In 2013 those present at the CSJ Congregational Chapter committed the Congregation to “intentionally welcome, foster and develop emerging ways of living the charism such as…Agrégées.”
Although there are several references to Agrégées in our primitive documents, there appears to have been a variety of lived experiences. The Agrégée programs that have been initiated by four US Congregations of Sisters of St. Joseph (Boston, Concordia, Erie and Springfield) are very different from each other. The differences can seem confusing.
For almost two years there has been an ongoing conversation among interested persons and leadership personnel from each Province about the possibility of opening a place for Agrégées in our Congregation. There is also a small group of those interested who have been meeting among themselves to clarify their understanding of their Call to be Agrégées. In the next few weeks we will share some basic information on Agrégées in order to provide a basis for reflection and conversation about this potential way of living the CSJ Charism.
Denise Ginty, CSJA (LA), Jeanne Marie Gocha, CSJ (Albany), Pat PIlon, CSJA (Albany) and Kathy Stein (LA)
A Short Summary of the Research of Connie DeBiase, CSJ, on Agrégées written by Alexandra Guliano
Two introductory comments: 1) The summary presented comes from the work of the second research team of the CSJ/SSJ Federation which was conducted in the early 1980s and is published in the book Origins of the Sisters of St. Joseph: A Call to Apostolic Mysticism by Consuela DeBiase, CSJ. This research team visited 67 “foundations” of groupings of women. A notebook on each of these can be found in the Federation archives housed at Avila University in Kansas City, MO. 2) Like the early transmission of the Gospels, this research first came to me by the “oral tradition.” Over the span of forty years, I learned about our origins from Connie as she recounted her experiences doing the research. Only in 2014, after much persuasion and many attempts to convince her to publish the research, was it shared in written form. Before she became memory impaired and later died in 2017, Shawn Madigan, CSJ, Judy Miller, CSJ, and I were able to retrieve her original writing and several of her talks presented over the years. These resources are now stored in the St. Louis Province archives.
In summary, here are the most salient points of the research:
1. From the beginning, what we call now the Sisters of St. Joseph have had many names and various configurations. What is the constant is the articulation of the charism—love of God and neighbor without distinction. This is ONE LOVE. There is no distinction between love of God and love of neighbor.
2. The term “apostolic mysticism” characterizes the living of this one love. Those who live the charism are impelled by passion for ministry to the dear neighbor in God.
3. The foundational document—Maxims of Perfection—was written and addressed “for all Christians aspiring to great virtue.” There is an early recognition that the CSJ charism is not reserved to sisters.
4. At the time of these early foundings, it is important to note that there were no formal vows, as, at the time, cloister was the only form of consecrated religious life.
5. Some of the foundings are referred to as “confraternities” of married and unmarried women and widows. “It is interesting to note that these early Sisters of St. Joseph were not given the title of religiousness.”
6. The word Agrégée is used with multiple meanings. Initially, it was a legal term that meant that a person or community was in relationship to a larger entity. It was not a type of membership. However, today it would mean that a person or particular community is related to a motherhouse.
7. The reference to “secret” association is not clear. It could have meant that literally the vows were secret, but it also could be that there was no official record of vows.
8. Living in groups of three had more to do with the civil laws than spiritual significance. That said, the references to the created and uncreated Trinities may have been a way to add a spiritual significance to a civil law.
9. Since there were few references to vows recorded, it also could be that the commitments were temporary as well as permanent. In addition, where biographical material was discovered, there was a diversity of ages of members.
10. The dress of the sisters was closer to the dress of married women than any monastic habit. What is clear is that the sisters wore what was needed to do to their ministry.
11.This is apostolic spirituality. What is most important is the mission, the apostolate. Living in community and any horarium was established to support the apostolate. This differs from the monastic and cloistered life which places its primary importance on community living.
12. The research suggests a progression and evolution of this apostolic spirituality; and, in some groupings, there was a profession of the public vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. However, there was no consistency among the foundations. Further, moving from one grouping to another required that the person/sister/agrégée/associees “start all over again” in formation with the new grouping/community.
One love—love of God and neighbor without distinction—and a diversity of ways of living it! For a deeper understanding and reflection, please read the book. While it is research, it is an easy read!
Adaptation and Agrégées, notes from a lecture given by Bette Moslander and Marcia Allen during Falling in Love for a Lifetime Workshop and Retreat, May, 2011, Manna House of Prayer, Concordia, Kansas; notes by Mary Kaye Medinger
Marcia Allen entered into the work of her doctoral dissertation with the intention of proving that CSJ origins were NOT Ignatian. Her findings led her to believe that Jean Pierre Medaille was interacting with the six women of LePuy to capture what was emerging from THEM and to write about what THEY were thinking but to do that in Ignatian terms! The Ignatian stream of spirituality based on discernment was always based on the capacity of the person – therefore a continuous life of discernment and therefore always leaving room to ADAPT (e.g. as with the Agrégées). How do we live today? By constantly adapting the rule to our circumstances.
The Concordia Constitution focuses on the Holy Spirit, which it mentions twenty one times! The Constitution demonstrates a continuous response of adaptation and is therefore always contemporary, always adaptable. This is also true of the Constitution for Agrégées of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas.
The contemporary development of Concordia Agrégées was NOT about increasing membership but rather about responding to an evolving vocation as Agrégées, not as sisters with the three canonical vows. The women responding to the “new vocational call in the church” (Bette Moslander) were responding to a call to live a deeper, more intense spiritual life.
