By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Last month, the Congregation of the Humility of Mary (CHM) and their associates celebrated the 50th anniversary of the CHM associate relationship program. Associates are women and men, single or married, seeking a deeper spiritual existence and a way to participate in the vision, spirit and ministry of the congregation without becoming fully vowed members.
“I feel the CHM community is stronger for having associates with us as companions on the journey,” said Sister Lynn M. Mousel, co-leader of the CHM associate program. “We support one another in prayer and in living the spiritual life. We enrich one another’s lives in the various ways we live the Gospel message in the spirit of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary. I am often inspired by the ways our CHM associates are devoted to serving others.”
Associate program history
The Sisters of Humility say their associate relationship program was among the first of its kind among contemporary communities of women religious. In 1969, a young woman seeking dispensation from her vows asked about the possibility of continuing a personal and unofficial association with the CHMs. The Second Vatican Council had mandated a renewal of religious life, so members of the CHM Special Chapter of Affairs (Aug. 2, 1969), discussed such an association and established a committee to study new and viable forms of membership.
The CHM Senate of August 1971 voted to initiate a program for associates as a means for sisters to maintain contact with the broader society, to provide a consistent source of ideas and to enlarge the ministry of CHMs. Terms of agreement would be one year, renewable annually, and each associate would have a contact sister. Paul Ryan and Elizabeth Anderson, the first two associates, enrolled in 1972. Hundreds have followed since then.
Like core members, the 67 current CHM associates choose their ministries in the context of society and church and their own abilities, health, education and interests. Each one determines his/her level of involvement. The CHM associate relationship has evolved over the years. The congregation approved a new model of association in 2017 that emphasizes a strong foundation in the CHM charism and mission and includes a yearlong discernment and formation process for associate candidates. The CHM charism states: “We, members of the Humility of Mary Community, are called to listen to the Spirit in our changing world, and, like Mary, to live the Gospel message in simplicity, humility and joy. As pioneer people with diverse personalities and energies, we share the fullness of life with all we meet, especially the poor and those in need.”
Sister Mousel said the CHM associates “have been our partners in ministry in various ways.” Many associates have been closely involved with Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat in Wheatland over the years, including chairing its advisory committee. “Whatever our associates are involved in, whether it is a specific ministry, or their family lives, they share the CHM charism with the people they are in contact with, just by being who they are. They widen the CHM circle.”
Helen Schlitz has been a CHM associate since 2010. Asked to lead a day of reflection with the associates, she was impressed by the strong, gifted, diverse individuals she met. “Previously, I knew nothing about them,” she said of her first experiences with the sisters and associates. “I began learning about the sisters and the more I learned, the more I liked them — so much talent, independence, commitment and joy!” She has been a co-leader of the associate program in the past, “but my greatest joy is just praying with the sisters, then sharing lunch and conversation.” She said it is an honor to help the CHMs carry on their mission and charisms of care for the people of God and care for God’s earth.
Sisters and associates gathered last month to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the associate program at the Humility of Mary Center in Davenport and through Zoom for a day of prayer, song, remembrance and reflection. Longtime CHM associates honored during the day included Sue Witte, Mary Martin Lane, Jim and Mary McCue, and Jean and Anthony Luke. During the celebration, the group explored the gift of communal charism for the sake of the world, and commitment to the associate way of life as a charism/gift for the church.
Sister Mousel believes the associate program appeals to laypeople because “many are searching for meaning in their lives. They are looking for support in their spiritual journey, and have a desire to serve others. And if the CHM spirit and mission is something that resonates with them, associates and sisters find kindred spirits in one another.”
Learn more about the CHM associate program at https://www.chmiowa.org/join/
associates or contact a CHM associate co-leader at (563) 323-9466 or firstname.lastname@example.org.