New Partnerships in Faith

Communication Centers

For the Wheaton Franciscans, the period of 1968 through 1983 was characterized by new partnerships in faith, life, and ministry. In 1968, the Sisters opened Bridge Communication Center in Wheaton and John XXIII Center in Denver. The Centers were gathering places for prayer and exploration on how to bring the Gospel to the world in more effective ways. This Sisters understood this as a call to meet a new need in this new time.   

The Centers were intended to reach out to people of all ages and faiths, especially the young, with a message of acceptance and belonging. They were a gathering place for people seeking others to “pray, to learn, and to act together.” The Bridge Communication Center offered retreats, workshops and programs for children, young adults, and adults. A coffeehouse and live music offered a safe place to socialize. The community’s recognition of a need for improved outreach and communication became a new ministry focus that led to the development of the Christine Center in Willard, Wisconsin in 1980, and to Collaborative Ministries (now Tau Center) in Wheaton, Illinois.

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 Deepening Relationships

Out of the experiences of greater outreach and communication, new bonds of friendship developed between the sisters and lay persons. As early as 1969, the Wheaton Franciscans began exploring ways for laywomen to be associated with the community. The first program explored was “some type of temporary service for women.” In 1970, the COMSERVE program began as a practical realization of this movement. COMSERVE was an acronym for a theme: Community, Opportunity, Meaning, Service, Experience, Response, and Vitality. Sr. Theresa Langfield served as coordinator of the program. COMSERVE continued through 1974. 

Exploration of alternatives to vowed membership continued as the number of people asking for association with the Wheaton Franciscans increased. In 1978, the Provincial Assembly affirmed the stance of openness to association with the laity. Sisters Mary Lou Wirtz and Marge Zulaski took responsibility for exploring this new form of relationship. Working with them were nine women and 1 man interested in a formal relationship with the community.  

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Preparing for the Future

In October 2013, covenant members joined with the vowed community to:

  • Appreciate the blessings that brought us to that moment
  • Explore our relationship as Vowed and Covenanted Franciscans today.
  • Envision next steps for our ongoing evolution as Covenanted and Vowed Wheaton Franciscans.

In late November 2013, the Provincial Council invited all covenant and vowed members to participate in exploring the futures of covenant relationship. Seventeen people came forward and made a commitment to meet monthly. In recognition of the evolution of the Associate movement, Provincial Council provided the following “intentions” for the covenant membership interest circle:

  • To articulate the current purpose of covenant membership.
  • To offer self-sustainable models of covenant membership in order to consciously move into the future.

A new name emerged as the Interest Circle was exploring the purpose of this form of belonging. The Covenant Interest Circle recognized that the words “covenant companion/companionship” more fully described the relationship among Wheaton Franciscans. This led to the development of an Intention Statement that continues to guide this form of belonging.