A) City Houses – City houses were in a specific location. The women took three vows and could be dispensed by the bishop. Examples were the Girls Orphanage (39 girls resided there) on Montferrand Street in LePuy where Francoise Eyraud was administrator, and the house in Bourges were 5 or 6 sisters tended to the needs of 8 elderly sick men. Some houses later took in boarders for income.
Institutions had lay boards of directors; those houses were larger and better organized. They needed a superior, a portress, a bookkeeper, novice director, etc. “Lettres patent” were the civil authorization of legality and Bishop de Maupas requested lettres patent for the Sisters in LePuy.
At least some city houses had servants and life in the houses was demanding. Those to be admitted must be capable of serving as superiors and must demonstrate the absence of contagious disease, insanity and a criminal background. The city houses provided care where there was none and organized communal living under a constitution.
B) Country Houses – Country sisters were Agrégées, aggregated to a city house, did not need officers and took a single vow of stability. They dressed in a simpler manner (widows’ garb, particular to the location), had simpler rules and simpler living conditions. They sometimes lived singly or in groups of two or three or lived in their own homes or rented a common space.
They taught catechetics, did house sitting, child sitting or took care of the elderly. They made their vows “at the foot of their beds.” They made their vow for as long as they lived as an agrégée and lived on their own authority. They were therefore more “self-authorized” than Sisters in the city houses. The admission of poor women into religious life was the biggest innovation “for those who lacked the means and those not called to ‘religious’ (cloistered) life.” The house at Dunieres is the earliest agrégée house on record (1649) and never exceeded six members.
A continuation from Adaptation and Agrégées, notes from a lecture given by Bette Moslander and Marcia Allen during Falling in Love for a Lifetime Workshop and Retreat, May, 2011, Manna House of Prayer, Concordia, Kansas; notes by Mary Kaye Medinger
The development of contemporary Agrégées has allowed for women older than canonical vowed life allows to enter a life that they feel a deep desire to join. The template for the Agrégée Community of Concordia was developed when the Formation Team was encountering women in their 50s and 60s who could not drop out of the rest of their lives for three years of postulancy and novitiate. There were recurring applicants in this category. Agrégées COULD include men, couples and non-Catholics but as of 2011 such individuals had not yet applied.
Agrégées are those persons who commit to active, inclusive love of God and the dear neighbor as expressed by the CSJs. They take up their rights and responsibilities through a non-canonical vow of fidelity to live according to the spirit and spirituality of the CSJs. They are MEMBERS of the congregation according to the constitution for Agrégées and the agrégée policies and agreements. Their vow is for life and is regarded with the same seriousness as canonical vows. The vow is made to God and is a private, personal one. Dispensation is permissible by the president of the congregation. Orientation and discernment precede admission to membership. Agrégées are expected to have a discerning life stance, open to and responsive to Spirit. They are expected to make a financial investment in the congregation according to their personal situation. They are expected to make regular retreats, participate regularly in Sharing the Heart, and make a regular assessment and discernment of their ministry.
Studies include the origins, methodology, documents and maxims of the congregation. The focus is on learning to live the life of an agrégée with a sense of deep awareness. When developing an agrégée formation process, it is essential to AVOID answering all the questions ahead of time!
Short Summary of “The Soeurs Agrégées” [Agrégées Sisters], pages 289-304 from Nuns Without Cloister: Sisters of St. Joseph in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries by Marguerite (Therese) Vacher (translated by Patricia Byrne) – summary by Mary Kaye Medinger; all material comes directly from the text.
– In the recommendations for the soeurs agrégées found in the Reglements and the Constitutions, they were asked to establish community by placing their goods in common and to share the reality of their existence in small groups of two and three, as far as possible in the same house. There is no question that the soeurs agrégées placed their goods in common… – If the sharing of goods is uncontested, the sharing of daily life among the soeurs agrégées is obscure and more difficult to confirm, particularly whether they lived together in the same house…One can infer from (various) documents that in the same place and at the same time, some Sisters of St. Joseph lived together and others, living in their own homes, were members of the same community. – Compared with all the documentation preserved in the archives of the Sisters of St. Joseph, data concerning the soeurs agrégées is minimal…Even the smallest clues found in the archives are nevertheless significant and impart an impression of diversity within the category of agrégées sisters… Throughout the eighteenth century, the soeurs agrégées of St. Joseph, like the principal sisters, certainly evolved in their way of life and probably in the understanding of their vocation.
Over the past several years, individuals in the four provinces have been exploring a form of affiliation with the Carondelet Congregation called “agrégées”. More recently, some of these individuals, along with one member of the Province Leadership Team from each of the four Provinces and a few other interested Sisters, have engaged in several ZOOM conversations. The conversations have allowed the topic to begin to be explored from a Congregational perspective. Retreat weekends for interested persons were held in St. Paul in June of 2017 and 2018. This resulted in the creation of a document called “Sacred is the Call: Reflections on Agrégée” in which the participants committed themselves to experiment and to intentionally live into what agrégée with the Carondelet Congregation means for them. You will find the document attached.
This concludes our informational series on Agrégées. All materials published in these five weeks can be found on the Members Only section of our website. If you would like to continue the conversation please feel free to contact any one of us.
Denise Ginty, CSJA; Jeanne Marie Gocha, CSJ; Kathy Stein, CSJ and Pat Pilon, CSJA