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Fifty Years Young: The Then, Now, and Future of BVM Association

by Associate Norm Freund

It is with considerable pride and joy that sisters and associates alike are celebrating a half century of associate relationships. What began after the heady days of the Second Vatican Council has evolved into a vibrant and growing community in mission with vowed sisters. A brief peek  into the past is in order before converging on the today and tomorrow of association.

Realizing that the spirit of BVM Foundress Mary Frances Clarke was bigger than vowed membership alone, the BVM Congregation began exploring the possibility of an associate relationship in the 1960s. By 1973, the first associates (called affiliates at the time) were admitted. In  those early days, the vast majority were either former BVMs or relatives of BVMs.

In the first 20 years, it was a fledging group of women and a few men, numbering 39 by 1993. During this time, coordination of the “program”  was no one’s primary job, with responsibility passing from person to person and office to office. All that would change. In 1992, the BVM Senate approved the appointment of a full-time director (Joan Stritesky, BVM would be the first), generated a budget, and created an advisory  committee. From this point on, interest and numbers would take off. By 1999 there were 90 associates and in 2002 there were 123. This  number has expanded to 179 as of last year with over a dozen more in discernment!

A Circle of Friends
Just as the congregation has evolved over the last 50 years, so has association. Originally, it was assumed that associates would be Catholic.  Today, there are Protestant, Jewish, and Buddhist members. The underlying foundation for all associates is that the core values of freedom,  education, charity, and justice resonate with their lives. The translation of these values into the mission of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed  Virgin Mary is what unites us, even as we live these values in ways other than a vowed life.

Early on, association was referenced as a program. However, the Circle of Friends (which the first five sisters modeled from Dublin days), has
transformed this mindset. Now associates focus on being in relationship . . . with the sisters and with each other. United by the core values, we  each discern in our own ways how to best live out these values in our individual lives.

Expanding Into the Future
Last fall, 20 associates gathered for a retreat in Woodstock, Ill., with facilitators Director of BVM Life and Mission Pat Maddux and Associate Coordinator Eileen O’Shea, along with the support of Mary Ann Zollmann, BVM. Over the course of three days, the presence of the Holy Spirit  and the spirit of Mother Clarke enflamed, enriched, and inspired the participants.

As association expands into the future, these associate retreatants were energized by the ever-evolving meaning of this very relationship.


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