Editors’ Note: We’ve devoted a set of articles to examining Catholic religious communities today. Despite the impressive variety of these communities, some common themes emerge: the importance of a shared prayer life; the difficulty of adapting to new circumstances; the relationship of community to place. To read all the articles, see the entire collection, The Varieties of Religious Community Today.
Pope Francis’s call for all of the baptized to be part of the upcoming synodal process has been inspiring to many Catholics, if frustrating for those who feel their bishops could be doing more to get things going. But in bringing forward the voices of the lay faithful, the Holy Spirit hasn’t waited for the hierarchy. The Church believes in this inspired renewal so deeply that it has extended specific recognition to the International Associations of the Faithful: “Even a cursory glance at the history of the Church reveals the magnitude of the work performed by these associations at crucial moments in its existence, and the wealth of charisms generated in all ages by lay movements created for the renewal of the Christian life.” The International Organization of Marianist Lay Communities is one such organization.
I have never been a parish Catholic as an adult, although the local parish was where I seemed to spend most of my time until the age of eighteen. Living in Corpus Christi, Texas, we often attended daily Mass and first Friday Adoration, as well as Marian rosaries and special events. By the 1980s, I was well versed in the post–Vatican II Church and was even part of our diocesan Tercer Encuentro team (and at age ten, the only kid). In El Paso, where I spent summers before moving there when I was thirteen, I was influenced by a young and brilliant pastor at St. Pius X Catholic community named Arturo Bañuelas. When I spent time at my grandmother’s home and we couldn’t get to church, we’d watch a televised Mass from the cathedral in San Antonio, celebrated by Fr. Virgilio Elizondo. I would be greatly influenced by these founders of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS)—yet it wasn’t a Catholic Hispanic parish where the Holy Spirit led me.
Instead, I found the Marianists. It began in my senior year of high school with a visit to the campus of St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Within minutes, I knew that this place was calling me. A sophomore named Nancy took me under her wing, bought me lunch, and told me about the residence hall she lived in—a Christian Life Community (CLC) hall. When I returned that fall to begin my freshman year, I joined a CLC, and through weekly meetings grew to know Br. Roger Bau, our Marianist mentor. The following summer, I was asked to participate in a program called “Explore Marianist Life” with the Marianist Sisters. Their limitless energy was inspiring, but I did not have that vocation. Still, I had made friends with the sisters (some of whom are still part of my daily life), and between them, the CLC, and a group of lay Marianists, my Marianist world kept expanding.