she felt. The agrégée candidates bonded together through study and fellowship, and she didn’t have the same opportunity. She also wondered if they were all studying the same things since they were all destined to be Sisters of St. Joseph.

So in June 2013, during the congregation’s Assembly, Sister Julie suggested that the two “tracks” for membership should be combined.

That combination or merging is now in the process, with a new structure called the “Preparation and Integration Program” — which led to the “Weekend of Exploration” presentations.

The new approach welcomes women into the congregation as candidates, and gives them time to discern which form of religious life they are called to — either canonical or agrégée.

As she enters her third year, a canonical candidate — who in that final year of preparation will be called a “novice” — will complete the study and other requirements of the Church as a woman religious. The agrégée candidate in her third year will continue the study required by the congregation to be received into the Sisters of St. Joseph.

“It’s what those early sisters did,” said Sister Marcia. “They adapted. So can we.”

Sister Jean Ann Walton agreed.

“Some 364 years ago, a priest and six women had an idea” about what it meant to be called to religious life, she said, referring to the congregation’s origin in 17th century France, “and we’re still living out that idea. It’s still developing and adapting to meet the times.”

In addition to the formal program Saturday, the two guests had time to visit with sisters, tour the Motherhouse and learn more about the congregation.

 

Comments

2 Responses to “Two women explore religious life in special weekend”

  1. sr. susan klepper on May 5th, 2014 7:46 pm

    i made the trip from st. louis to support our sisters, and encourage possible candidates. i believe this gathering was meaningful and exhilerating . all the information about our founding in lepuy france in
    1650 , and our progress across the united states is/was remarkable. this community is
    full of strong, warm and welcoming women whose lives reflect their love and service
    to the dear neighbor without distinction all because of their dedication and love of God. i am proud
    and thankful to be a member of this community.

  2. Anne M. Reinert on April 26th, 2014 7:57 pm

    New beginnings, like today of exploration, will need time, like the new grass I have been watching, the seed fallow on the ground for many days, I was away for the week end and looked out the window to see the new grass, while on Friday it was earth color. May the Holy Spirit be caretaker of the still uncertain call of those who hoped to have clarity. S.Anne M.

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