(02) 9847 0030

What role do Lay Associates play?—by Angela Grant RSJ

5 June 2017 | Mission and Spirituality News


The Introduction to the Vatican II Document, The Role of the Laity, states “The apostolate of the Laity derives from their Christian Vocation and the Church can never be without it.” Yet for many years, this role was denied its rightful importance. The Council began the task of exploring this vocation and Pope John Paul II continued it through his Exhortation Christfideles Laici.

In this short article, I would like to explore how lay people have been helped appreciate their distinctive vocation through belonging to the Associates of the Sisters of St Joseph. I am sure similar articles could be written about belonging to groups that follow the Charism of other Congregations e.g. the Mercies, Dominicans, Jesuits.

Central to the concept of lay Associations is that lay people are called by Baptism to holiness of life and to ministry. They are to fulfil this call as fully as those in religious life but in their unique way. How can belonging to an Association linked to a religious order foster the lay vocation to holiness and to ministry?

Each religious Congregation has a unique Charism or spirit which derives from the Charism gifted to it by its founder. This Charism flavours the way the religious group organises itself in its prayer life, its ministry and its relationship to the Church.

For the Sisters of St Joseph, the spirit of their founders, St Mary Mackillop and Fr J E Tenison Woods, distinctively shapes their lives. The Josephite spirit emphasises a very practical approach to life, to ministry with a special emphasis on the service of “the poor”. Often the spirit is expressed in sayings attributed to the founders, such as “Never see a need without doing something about it.”

The prayer life of the early Sisters was adapted to their situation of isolation from regular Church services, so the recitation of vocal prayers, such as the Rosary or short repetitive aspirations was a way of maintaining contact with God. This type of prayer fitted a group busy in schools and in visitation of the sick and house-bound. Later more sophisticated prayer forms built on the base of vocal prayer.

The Sisters’ relationship to the local Church was that of a serving presence, in the school, visiting the sick, conducting Church services in the absence of the priest, supporting the priest when one was available. The ministry was very much grounded in the practical expression of Gospel availability. Even as the range of the Sisters’ ministries widened over the years, they maintained the values of their founders.

People who join the Associates of the Sisters of St Joseph, simply known as Josephite Associates, reframe the expression of the Charism of the Congregation. They are aided to know the founding story, to study the many books now available on the lives of the founders, learning also of the current ministries of the Sisters. Thus they have a context for looking at their own vocation. They explore what living in the Josephite spirit means in their lives. “What needs are in my home, my parish, my school, my neighbourhood that elicit a response from me?” would be typical questions they ask.

To support the goal of attaining holiness of life, opportunities are provided to, group prayers, retreats and the provision of reflection materials. Often, the Associates form local groups which serve to build community among the Associates. They develop their understanding of the motto Friendship, Prayer and Service.

Today, thousands of Associates fulfil ministries of Josephite service in schools, in aged care, as catechists and in their own professional lives. Sometimes, a group of Associates will say proudly that they keep parishes alive in areas where there are no longer religious to care for the Church, teach the children their religion, visit the hospital as well as being fully engaged family members and active in their wider community.

Lay Associations, such as I have described, give lay people another family within the family of the Church, the encouragement of a tradition of spirituality and ministry, a form of Adult Formation often not available to them elsewhere in the Church. My experience, as an Adult Faith Educator over many years in schools and in Catholic School Administration, has proved to me the value of religious Congregations contributing to the development of the laity through lay Associations.

Together, as lay and religious, we carry on in prayer and service, the mission of Christ. We support the growth of prayerful, ministering Catholics. St Teresa of Avila gave us a beautiful poem that does not distinguish between lay and religious: 

Christ has no Body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
Compassion on this world.

If you wish to comment on this or anything in the Newsletter, please email me, Carmel Duffy, at carmel.duffy@dbb.org.au. Your words may be published in later editions of the Newsletter.

Sr-Angela-GrantSr Angela Grant is a Sister of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, with many years’ experience as an Educator and Administrator in Secondary Schools and in the Catholic Education Office in the Wollongong Diocese. Sister Angela assisted in the development of the Jospehite Associates in NSW. Currently there are over two thousand Josephite Associates in NSW, administered now by the Associates themselves. Sister Angela considers the establishment of the Associates one of her Order’s most significant contribution to the laity. Josephite Associates are in every State in Australia, also in New Zealand and in East Timor and Peru.

Artwork by Dorothy Woodward rsj. Used with permission from liturgyritualprayer.com

Back to top