Introduction by Amy McFrederick OP:
During our July Assembly in Columbus Associates Morris and Debbie Stilson received the tragic news that their grandson had died. As the news spread through the Assembly, all hearts were one with them in their grief, praying with and for them. One of the most moving moments was when the next day despite their loss, they stood before the Assembly during the Associates’ panel and to share with Dominican Sisters of Peace and Associates how they live out our 4th Chapter Commitment: To create welcoming communities, inviting others to join us as vowed members, associates, volunteers, and partners in our mission to be the Holy Preaching. As they paused a few times in silent tears and loving support of each other, there was a felt sense of solidarity and unity. Below is their mutual sharing.
Dominican Sisters of Peace and Associates Together in Mission by Assiocates Morris and Debbie Stilson
Debbie, my wife, and I, Morris Stilson, are both retired from combined 70 years of employment with New York State and are very active associates in the Niskayuna area. Debbie made her initial commitment in 1997 and I made my first two-year commitment last August.
The Dominican Retreat and Conference Center was an integrated community before the Associate program came into play (in 1997-98) as far as volunteers working with the house in all different capacities and connecting with retreatants; and Associates evolved from that forum.
We extended an invitation to volunteer with us in one capacity, become more involved with us in a spiritual life, and thus created a set environment for that to happen – community, study, ministry. It became stronger. There were still volunteers, retreatants, associates and sisters. If someone is invited and it doesn’t work out, that person says “it’s not for me,” they can still be connected. It’s their choice to stay on as a retreatant.
People come to a retreat and by the end of it a relationship is formed. Their gifts/talents were recognized and they were invited to become part of the bigger picture. They became volunteers and stayed connected with the House doing various things. Once people are connected, they stay connected in whatever way they can. Associates were part of the Retreat Center’s ministry right from the beginning. Sr. Carolyn Krebbs created that environment right away.
Here are a few ways in which Dominican Sisters of Peace and Associates work together in fulfilling the Congregation’s 4th Chapter Commitment:
• 78 associates supported the congregation’s Corporate stance; 25 of these associates were from Niskayuna, New York.
• Associates supported the Corporate stance on Human Trafficking and the undesirable labor practices of Costco and Star Kist – 90% of the Niskayuna Associates signed postcards addressed to these companies.
• One Associate worked with a local radio station for free air time to enable Sr. Carol Davis to talk about the issue of Human Trafficking in New York State and what is being done on statewide and local government levels to address it.
Associates provide various services at the Dominican Retreat and Conference Center, including but not limited to:
• Registering retreatants
• Directing retreat programs
• Leading prayer services
• Joining the cooking staff
• Helping with grounds-keeping
• Assisting with transportation needs
• Acting as caregivers on special needs retreats
• Joining the Retreat Center’s music ministry
• Assisting with “More Than Just Desserts,” the Retreat Center’s main fundraiser of the year.
Associates provide administrative services on a weekly basis in the main office such as:
• Answering phones, doing data entry, updating computers, preparing program materials, maintaining the Retreat Center’s Facebook page, and sending annual appeal pledge reminders.
• Helping with quarterly bulk mailings, Sundaes on Sunday the annual Open House, and the Gift Shop.
Joint efforts by Sisters and Associates include:
• Sponsoring pot-luck events in December and June where Sisters, Associates, spouses and friends are all invited to attend, share great food, and experience the Associate world. This is where I got my first taste of the Associate Program.
• Praying as a community. The Sisters bring concerns to the Associates either via e-mail or our monthly meetings, and we hold the ministry and congregation in prayer.
• Providing music, housecleaning and other services during a weekend retreat for women discerners, as well as the Ministry of Welcome’s “Come and See” held at the Retreat Center.
• Working side-by-side during a high school retreat given at the Retreat Center where the Sisters talked about vocations and the vowed life, two spiritual directors talked about married life, and one of our Associates talked about the single life.
• Recommending the Associate program to clients and displaying the Associate brochures together with retreat brochures and other information in the Retreat Center’s lobby.
Without Associate volunteers in the many operations of retreat ministry, the ministry might not happen – at least not without additional cost.
Niskayuna area Dominican Sisters of Peace feel comfortable enough in their relationship with the Associates to propose ideas to them – and vice versa.
By preaching with our lives in whatever we are doing, we are a presence and that presence invites people to go deeper into themselves and open up to the Spirit presence. The Associates are vital in that presence. The retreatants see us first when they arrive for a retreat and we welcome them to spend some quality, relaxing, reflective time, whether for a short program, a weekend retreat or a week-long retreat. Retreatants feel welcome, at home and part of something bigger.
Looking at all of the places where Associates volunteer and partner with the Sisters, we are witnessing examples of lives lived in the Dominican charism which just might result in someone asking about vowed life, the Associate Program, or how to join us as volunteers and partners in our mission to be the Holy Preaching.