SASKATOON — Celebrating vocations and the gifts and charism of consecrated life were among the themes of a gathering of the associates of a number of religious communities in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, held March 6 - 7, 2015 at St. Mary Parish in Saskatoon.
Some 50 lay associates attended the event, accompanied by members of religious communities or orders. Participants included associates of the Redemptorists, the Ursulines, the Benedictines, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Franciscans and the Grey Nuns.
Lay associates are women and men who wish to be in a formal relationship with a religious community, their mission and spirituality. Not all religious orders have associates, and those that do vary in the formation process and the degree to which associates are involved in the life of the congregation. Associates do not take vows, but they do receive formation in the particular charism or spirit of the religious order, discerning whether it is a good fit for their life and spirituality. Associates are also knows as affiliates, oblates or co-workers.
It has been about eight years since such a combined gathering for associates was held in Saskatoon. The impetus for the retreat came from Yvonne Armstrong, a Third Order Franciscan Oblate, said Rev. Jon Hansen, CSsR, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish. Once the idea was raised, and the venue was offered, a number of volunteers stepped forward to make the event a reality.
Anne Walsh, a lay missionary of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), led the group in reflection, conversation and prayer the evening of March 6 and throughout the day March 7.
Walsh is the executive assistant to the archbishop of St. John’s, Nfld. She holds a master’s in religious education from the Faculty of Theology of the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto. In January 2003, she made her commitment as a lay missionary of the Most Holy Redeemer.
During presentations at the Saskatoon gathering, Walsh focused on how associates come to experience the call of God in their lives — a call made real in relationship with the particular group of religious that each found themselves attracted to.
“The charism of a religious order draws us and informs our own desire to do the will of God through mission,” summarized Hansen.
Through activities and discussion at the opening session, Walsh encouraged participants to connect their own faith journey to the story from the Gospel of Luke about the disciples on the road to Emmaus meeting the risen Lord.
The weekend event was “a great opportunity to meet associates from other communities and realize that the circle is much bigger than just our own,” said Hansen. “Each community compliments the mission of God, the way that facets complement the face of a diamond.
“Then it’s a matter of exploring which group speaks to your heart in terms of their mission,” said Hansen. “The program for enrolling as an associate will vary with each community but usually involves a period of formation followed by making promises to the community which are generally renewed on an annual basis.”