Our founder, Father Jean Pierre Médaille, SJ said in the 1600s, “All are called to enter more profoundly into their vocation, even if their ways of living it are different.” Now in the 21st century, the people called together by our charism continue to find new ways to live their vocations.
Let’s explore a bit of history…
In light of Vatican II’s “universal call to holiness” and our return to our roots, the sisters began to invite people who identified with our charism and mission to join us, not as vowed religious, but as “associates.” The first “experimental” group gathered in May of 1974.
Since then, we now have groups of associates in each province, Hawaii and Chile. They go by names that are meaningful to each community: associates, consociates, ‘ohana, and Familia de San José. We refer to them together as ACOF.
Our U.S. ACOF directors had planned a convocation in June of 2020, which had to be canceled due to the pandemic, but that did not stop them from building community. These five women, together with their counterparts in Chile, began to meet virtually and found a way to share the themes of the convocation in five presentations for the entire congregation via Zoom.
These monthly meetings, which deepened the bonds among the directors/coordinators, culminated in their annual meeting in April of 2020 where they shared prayer and planning on a profound level that was the fruit of walking together during the pandemic.
In Lent of 2021, they joined with the sisters in Sharing of the Heart/Order of the House groups — a practice that comes from the beginnings of the Sisters of St. Joseph that deepens the bonds of community and gives direction to the path that community should walk.
Amigas de San José
In 2017, two women in Peru who were former members of the congregation had a conversation about their years with the Sisters of St. Joseph and the impact it had on their lives. They had been deeply touched by the charism of unifying love, and they began looking for others who shared that grounding to strengthen one another in the living out the charism in their daily lives.
As they conversed with women who had been part of the congregation for a time, they discovered that others had a similar experience of the charism, so they began to meet virtually, joining in from their homes on the coast and in the mountains of Peru. Married women with families, teachers, medical professionals and businesswomen gathered on a Saturday evenings once a month to pray together and share about their lives.
Eventually, the question arose: Why don’t we ask the sisters in Peru about becoming associates? The request was made, and the answer discerned by the sisters was a resounding “yes!” On January 7, 2022, these women embarked on a program that will prepare them to become associates. When asked what motivated them to request association, their answer was: “The charism wouldn’t let us go!”
Another relatively new way of living the charism is a group of people called agrégées. This term is found in the early history of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Although the original documentation does not offer a clear definition, from the beginning, the Spirit’s call impelled women from varied backgrounds and with diverse life commitments to come together for the life of the world.
The women who are members of this emerging agrégée community are walking a path of discovery: studying the history, conversing with agrégées in other congregations’ communities, listening closely to the Spirit and having regular conversations with their sister-companions as they discern their future.
They realize all of this in an agrégée community that is maintained virtually through monthly meetings, prayer, retreats and sharing their hearts. They have experienced a call to this emerging way of life living in the context of our mission. This group calls us to expand our community and embrace the charism in new ways that honor our tradition.
Opening ourselves to the gift of association in its varied expressions has been an unbounded grace as we share and live out this charism that “won’t let us go.”