Associate groups help laity, religious grow in faith

Categories: Guest Views

By Doug Scott

We are fortunate to have four associate/ oblate programs in our diocese

I found a treasure right in my backyard that has enriched my life tremendously. It wasn’t in my actual backyard, but just up the road at the Crosier priory in Onamia.

There, I connected with a group of Crosier religious and lay men and women who are committed to sharing the gifts of the Crosier order with one another and the world.

It is a new group called the Crosier Associates. I’m one of 13 people in the inaugural class. We met monthly at the priory in Onamia over the last 15 months during our formation. Even though we just made our formal commitment at the end of September, exactly what we’ll do as associates is still being worked out.

That’s part of the excitement of this endeavor; we’re giving the Spirit a wide berth in guiding us through the challenges of defining who we are and what we’ll do.

According to Father Virgil Petermier who directs the Crosier Associate effort, ours is just one of hundreds of similar associate programs in the country.

Intrigued by this, I did research to learn more about these groups and was fascinated by what I found.

There is an organization called the North American Conference of Associates and Religious (NACAR) whose mission is to “act as a catalyst to serve, empower and promote the Associate-Religious relationship.”

If you visit its website, www.nacar. org you can read more about the mission and history of this movement. You can view a list of religious communities in the U.S. that belong to NACAR and click through to read more about their associate programs.

Associates are lay men and women called to special relationship with a religious community, attracted by the order’s charisms or gifts. Associates are not actual members of the religious congregations. They do not take vows; they make commitments. They do not play a role in the governance or finances of the community.

Sister Jane Forni, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and NACAR board member, credits Vatican II for jump-starting the associate movement in North America by “shining a spotlight on lay persons in the church and emphasizing the baptismal call of all Christians to be in mission in the world” (The Associate, winter 2013, Vol. 18 #1).

While each associate program has its own formation process, commitment period and motivations for acting, Sister Jane notes they seem to share a common core: the idea of “call” and the relationship that follows.

In my experience, the call and resulting relationship involve more than just the laity seeking out the community. In the best associate programs, the participating religious grow as much as the laity.

I believe the real power in this movement is rooted in the conviction that we see “the associates and the professed life as distinct and complementary vocations” ( Associates and religious both gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the world by sharing in the other’s wisdom and experience. It is very much a two-way street.

Geri Dietz who directs the associate program for the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls and Sister Laureen Virnig, program director for the Benedictine Sisters of St. Joseph (their Associates are called “oblates”), both summed up the essence of the lay-religious relationship in their communities with the same concept: mutuality.

Sister Jane in her article concurs with this idea. “Associates are co-holders of the charism and partners in the mission as the charism expresses itself in the world,” she said.

In a speech titled “Let the Call Be Heard” at the 2002 Conference of Associates in Milwaukee, Wis., Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister unpacked this notion of mutuality. “Religious and associates need one another,” she said. “Why? Because true companions make possible the growth of the other, that’s why… . One enlightens the other. One energizes the other. One empowers the other. The tradition enlightens the time, yes, but seekers re-energize a tradition, as well.”

Local programs

As Pope Francis places renewed emphasis on the call to be “in mission,” this is the perfect time to explore an associate opportunity. We are fortunate to have four associate/oblate programs here in our diocese. If you wish to learn more about them, use the contact information below:

n Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls,, Geri Dietz, 320-632- 0698.

n Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict, St. Joseph,, Sister Laureen Virnig, 320-363-7144.

n Order of St. Benedict, St. John’s University, Collegeville, www.csbsju. edu, Father Don Tauscher or Father Michael Peterson, 320-363-2018.

n Crosier Fathers and Brothers, Onamia,, Father Virgil Petermeier, 320-532-3103.

Doug Scott is a member of St. Louis Bertrand Parish in Foreston.