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Service group discontinued

John Tierney | Wednesday, December 6, 2006

At its triennial meeting in June of 2006, the Indiana chapter of the Congregation of Holy Cross decided to discontinue its lay service organization – the Holy Cross Associates (HCA) – after 27 years of existence.

Father Gary Chamberland, Holy Cross task force director and a visiting professor of theology at Notre Dame, says the HCA was discontinued for practical reasons.

“We have concerns over the program’s financial balance and its appeal,” he said.

Chamberland cited the program’s limited number of applicants – only 12 to the domestic program by the March deadline for the HCA’s report to the chapter – as a sign that it possibly has run its course.

HCA Acting Director Steve Holte – who made it clear that it was the Congregation’s decision to suspend the HCA, not his – disagrees.

“What Father Chamberland said might be true about the Chile program, but it’s not true about the domestic program.”

Holte acknowledged that financial balance is always hard to achieve in a volunteer program, but he disputed Chamberland’s claim that the HCA has limited appeal.

“We can always take more associates,” he said. Currently, Holte said, there are 14 domestic associates in the HCA.

According to Holte, the primary reason for the discontinuation – which he called temporary – by the HCA was a need for “closer ties to the ministry and mission of the Holy Cross.”

“I can’t speak for the Holy Cross, but we’re under the assumption that they want to renew ties with us and reenergize their interactions with the associates,” Holte said.

Holte insisted, however, that “everything is tied to the Holy Cross community.”

The HCA is primarily connected to the greater Congregation of Holy Cross through its “co-facilitators” – a Holy Cross priest and a lay alumna of the program. These co-facilitators attend one dinner each week at the associate house and help associates “draw personal meaning from their daily activities,” according to Holte.

Associate houses are located in local communities that have a strong Holy Cross presence, and Associates are encouraged to get involved in the local Holy Cross parish as lectors, Eucharistic ministers and cantors.

Despite the decision, Chamberland believes there is a future for lay service in the Congregation of Holy Cross.

“We’re viewing the HCA as going on a one-year hiatus after this year. We’ve discontinued the program with the hope that something that encourages lay service will get resurrected,” he said. “Most probable is that we’ll have some sort of one-year service program, like it has been, but re-envisioned.”

Both Holte and Chamberland agreed that the pending discontinuation of the HCA does not invalidate the past 27 years of work that the program has done.

“We praise the efforts of the HCA and we believe there are good things in place, but it’s time to assess the program’s direction,” Chamberland said.

The Associate program, which attracts participants in their first few years out of college, focuses on four basic “pillars” of community, service, spirituality and simple living. These pillars shape the daily experience of the associates during their yearlong commitment as active members of the program.

Despite the arrest of long-term commitment from the Congregation of the Holy Cross, Holte expects current commitment to remain.

“Our level of support to associates in the field won’t change, and I hope that the Holy Cross’ level of support to us won’t change either,” he said.

The associate community is still unsure of the direction that the Holy Cross will take to continue its commitment to lay service.

“We’re still just trying to figure out what exactly the chapter wants from us,” Holte said.

Chamberland, who served as an associate from 1984 to 1985, wants to see a Holy Cross lay service program continue in some form.

“My time as an associate was one of the strongest periods of formation in my life,” he said.