Religious community associates adopt charism, not vows

| Terry Griep | November 4, 2015 | 1 Comment
Andrea Pearson Tande, left, and St. Joseph Sister Suzanne Herder sort baskets for the silent auction of the annual St. Joseph Worker Program fundraiser, a Taste of Thanksgiving, which takes place Nov. 6 at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul. Pearson Tande, who belongs to St. Cecilia in St. Paul, is the program coordinator and is nearing the completion of her two-year process to become a lay consociate with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Andrea Pearson Tande, left, and St. Joseph Sister Suzanne Herder sort baskets for the silent auction of the annual St. Joseph Worker Program fundraiser, a Taste of Thanksgiving, which takes place Nov. 6 at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul. Pearson Tande, who belongs to St. Cecilia in St. Paul, is the program coordinator and is nearing the completion of her two-year process to become a lay consociate with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

The majority of Twin Cities’ Catholics have not been called to vowed consecrated life. Yet, many lay men and women have sought — and found — a robust spiritual life by formally associating with professed religious men and women.

These people call themselves by various names — associates, consociates, oblates and companions — but share a commitment to living a particular religious order’s charism, or spirit. These communities, they say, feed their souls, invite them to ministry and unite them with like-minded people.

Most associates choose a particular religious community for one of two reasons: either they have had a long-term relationship with the religious community, or they have a desire to share the ministries of a particular community.

The Ignatian Associates, for example, draw members who have attended Jesuit high schools and universities, or members who are attracted to social justice ministries. They’re named for St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits’ founder.

Bruce Labno, a 66-year-old Ignatian associate and parishioner of Guardian Angels in Oakdale, said his link to local Jesuit ministries has “ingrained” his life with Ignatian spirituality.

“Ignatian spirituality helps [people] focus on finding God in all things, at any moment, in so many different ways, all of which is called awareness,” he said. “I have become aware of God around me, of my humanness, my brokenness and the many gifts given that are to be passed on to others. Ignatian spirituality is my way to actively live Christ in the world as it is today.”

Formed as a pilot program by the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus about 25 years ago, the associates, with the Jesuits’ support and blessing, incorporated as an independent community in 2010. The associates maintain an ongoing relationship with the Jesuits, many of whom serve as their spiritual directors, prayer partners and friends.

Many associates programs include a formation period where prospective candidates learn more about the religious order, its founder, its members and the members’ various ministries. Many also include their associates in congregation meetings, retreats and liturgies. Associates are also invited to share in the social ministries performed by vowed members of the religious communities.

In the Twin Cities, Ignatian Associates volunteer at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Listening House in St. Paul, Loaves and Fishes, and retreats for people who are homeless or recovering from addictions.

Sharing common goal

Most orders invite as associates both men and women, singles and couples, Catholic and non-Catholic, and working and retired people. Associates range in age from about 30 to 90.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet have 149 committed women and men in St. Paul-Minneapolis who call themselves consociates. They share in the sisters’ mission of always “moving toward a profound love of God and love of neighbor without distinction.” The sisters and the consociates achieve this through a variety of ministries working side by side.

“I have great affection and admiration for the CSJ sisters, and to maintain my own energy and focus, it just made sense to partner with them,” said Rita Quigley, a consociate.

“I know that when the sisters see something that needs to be done, they do it. It’s a great place to find community for people of dissimilar backgrounds but with a common goal: to make the world a better place.”

Consociate coordinator Mary Kaye Medinger said people “are hungering for a community that is inclusive and committed to spirituality and justice.  We ask nothing specific of the consociates except that they live out the CSJ mission in their lives.”

The 1,500-year-old Rule of Benedict continues to be a draw for Jeanie Weber, a Benedictine oblate affiliated with St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph.

“I love the simple, time-tested, practical Rule of Benedict and the key values it promotes,” she said. “Benedict suggests doable ways to follow Jesus, not alone, but with arms linked in community.”

She added that she resonates with the Benedictine values of “listening with the ear of the heart,” of balancing work with prayer, recreation, rest, service and silence.

In addition an oblate program, the Benedictine Sisters of St. Paul Monastery in Maplewood have an associate program, which promotes even closer ties to the community.

Linda Anderson, both an oblate and an associate, said that associates participate in an additional formation program, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, are involved in the order’s committee work and many of their liturgies, and participate in their ministries.

“We come here with a more committed relationship, and this differs from person to person,” she said.

Welcome and community

Mary Lou Kozmik, also Benedictine associate, said she spends one Sunday each month at the monastery on community day. Kozmik participates in the Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, brunch and a community meeting where each person shares her ministry work. She serves with the liturgy and social justice committees, and is a prayer leader.

“Having a monastery in St. Paul is a treasure to me,” she said. “It renews my spirit. Sometimes I think the Benedictine Monastery is one of St. Paul’s best-kept secrets. I feel so welcome there, and am always welcome to join the sisters in prayer.”

In North Minneapolis, Visitation Companions join in the work and Salesian spirituality of the Sisters at Visitation Monastery, rooted in the work of Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal.

Some wish to integrate their prayer lives with volunteer ministry in their daily lives. Other companions, like Jeff and Mary Ann Pearson, learned about Salesian spirituality when their children attended Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights, which is run by another Visitation community.

“I fell in love with whatever the sisters had. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I wanted it in my life,” said Mary Ann, a companion and former Vistiation Companions coordinator.

Through the sisters, she learned about the God of love, about a spirituality that comes from the heart, about how loving and good human beings are, and how each person is called to holiness in the present moment, she said.

“The important thing is this has deepened my relationship with God,” she said. “I think communities like this provide a far richer, deeper way to enhance our relationship with God than just going to church or meeting with a group regularly.”

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Category: Featured, Vocations

  • Paula Ruddy

    Thanks for this informative article. Inspiring.