Commitment Ceremony for Associate Candidates, Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois, Sacred Heart Convent Chapel. Streamed live May 1, 2022. [YouTube at springfieldop.] Debi and I read our commitment statements at 41:15-43:40.

About 15 years ago, Debi and I were talking about our lifestyle, and one of us — I don’t remember who, and it doesn’t matter because we complete each other’s sentences anyway — said we were as poor as churchmice. I thought about it a second or two, and I added something like, “you know what?, we are churchmice.” At the time Debi was working for a faith-based 501c3, and I was teaching at Benedictine, and — to my surprise — it fit.

At the beginning of May, we took another step in that surprising journey. Debi and I were accepted as associates of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield.

We’ve long admired their contribution to the larger community, including several not-for-profits Debi has worked for and the Lutheran parish we belong to. And when we learned you don’t have to be Catholic to be a Dominican associate, we jumped at the opportunity. So we enrolled in a nine-month program of faith formation and discernment for candidates. It culminated May 1 with a commitment ceremony at the motherhouse.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around what it means now to be a Dominican associate, but even going through the formation process has been life-changing.

“Dominican Associates,” according to the Dominican Life | USA website, “are Christian women and men; married, single, divorced, and widowed; clergy members and lay persons who were first drawn to and then called to live out the charism and continue the mission of the Dominican Order – to praise, to bless, to preach.”

Just about anyone, in other words, as long as they hear that call.

Lay people who are active in their Catholic parishes or schools predominate in our formation class of 2022, for example. But there’s ample precedent for non-Catholic associates. One is Kathleen Norris, a poet, essayist and Benedictine oblate (equivalent to a Dominican associate) leads services as a lay member of her Presbyterian and Episcopal churches in South Dakota and Hawaii. As a self-proclaimed “spiritual mutt,” I’ve considered her a good role model ever since I encountered her poetry 20-25 years ago when I was teaching freshman English as a spiritual-but-not-religious lay faculty member at a Catholic liberal arts college.

Associates in different Dominican congregations have different ways of doing things, according to Dominican Life | USA, so I can’t speak for anyone else. But for now I think it’s enough for me to keep doing what I’m already doing while I learn more about the Dominican charism, but do more of it — and do it more intentionally.

The word charism means a gift of the Spirit, but in practice it seems to combine elements of a mission statement and what we called our vision or core values in academic life. The Dominicans are known as the Order of Preachers, and, as I interpret it, that means we’re called as associates to more intentionally “preach from the pulpit from our lives” (to quote an aphorism I especially like) or to set an example of the Dominican values, or “pillars,” of study, prayer, community and service. I like to think of it as a gift that keeps on giving.

Our Mission Statement in Springfield puts it like this:

We, Dominican Associates of Springfield, Illinois
are called to
embody the Dominican charism,
hear and proclaim God’s word, and
promote the dignity of all persons.

We commit ourselves to lives rooted in
prayer, study, community and ministry.
Through our gifts of diversity,
we strive to participate in the mission
of the church
by putting into action our call
to preach the word with our lives.

Toward the end of the formation and discernment process, we drafted commitment statements — Debi’s is posted to her blog Seriously Seeking Answers, and mine is copied below. We read them aloud at the May 1 ceremony in the Sacred Heart chapel (standing beside me in the picture is my sponsor, Sr. Bernice Juip OP; in the background is a gorgeous mosaic featuring St. Dominic, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Thomas Aquinas and other Dominican role models).

My commitment statement says: I, Peter Ellertsen, responding to my Baptismal call, desire to share in the spirit and mission of you, the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois. I agree to join you in preaching the Word and witnessing Gospel values by:

  • Co-facilitating faith formation and bible study meetings over Zoom at my parish,  Peace Lutheran Church of Springfield; and seeking other opportunities to expand our outreach by electronic means.
  • Being guided by the Dominican pillars of prayer, study and ministry, as I maintain my spiritual formation blog for a diverse ecumenical and secular readership; and seeking opportunities to publish my research on immigrant church history.
  • Deepening my understanding of the Dominican charism, especially by learning more about the Laudato Si’ Platform, Jubilee Farm and other initiatives of the Springfield Dominican Sisters; and contributing as needed to all of those initiatives.
  • Continuing to work on my prayer life, becoming more aware of the presence of God in my life and deepening my connection with the Springfield Dominican community as I continue spiritual direction with Dominican Sisters.

A tall order, but one, I’m beginning to suspect already, can help keep me centered in my day-to-day-life if I stick to it.

[Published May 12, 2022]

2 thoughts on “Another step in a spiritual mutt’s surprising journey — committing as a Dominican associate

    1. Why thank you! I’ve always had a soft spot for St. Francis — I grew up in a little town where the Forestry Division of the TVA was located, so they named our Episcopal parish for him — and now I really, really like what I’ve read so far of Franciscan authors like Richard Rohr and Ilia DiLeo.

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