The first group of Associates-to-be in England were invited by members of the Team in June 2014, beginning with individuals who had had a long association with the Congregation. They included former teacher-colleagues of Sisters and former Head Teachers of Schools previously run by Sisters, parishioners where Sisters had worked, and relatives or friends of individual Sisters who are close friends of the Congregation. Working with a small group of individuals who already had some familiarity with the Dominican charism, and a close relationship with the Congregation, allowed the Team to build a programme of Formation to suit their needs, and to map a way forward before extending the invitation more widely.
The Team established a programme of bi-monthly meetings and an annual Retreat, as well as opportunities to meet Sisters socially and join Communities for Prayer. The Associates meet at the Niland Conference Centre at Rosary Priory which affords a convenient location at the heart of the Congregation.
Each meeting includes an element of Dominican prayer, as well as input on topics such as Dominican Life and Spirituality, the History of the Dominican Order and our own Congregation, particularly Mother Rose Niland, our Dominican Saints, and our charism. The Associates have also been introduced to the Divine Office (new to some although not to all!) in particular to Night Prayer, which has a special place in our tradition.
The first Associates’ Retreat was given by Father Gregory Pearson in June 2015. It included a ritual of Commitment at which six Associates made their commitment to model the Dominican way of life, to preach the Gospel in their family, workplace, parish and local community and to continue their Dominican formation for one year. This commitment is renewed annually at the Associates’ Retreat.
The group has continued to grow, and at the UK pre-Chapter in June, 2016, Maureen Roe was invited to speak about her experience as an Associate and the group’s vision for going forward. In December, the General Chapter of the Congregation affirmed the work of establishing Associates and outlined a process for carrying it forward.
There are currently some 24 Associates of the Congregation. Each one continues their spiritual journey at their own personal pace. The structure of each one’s commitment to and involvement with the Congregation is worked out individually.
In November 2018, the Associates entered a new chapter, as they move towards a lay-led structure by electing a Leader, Maureen Roe, and two Team members, Jane Gonzales and Monika Cleaver.
Plans for growth and outreach include the establishment of parish-based groups of Associates, beginning with parishes in which Sisters have ministered. This process began at the start of the new Liturgical Year in Advent 2018. Parish Groups will commit to the Dominican charism, growth in adult faith, and passion for evangelisation. Another initiative is to begin Associates’ groups for young people in Dominican Schools, and for Staff who are interested. The Schools’ Committee met in May 2018 with heads of a number of local Dominican Schools, all of which are eager to deepen their understanding of the Dominican Charism and encourage the spiritual growth of all their members, Staff and Students alike.
As Mother Rose said to her Sisters, so aptly, Courage, forward… God is waiting for us.