By Megan Mio, Associate of the Congregation of St. Joseph
Most people don’t know what it means when they learn that I am an Associate of the Congregation of St. Joseph. I usually explain that it doesn’t mean I will become a sister someday! Rather, it means that I have made a commitment: In response to the great love of God, I live and work to bring all into unity with God, one another, and with all of creation. We Associates collaborate and engage
with the Sisters of St. Joseph and others to fulfill our mission.
Becoming an Associate has led me to see more of what religious life looks like today. Women religious have a profound commitment to mission, to living in community, and to leadership. In my mind, these three values come together most clearly in the concept of shared leadership.
This was a new idea for me, someone who was used to hierarchical church structures and the usual concepts of authority, and perhaps most especially because I am the director of the Archdiocese of Chicago Global Mission Office. Nonetheless, I am fascinated by this prophetic and wholistic form of leadership and mission.
The spirituality of the Congregation of St. Joseph focuses on the unifying and reconciling love of God that moves us to share that love with our “dear neighbor without distinction.” We often reflect on the Gospel of John, in which Jesus prays, “So that they may all be one.” We are carrying on the mission of Jesus, praying and living in such a way that all of God’s creatures will be ONE.
As an Associate, I participate in various “circles” made up of gatherings of Sisters and Associates for prayer, work, and visioning. I meet on a monthly basis with my conversation circle, and we follow our spiritual practice of “Sharing the State of the Heart” and “Order of the House.” In these times of prayer, we bring our whole selves to the circle, just as we are and however we feel. God is alive in all of it. And a key element of this spiritual practice is to LISTEN with reverence and attentiveness to one another. Until we have heard from everyone, we cannot begin to discern the voice of God calling us to common action.
This communal or shared approach, as in our prayer life, also shows up in other places. When it comes to leadership for mission, we use the phrase “shared leadership” to mean something particular. It means that the Congregation of St. Joseph does not have a mother superior; instead, we have a Congregational Leadership Team of five vowed women. Each serves with equally shared authority. The members of the team do not have specific roles and instead must come to know one another well enough to determine who will take on responsibilities and be complementary in their gifts and skills. This leadership team is responsible to the whole congregation and must engage us through visioning, planning, and decision-making.
This is hard work! We Associates have tried to live into shared leadership, too. This means checking in regularly. It means listening, engagement from the beginning, dialogue, empathy, clear communication, lots of time, and sometimes disappointment and frustration. But this is the only way that the whole can live and minister as ONE.
I participated in our congregation’s General Chapter gathering earlier this year to observe the shared leadership process firsthand. The Chapter began one year before we gathered in person, with Zoom calls during which we learned about the realities of our world and reflected on our call to stand with and for the poor and vulnerable and to advocate for systemic change. We gave feedback each time and slowly formed our hearts for the in-person gathering at which Sisters would make decisions about the future of the Congregation, Associates would discuss our responsibilities for the mission and charism, and our staff would be more deeply formed. I was moved observing the Sisters reverently voting for the next leadership team. I was also impressed with how much was mutually shared with us Associates and the lay staff. We had all been gathered and engaged in this mission of unity. We need one another for
It seems to me that this shared leadership is both a method and an outcome. Our congregation is serious about communal approaches to ministry and advocacy. We value acting together, with partners and in the context of our diverse world. We commit to how we do that in “Sharing the State of the Heart,” our leadership structure, and in how we make decisions as a congregation. At the same time, this shared leadership is a glimpse of the Most Holy Trinity! We are experiencing the struggles and joys of being ONE. We are continuing the mission of the Christ by being who we are in relationship and in freedom together.
Dr. Megan Mio has been an Associate of the Congregation of St. Joseph since 2010. She lives and works in the city of Chicago, IL. Megan is the Director of the Global Mission Office in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and has worked in diocesan mission ministry for ten years. She has a Master of Divinity from the University of Chicago and a Doctorate of Divinity from the Catholic Theological Union, with a concentration in Hispanic ministry and theology.
This article was originally published in the July issue of Encounter, the newsletter of USCMA (United States Catholic Mission Association).