Dee Nelson walked the streets of downtown Springfield, Ill., offering to tutor prostitutes and wound up renovating a building into a safe house for them to live in. Mary O’Connor lived a week at a shelter for homeless women and their children and continues as a regular volunteer. Hans Hallundbaek gave up a jet-setting career to feed homeless people in New York City and teach maximum security prison inmates.
All three are lay members of religious communities. And all three are included in a book that details the stories of 13 people whose extraordinary efforts illustrate the commitment and dedication coming to light in the growing movement of religious associates.
The book, recently published by alumni, presents these stories against a backdrop of data showing the associate movement in the Catholic Church is in a revolutionary phase. Associates are auxiliary members of a religious order and do ministerial work without becoming nuns or priests. They’re increasingly important as the number of priests and nuns continues to decline. A survey conducted in 2000 found 27,400 associates in service and 2.700 in formation.
“We wrote the book because people don’t know the movement exists,” says Sister Carren Herring, a member of the Sisters of Mercy and a 1964 Edgecliff graduate. “It’s not just more hands to do the work, it’s more hearts to build the community.” Herring collaborated with Kathleen Wade, a 1965 graduate, and Gertrude Stefanko, a 1961 and 1972 graduate, to write the book,Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives: The Associate Movement in Religious Communities.
“God knows that the needs of the world are too big for religious alone to meet, no matter how many there are,” writes Sister Carren in the foreword. The book, which sells for $17.95, is available from OPEL Press of Cincinnati.