It was a historic moment when, in 1974, six risk takers met at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet motherhouse in St. Louis to talk about forming a lay associate program. More than 40 years and 800-plus associates, consociates, ‘Ohana and Familia de San José (ACOF) later, another historic moment for the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet transpired – the first-ever ACOF Convocation.
The convocation was held June 22 to 25 at CSJ-sponsored Fontbonne University in St. Louis with 70 participants–both sisters and ACOF—representing the Albany, Los Angeles, St. Louis and St. Paul provinces as well as the regions of Hawaii and Chile.
Two and a half years in the making, the event was the inspiration of the ACOF directors who were called by the 2013 Acts of Chapter directives to deepen communion by being and acting in new ways as one congregation. “Those of us on the Congregational Leadership Team are delighted that this has come to pass,” says Sister Mary McKay, the leadership team liaison for ACOF. “It’s a great opportunity for the first step into a bigger experience of common experience and identity.”
The convocation was designed to help ACOF develop relationships with one another, strengthen commitment to mission and deepen the desire to live out the CSJ charism of loving unity. Dianne Nelson, former director of Association from the Los Angeles province says, “We envisioned a gathering that would inspire, energize and unite ACOF from every province. And from the beginning of the convocation, we knew that this vision became a reality.”
Grounded in tradition, activities included a tour of the St. Louis province motherhouse and an appearance by foundress Mother St. John Fontbonne (aka Sister Donna Gunn of St. Louis). Keynote speakers Sister Shawn Madigan and Associate Carrie Arnold from the St. Louis province gave presentations on shared charism and the evolution of lay holiness movements.
The weekend was the first opportunity for many participants to make connections beyond the boundaries of region. Cheryl Behrent, a consociate from St. Paul says, “It’s really life giving to be around this number of other people that are steeped in mission.”
“The energy and the enthusiasm is so motivating,” says Irene Harrison, an associate from Albany. “There’s so much hope for the future.”
Although ACOF may have different names, geographies and cultures, participants found unity in diversity. Associate Gerry Rauch from St. Louis says, “I really appreciate that cultural diversity, the cultural respect for different traditions and how different provinces make that operational.”
This uniqueness was expressed through prayer experiences created by each of the regions. Working sessions focused on celebrating the gifts of each unit and the sharing of initiatives and learnings from each group.
Andrea Pearson Tande, co-director of Consociate Services in St. Paul says, “Hearing from one another about what works in Los Angeles or Hawaii or St. Louis and to take some of those practices home makes us all stronger.”
“I learned more about working together as ACOF—both the spiritual and the human aspects,” says Carolina Rodríguez, Familia de San José of Chile. “We reach out to one another because we speak the same language of love.”
The convocation may have lasted only a few days, but it’s only the beginning for ACOF expressing the desire to carry the experience into the future–together.
“We came together as diverse units; we left knowing our strength is in our oneness and our commitment to grow in that oneness,” says Anne Harpham, co-director of the ‘Ohana in Hawaii. “Our challenge now is to build our relationship further and to envision our ACOF future as we read the signs of the times and live the charism within our communities.”