For the laity, discipleship may take many forms. For some, it means connecting life and faith as lay associates — or members of a secular order —who feel called by the charism, mission and ministry of a particular religious congregation.

Not all religious congregations have associates, but those that do, like the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, have varying programs of formation for associates who are involved in the life of the order in different ways.

Sister of Mercy Joanne LaFreniere, co-director of the Vermont Mercy Associates, explained that, prior to becoming an associate, “pre-associates engage in a year of meetings and sessions with the co-directors of the Mercy Associates, as well as interact with associates and sisters throughout the year in a variety of activities.” At the end of the time, these men and women sign a covenant agreeing to share in the lives of the Sisters of Mercy through prayer, community and ministry in the spirit of Catherine McAuley, foundress of the order.

Mercy associates respond to Jesus’ call to serve those who are poor, sick and uneducated through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, lived within the unique responsibilities of their daily lives.

At the end of 2018 there were 78 Mercy Associates.

Marie Moore, director of the Vermont Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph Associates, along with associate Tom Brennan and Dennis Moore, regional coordinator, described the work of the RHSJ associates, who currently number 17 in Vermont and 350 internationally: “We are lay persons following the inspiration of our founders from France in the 1600’s. We follow a charism of caring for the sick, poor and spiritual poor.”

Vermont associates volunteer at Martha’s Kitchen in St. Albans and the Salvation Army in Burlington and collect coats for the homeless.

They visit nursing homes, a respite house and shut-ins, most often distributing Communion and praying with residents. Vermont associates are involved internationally by working in the Dominican Republic building houses and providing medical supplies, equipment and medications.

Marie Moore continued, “The Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph provide a liaison support to the regional groups as well as spiritual support. The RHSJ sisters also provide structure and material for associate formation. They sponsor workshops and training sessions for the regional coordinators.”

For the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, Massachusetts, there are currently 75 women and men who are associates, with approximately 18 living in Vermont, said Sue Lavoie, director of associates.

“Associates live their lives with their families and in their communities,” Lavoie explained. “They carry the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph, uniting neighbor with neighbor and neighbor with God, with them in all they do. They are active in their parishes, in their communities, working at soup kitchens, food pantries and nursing homes. They are expected to spend some time in daily prayer which unites them with the religious community.”

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield welcome associates to all community gatherings — for meetings, celebrations and other special events. “They are supportive of the associates and consider them an important part of the religious community,” she said.

Third Order, or Secular, Carmelites are an integral part of the Discalced Carmelite Order, said member Cathy Birong. As members of the secular order, lay people —married or single —undergo formation and make promises of chastity, poverty and obedience as they develop their spirituality in line with the Carmelites.

“The heart of the Carmelite charism is prayer and contemplation,” Birong said. “The goal of Carmelite life is union with God. We seek to live in God’s presence. Our community apostolate is to pray for priests and vocations to the priesthood and religious life.”

In addition to the religious community apostolate, associates live the Carmelite charism in the world, “in our families and professional lives, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, wherever God calls us,” she said.

“We are assisted in our vocation by our Carmelite friars and nuns, following the Rule of St. Albert, and the constitutions and statues of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites,” said Birong, who noted that their Vermont community includes 17 members, while the Washington, D.C., Province to which they belong has 3,478 members in 145 communities.

For more information contact: Marie Moore, RHSJ associates,, 802-324-3879; Sue Lavoie, SSJ associates,, 413-536-0853, ext. 408; Sister Joanne Lafreniere, Mercy Associates,, 802-658-5494; or Cathy Birong, OCDS,, 802-879-7818.

Originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.