The Companions of Jesus the Good Shepherd held their biennial three-day gathering at the Province Center last month, with 11 Companions and five Sisters attending. Sister Barbara Beasley facilitated their one-day spiritual retreat. The rest of the time was spent in mission discussions, business sessions, prayer and Mass.
As part of their gathering, the Companions discussed the wounds of the world and shared their thoughts and feelings about what concerns them most. Injustice, degradation of the environment, violence and the misuse of power by those in authority sprang up quickly. Others expressed concern about the lack of reconciliation between family members, the marginalization and human trafficking of people and greed that feeds off of others to create so much misery in the world. They then spoke about what they are doing in their own communities to help bring about change.
The Companions are spiritual women who share the Good Shepherd values and live the charism daily in their homes and social environments. Bernadette “Bernie” Bates was the first woman to join the Companions in 1983. Today there are approximately 30 Companions, with three women currently in the process of joining.
Bernie said, “During the gathering we look at our past to remember on whose shoulders we stand. This puts us in a place where we can see what we’ve become. It also allows us to see that what we have dedicated our lives to has been punctuated with God’s presence, whether it’s caring for the environment, fighting human trafficking or working to end violence against women. God has been present in my history and the chances are pretty good that He will be there for me in the future.”
Barbara Holscher is a former Good Shepherd Sister who left the order as a Postulant after the Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II. For years after leaving the order she missed the spirituality and camaraderie of nuns. About a decade ago Good Shepherd Sister Jane Elligan suggested to Barbara that she might consider becoming a Companion of Jesus the Good Shepherd to rekindle her bond with Good Shepherd.
A Companion for eight years now, Barbara said, “I cherish the bond of our community of Companions. Every two years we reconnect and get together for spiritual retreat with Sisters. It’s like a family reunion.”
What is a Companion?
Saint Mary Euphrasia, foundress of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd — more commonly known as Sisters of the Good Shepherd, had many trusted lay people she relied upon as advisors and partners. Today the Province of Mid-North America continues to value and depend on mission partners such as the Companions of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
The Companions are a private association of Catholic women who choose a consecrated way of life that is grounded in Good Shepherd spirituality. Companions don’t live with one another in community the way women religious do. They live independently and share within their personal social environments the gift that flows from God’s love to humans.
“We each carry out the Good Shepherd charism in our own way in our daily lives. For me, helping people who were abused in childhood is where I put my love in action,” said Barbara Holscher.
“I also help people understand the importance of counting their blessings, because it is important to give thanks to God for all we have,” Barbara said.
Companions seek to walk a path marked out by St. Mary Euphrasia and in mutuality with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Responding to the call of the Gospel, Companions make a formal commitment to live simply, love faithfully and listen attentively to the Spirit as they seek to be and bring the compassionate love of God to the world. Most Companions express this call in the context of zeal, a fourth vow that the Sisters of the Good Shepherd take in addition to the vows of poverty obedience and chastity. Other Companions feel called to commit through a private promise of chastity, poverty or obedience.
Many of the Companions are former nuns who left their orders after Vatican II. Most went on to marry and have families. However, over the years they missed having close ties with Sisters and longed for Good Shepherd spirituality and community. Other Companions never felt the call for religious life but have the charism. Taking promises tied to religious vows allows Companions to dedicate their lives to sharing God’s love.
The Companions will hold a special ceremony and Mass at the next gathering in 2017 for the three women who are currently in discernment about joining the Companions. If they are ready to commit, they will take their vows as a Companion at that time.