Kevin Elphick’s commitment to his Catholic upbringing and to life-long learning about his faith is evident in his education and current career. His teachers in elementary school were Sisters of St. Joseph. At Steubenville University, he was taught by Franciscan Friars, and he has two master’s degrees — one in religious studies, another in Franciscanism from St.Bonaventure University. He holds a doctorate in ministry and currently serves as supervisor of a crisis hotline for veterans. At one point, he entered a seminary in Rochester.
“I left because I found that I didn’t have that calling,” Elphick says. “But there are all sorts of paths to serve.”
Elphick found his path as an Associate of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann
Communities (SOSF). Associates are lay people who make a public commitment to a religious order but who are not vowed members.
Even as vocations to vowed religious life decline, more men and women look to deepen their spirituality by becoming Associates. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) estimates there were 35,000 Associates in the U.S. in 2016, up 40 percent in 15 years. Sister Helen Hofmann heads the SOSF Associate program.
“At first, our program was about helping people who were looking for greater spiritual depth. Service was never promoted; it was about being present with the Sisters,” she says. “Another goal was to give Associates tools and enrichment in Franciscan values so they can share them with their parishes, their families and out in their workplaces. It’s what we always talk about — Franciscans share the Gospel by what we do rather than by preaching. As Francis said, ‘preach the Gospel and if necessary, use words.’”
SOSF Associates spend a year learning about Saints Francis and Clare through 10 lessons that the Sisters teach before making a three-year commitment. They continue their studies each year by covering five topics laid out in a formation guide. There are retreats for Advent and Lent, and of course, social activities with the Sisters. Associates help Sisters with writing letters and addressing Christmas cards; they manage the Gift Shop located at Franciscan Villa in Syracuse, New York where the Sisters live. Associates volunteer at the congregation’s sponsored ministry for the terminally ill, at a soup kitchen in western New York, and a center for women without homes or who face an unplanned pregnancy.
Elphick created and manages the associates’ Facebook page so they can stay connected between meetings. He volunteers at a food pantry and health clinic the sisters manage in Syracuse. He is a member of the congregation’s Peace and Justice Committee and marched with the Sisters through downtown Syracuse during a demonstration for immigrant rights. “It was nice being in solidarity with the sisters during that walk. It’s so important to put our faith and our Franciscan values into action,” he says. “I especially liked the Sisters’ banner, ‘Sisters to All.’”
Elphick hopes to expand Associates’ responsibilities in sharing Franciscan values as fewer men and women take religious vows. He and Sister Margaret Carney are members of the Charism Community for the Franciscan Federation, a national organization of Franciscan friars and sisters working to address the challenges facing Franciscan congregations — aging populations, declining enrollment and relevance in today’s increasingly secular world. “There is a movement in the country to have Associates attend the next Federation conference to discuss how Associates can play a bigger role in the future of the Third Order of Franciscans,” he says. “It’s very exciting.”
Sister Helen says she encourages Associates to solicit new members, as current Associates’ demographics reflect the Sister community. “We share brochures with parishes and Associates recruit others by talking about the program, telling others what they do and how it makes them feel.” Elphick says it’s up to the individual to determine how active to be.
“You can be an Associate at whatever level of commitment is right for you,” he says. “The spirit of Clare and Francis can be lived out in many ways, so you can find the way and the time that works for you.”
If you would like to learn more about our associate program, go to our website at www.sosf.org and click on the “Join Us” dropdown.
Article from Franciscan Spirit – Report of appreciation for the Year 2019