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Evansville, Indiana
December 20, 1996     The Message
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December 20, 1996

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20 : The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana Religious orders' lay associates programs growing in popu -By DEIRDP D.M,Y O'NEAL Catholic News Service NAPERVILLE, Ill. (CNS) -- While lifelong vocations to reli- gious life remain at an all-time low, interest in religious life among Catholic lay people has never been higher. Recent surveys conducted by Catholic researchers indicate that a great number of adult Catholics are looking for a way to deepen their spiritual life. At the same time, many lay people have also expressed an interest in assisting a particular religious order -- often the order who staffed their parish school or taught them in high school or col- lege -- in carrying out the work of their order. In response to the burgeoning interest in religious life, an ever increasing number of both women's and men's religious orders are offering lay Catholics a way to affiliate with their com- munities while remaining "in the world." Such an affiliation is known as becoming an "associ- ate" of a religious order. At a talk given at the Call to Action conference in Detroit recently, Jean Sonnenberg, an associate of the Sisters of Bon Secours and editor of the quar- terly magazine The Associate, said that the movement is really a "subset" of the movement to form parish-based small Christ- ian communities. Small Christian communities, also known as small faith com- munities, got their start in Latin America about 20 to 25 years ago, Sonnenberg said. That form of connecting as members of a faith- based community spread to the United States as discussion-and- prayer groups such as Renew and another program called Christ Renews His Parish. The difference, however, between parish-based small faith communities and associate programs is related to their for- malized affiliation with religious orders. While both small Chris- tian communities and associate programs emphasize a mature adult spirituality based on gath- ering as a community for prayer, reflections and discussion, asso- ciates gather under the auspices of a religious community. Sonnenberg said that the option of being an associate was not available to most Catholics until recently. Although some reli- gious communities in the United States offered associate programs 20 years ago, the associate move- ment has "really taken off' in the past five or six years, Sonnenberg said. Sonnenberg cited the research of Susan Dunn, a graduate of Washington Theological Union, who wrote her master's degree thesis on the associate "phenom- enon." A survey taken in 1988 found there were approximately 6,000 associates of U.S. religious con- gregations. A similar survey taken in 1995 found 14,500 associates. Some questions raised by Dunn in her thesis were: "What accounts for this explosive growth? what are people looking for? Are religious communities able to provide it?" At their 1995 annual confer- ence in Marriottsville, Md., asso- ciate directors from all over the United States tried to sum up what they believed their lay asso- ciates want from the relationship. They said that in talking with associate members of their orders, most associates said they were looking for a way to "deepen their spirituality, experience faith community, and share in the min- istry" of the communities with whom they have affiliated. "A strong bond and a sense of community often develops around a particular charism and mis- sion," associate directors said in their conference summary. The idea of"journeying togeth- er in prayer," gathering as a faith- based community, and assisting in promoting the 'charism' and ministries of a particular reli- gious congregation are the pri- mary reasons that people give for becoming associates, the directors said. In recent years, as associate communities have grown, they have become more structured, according to Sonnenberg. Associ- ate affiliations usually begin with a period of inquiry, including an interview and a formal applica- tion for reception into the associ- ate program of a particular con- gregation or order. After the initial screening process, associate "candidates" undertake a period of study and reflection somewhat similar to the RCIA process. Candidates learn about the history and traditions of the order, its particular calling or "charisms," and its ministries and missions. At the end of the inquiry peri- od, the candidate becomes for- mally affiliated with the order during a "commitment ceremo- ny," usually at the motherhouse. In some orders, associate can- didates write their own commit- ment "promises," while in others they follow a standardized com- mitment ceremony. In most cases, associate commitments are for a period of one year, renewable annually at the discretion of the associate and the order. The growth of the associate movement, while almost univer- sally acknowledged as a positive development in terms of lay spir- ituality, has raised some ques- tions about the nature of a reli- gious vocation. Some critics of the movement say that the line between vowed religious and lay people tends to become a bit blurred when asso- ciates are allowed to make formal pledges of affiliation to religious communities, model their prayer life after that of a particular reli- gious congregation, and become involved in the ministries of that congregation. MUENSTERMAN'S FIRESTONE SERVICE, INC. 1400 w. Franklin Evansville, IN 424-5000 calling and the to religious life although she there The between religious, while defined nenberg exph Some gious life as we to an end, at least hemisphere, canonical always exist, playing a more important role in giOUS For l identity and themselves out "Our said, "as focused on our God in and munity. details." Health for the close 1314 Graad Washington, I (82) ! YI S :" | , 00les FROM ARCHABBOT LAMBERT AND THE MONKS OF SAINT MEINRAD ARCH L 00.he Virgin shall be with child and bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel. lsAIm 7:14 This statue of Our Lady of Einsiedeln was a wood carved gift to Saint Meinrad on its Centennial in 1954, from its Mother Abbey Maria Einsiedeln, Switzerland. The gown Our Lady is wearing was made by Saint Meinrad's Br. Kim Malloy, OSB. EDUCATING PRIESTS AND LAY LEADERS FOR THE CHURCH SINCE 1857'