The formation process to become a sister of St Joseph
The process of becoming a Sister of Saint Joseph of Chambéry has several stages and can take up to 10 years or more.
For a woman who is interested in exploring the possibility of becoming a Sister of Saint Joseph, the first step is to contact the Vocation Director of the province of our congregation in which she lives. The Vocation Director will meet with her to talk about her experience of God’s movement in her life, and will answer her questions about religious life. She may also arrange for the woman to meet other sisters and to visit some of our houses and ministries, to give her an idea of how we live together, pray together, and work in today’s world. The woman will be encouraged to find a spiritual director to if she does not already have one, and to continue to work with a trusted spiritual director throughout the process.
If the woman feels she may be called to life in our congregation, she will be given more opportunities to visit our sisters in their homes, to volunteer in our ministries, and to share prayer and celebrations with us. She will be given a psychological evaluation that assesses her maturity and her ability to live the kind of life we live. She will also have a three-week experience of living with some of our sisters, sharing community life in the same way she would if she decides to proceed to the next stage.
In the next stage, the woman formally enters our congregation as a “candidate” or “postulant”. She moves into one of our houses and shares all aspects of community life, including prayer, meals, and household responsibilities. She will meet with her Candidate Director at least once a month, and will participate in workshops with other women who are entering religious life in other congregations. During this time, she continues to work, and if she has debts she will work toward paying them off. The time of candidacy may last from 6 months to 2 years.
Next, the woman becomes a “novice”. The novitiate stage lasts for 2 years, as prescribed by canon law of the Roman Catholic Church. This is a time of intense preparation for the commitment to religious life. The woman spends her time in prayer, study, and interaction with other novices, her Novice Director, and other sisters. She will also have some experience in working with those who are materially poor, ideally in an area unfamiliar to her. Since our congregation is international, we also try to provide her with opportunities to meet our sisters from other parts of the world and experience both the stimulating diversity and the underlying unity among our members.
After completing the novitiate, the woman makes her first vows to religious life. The vows of poverty, consecrated celibacy, and obedience are the heart of the commitment that sisters make to God and to their congregations. Much of the woman’s experience as a novice will have been aimed toward giving her a thorough understanding of the meaning of the vows and the ways we live them today. After making first vows, the woman shares fully in the life of our congregation, like any other sister. She continues to meet monthly with a sister who companions her at this stage.
At the last stage in the process, the woman makes final vows. Final vows are a permanent and lifelong commitment to live as a Sister of Saint Joseph. This may take place anywhere from 3 to 9 years after making first vows.
The goal of the entire process is to find out what is God’s will for the woman, whether that be membership in our community, membership in a different religious congregation, or some other state in life. We rejoice whenever a woman decides to join us! But even if the woman ultimately decides that she is not called to share our life, we still rejoice that the process has been helpful to her in clarifying how God is calling her to a different way of life.
Associates of the Sisters of Saint Joseph
In Father Médaille’s time, there were lay affiliates, that is, women who had a stable spiritual bond with the Congregation and wanted to be associated with the Sisters in ministry and prayer. The same is true today; persons interested in our spirituality may desire to be associated with our Congregation.
Associates of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chambéry are Christian women and men who are desirous of growing in their spiritual life and in service to others. They could be married persons, widows or widowers, single women or men, who possess a certain maturity in relationships and have a love for the Congregation and its ministries.
The Associate Program offers an atmosphere for members to acquaint themselves with the Sisters and the Congregation, as well as to take to heart and live the call in the spirit of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chambéry. Associates have a period of formation, wherein they learn about the History, the Spirituality, and the Charism of the Congregation. As they deepen their call to live the spirit of the Congregation in their homes and places of work, they may actively participate in times of prayer, celebration and social justice activities within the Congregation.
Each Province of the Congregation that has an Associate Program has adapted it to the needs of the culture and the country in which it is located. Associates gather in small groups, usually with a sister or sisters, for prayer and reflection. Occasionally, the Associates will gather for a period of Retreat. Some Associates are active in mission work with the sisters; others volunteer in different ministries. Still others are active in the apostolate of prayer. Whatever the level of participation is, Associates live their lives in the spirit of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.