CSJ Sisters, Associates, Agrégeés: Living the Mission of Unifying Love

 This article appeared in the October 4, 2019 issue of The Boston Pilot
by Joanne Gallagher, CSJ

Did you know there is more than one way to live the mission and spirituality of the Sisters of St. Joseph in your daily life? Our canonically vowed members continue to serve the dear neighbor without distinction and have done so for more than 360 years. Recently, Sister Jean McKinney, CSJ, professed her initial commitment as a Sister of St. Joseph. In reflecting on this, Jean writes, “Many years ago, I was drawn to visiting and gradually getting to know the sisters at Bethany Health Care Center. Their lives and stories, their ministries, their faith and joy, their spirituality . . .  subtle whispers, imperceptible at first, yet growing stronger with time! Almost without my realizing it, seeds were sown, roots took hold, and, slowly, my pathway began to emerge. Gradually opening to new possibilities without complete understanding, like Joseph, always trusting in God, I embraced my vocation, my call, to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston.”

Since 1987 we have offered another form of relationship know as Associates: women and men who desire to share the Sisters of St. Joseph mission of unifying love. They acknowledge the call to realize the prayer of Christ, that all may be one with God and one another. Judy Swett, a CSJ Associate since 2002, says of this relationship, “I know in my bones, that I have been called to live my baptismal call to holiness in union with the faith journey of the Sisters of St. Joseph and other associates. I try daily, to live the charism and participate in the mission of unity and reconciliation with our dear neighbors without distinction. It is simply about love given, love received, and love that is unconditional.”

Most recently, we initiated another relationship, known as Agrégées. This term dates back to our early beginnings in seventeenth century France. Women whose life circumstances prevented them from participating in the vowed life of religious Sisters aligned themselves through lives of prayer, good works, and fidelity. These first agrégées, joined in the life of the congregation in whatever ways were available to them.

Today, Agrégées with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston are single women called by God to be in communion with vowed women and associates. They too commit their lives to the mission of Jesus: that all may be one. Last June, four Boston CSJ Agrégées expressed this commitment through a lifetime non-canonical vow to God of fidelity to the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston in the spirit of the Gospel. Joanne Fantini, CSJ Agrégée, professed her commitment to this relationship in the following words, “In your loving presence, God, I publicly respond ‘Yes’ to your personal call heard in the depth of my own heart to ‘Come to You.’ My deepest desire is to live my life open and attentive to your voice leading me into the fullness of my own humanity. I ask your Spirit to strengthen me with the courage to live Jesus’ invitation to: ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ With Mary, I say ‘Yes’ to a future not knowing how it is going to unfold.”

Our tradition of loving service began in mid-seventeenth century Le Puy, France, continued in Boston in 1873, and now sustains us in the twenty-first century. Instinctively, we identify with the cries of a world stunned by violence to reopen communication in divided communities, to search for shared values, and to empower individuals to explore common ground for the healing of humankind.

Jean McKinney, CSJ, describes her formation process, “As a novice, I experienced life in community, enjoyed opportunities for shared prayer and welcomed new ministries. It was a time of openness blessed with embracing dialog – deep with inclusive, empathetic, never-ending communication with the ear of my heart; a time of pouring out and receiving, yielding totally to God; a time of Yahweh’s transforming love. And now, celebrating my profession of first vows as a Sister of St. Joseph of Boston, I look to the past – to the legacy of so many women who have lived these vows before me; to the present – to those with whom I share my journey of faith, charism, and ministry; and to the future – to the promise of hope that transforms and challenges us.”

Learn more about ways you, too, can be in relationship with us at https://www.csjboston.org/join-our-mission/

pix 1 Sisters Denise Kelly, Marilyn McGoldrick, and Lee Hogan read a prayer of blessing during Sister Jean McKinney’s Initial Vow Commitment Liturgy

pix 2. Janice Young, (center) talks with Associate Judy Swett and Sister Kathleen Hagerty during a mentoring session in preparation for Janice’s Associate commitment

pix 3. Agrégeés Linda Boothroyd, Joanne Fantini, Joanne Maulden, and Mariann Miller sign their vow papers during the commitment ceremony.