When I tell people I am an associate of The Congregation of St. Joseph, puzzled looks usually follow. In the secular world, the word ‘associate’ is fairly generic and can mean all kinds of things. Since I also work for the sisters, most people assume it must be some kind of professional designation. When asked, I used to explain that it meant I’m kinda, sorta a non-vowed ‘member’ of the Congregation. However, that didn’t ultimately bring any further clarity. In fact, the next question was always, “So are you a nun?” So, I’ve learned to say to folks not familiar with religious life that being an associate means I believe and share in the mission of the sisters. I’m not a nun, but I am nun-ish.
Being nun-ish means that I get to participate in some important work of the sisters including Chapter, a week-long meeting held every five years. I’ve just returned from this year’s Chapter where, amongst other important work, the Congregation set the direction they plan to move in for the next several years and elected a new leadership team.
But attending Chapter was far from all work, and some of the best moments for me were the one-on-one interactions I was able to have with sisters and other associates whom I rarely get to see due to our large geography. We prayed together, sang, ate, danced, visited, laughed, and strengthened and relished in the relationships that are the cornerstone of the Congregation. The event is aptly titled, because as the week unfolded, each experience, session, and day was like a chapter in a book; each important in their own right, but also collectively guiding us to a grace-filled conclusion.
So what were some of my favorite experiences of Chapter? I thought I’d share my 6 favorite moments.
- Being with the sisters, including the sisters at my table, with whom I had table discussions, shared discernment, and prayed throughout the week. They are all amazing women and I was blessed to share time with each of them.
- Hearing the personal stories of other associates. Associates are such a diverse group of women and men (yes men!), and I feel blessed to be one with them. Like the Congregation itself, the associate program is evolving, and I’m excited to see where the spirit is leading! (Want to know more about being an associate? Learn more here.)
- Hearing from the younger sisters and candidates. As one of these young women said “Religious life is very much alive!” Hearing from these women who have more recently committed themselves to the Congregation as vowed members was inspirational!
- Thanking the Congregations current leadership team for their years of service. What a fun and heart-felt evening we had as we thanked and blessed these incredible women who led the Congregation so well and through so much.
- Electing the new leadership team, which will lead the Congregation over the course of the next several years. What a faith-filled, spirit-led process this was. To sit in a room filled with sisters as they were moved by the Holy Spirit to elect a new team was very special, and I feel blessed to have been a part of it.
- The blessing of the hotel staff. This is always one of my favorite parts of any of the Congregation’s gatherings. The hotel staff is called forth – servers, cooks, etc. – and all those in attendance say a blessing over them. The staff’s expressions say it all – appreciation, wonder, and awe- and I’m sure this kind of blessing doesn’t happen with most of the groups they serve. It is a wonderful expression of who we are as a Congregation.
How blessed I feel to be nun-ish!
About the Author
Gina Sullivan is the Director of Communications for the Congregation of St. Joseph, as well as an associate. She is also the mother of two daughters ages 19 and 16, and, when not worrying about them, enjoys cooking, walking, reading and experiencing new places and people. Want to talk more about what it means to be nun-ish? Email Gina at firstname.lastname@example.org.