By: Patty Johnson

Nonverbal communication is used to create helpful bridges among those who speak different languages

[This article was originally written for the Religious Formation Conference]

For the US Federation of the Sisters of St Joseph, ongoing formation is an unfolding and evolving process of responding to God’s call. It is a continuation of the initial commitment and expands our understanding and expression of the charism and spirituality of the Sisters of St Joseph. That understanding and expression changes, grows, and deepens through all the stages of life.

The US Federation of the Sisters of St Joseph is going through major changes that will better situate us to effectively live and share our charism into the future. Our membership has expanded from being limited to sisters to including associates, agrégées, partners in mission, St Joseph Worker Communities and others who share the charism. This dramatic change has caused us to reexamine the mission, values, and vision of the organization and has played a role in the way we view ongoing formation.

With this in mind, the US Federation of the Sisters of St Joseph prepares cycles of programming, using various means of delivery. We have used a "train the trainer" model to introduce three programs across our federation over the last three years: "The Lace in Not Finished," "Walk with Wisdom," and "Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management." 

Sr. Jane DeLisle created and taught the "Lace Is Not Finished" program

"The Lace is Not Finished" has prepared over 70 trainers throughout the US and Canada. This program encourages participants to compare today’s reality to the founding time of our congregation in 1650 and engage the essence of the charism for deeper integration into one’s life in the future, encountering anew the founding grace. Participants share their reflections together.

"Walk with Wisdom" helps participants more fully integrate their spirituality with their justice practices. This six-module series available on our website comes complete with 20-minute video presentations for each module, prayers, and processes. A presenter’s manual guides those offering the program. Click here for the link to this program.

The third program addresses "Cultural Diversity and Conflict Management." This program was prepared by the international family of the Sisters of St Joseph. Seven US trainers offer the program in various settings.

As we prepare for our next two-year cycle (2019-2020), we have three committees working to develop programming and resources in three new areas, "Creating Welcoming Communities," "Enlivening the Charism," and "Welcoming New Members."

The materials and programs being developed will enliven the charism and build relationships of mutuality that move us into a future together, creating communities of hospitality without walls (non-residential). These committees are working to develop study guides that could be used by local communities, clusters, associates, and agrégées with simple facilitation. We also hope to have weekend programs, videoconferences and immersion experiences in local areas or service opportunities that bring people together.

A view of some of the handbooks we've developed

For some time the issue of the unavailability of vital communities for newer members has been a recurring concern. This committee will reflect deeply on the needs and hopes of women entering our congregations. They will consider new models of community living that are especially sensitive to the needs of those under 50 years of age, those of different cultures, and the physical space needs for a vital intergenerational community. They will develop and offer tools, workshops, mentoring, and consultation for communities so they can develop vital places to send new members to live.

Lastly, over the last three years, we have developed a series of "Best Practice Handbooks" and tools consistent with our Unified Vision of Life Long Formation. Our new ongoing formation handbook guides the development of our programming, tools, and resources.

These ongoing formation resources help us prepare for a bold new future rooted in our charism and responsive to our mission.

[Patty Johnson is the executive director of the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph]