by Father Sebastian MacDonald, C.P.
The gestational period of the CPPs was between 1995 and 1999: two provincial chapters. In 1999 things began to gel.
Early progenitors were The Lay Collaboration Committee, then the Membership Committee. Working in between were the distillation committee and the refinement committee. The name Passionist Partner emerged in the 1996 fall regional days. A first board emerged in 1997. Sierra Madre and Detroit became the first incubators of the CPPs, in Jan. of 1998. Early laity names associated with the board were Mary Lou Butler, Kathy Luberski, Evan/Joan Evans, Bob/Nancy Link, Bob Smith, Manuel Valencia and Elaine Mickle, the first executive coordinator. As Chicago emerged, Penny Jaworski and Nancy Kremer were prominent. Dennis/Essie Reilly, Jim Paulin also contributed.
There was much initial enthusiasm and large groups in each of our places as we began to spread throughout the province, incrementally. Formation of candidates was of primary importance: the life and spirituality of Paul of the Cross, memory of the Passion, prayer and apostolate, outstanding CPs were the centerpiece.
Many of the early members were long-standing friends of the CPs. They had high expectations based on memories of “how it used to be”. The outstanding features of the CPPs were: the mission statement, the formation program, the covenant, lay leadership and CP membership. Monthly meetings were aimed at. Dues were collected to offset expenses, though the province contributed heavily to the salaries of the executive coordinators and the publication CHARISM. A board of directors remained in place with lay and CP membership.
The formation program extended over three years initially, with hopes and concerns about its extension beyond that. A typical monthly meeting consisted of: instruction, prayer and social. The venue of most meetings was a CP setting. Meetings usually lasted 2 to 3 hours, on various days of the week, usually weekends, and usually during the day. Renewal of the covenant was the highpoint of the year.
Some early enthusiasts faded away: the forms of prayer were unacceptable to some (shared prayer, mental prayer, paraliturgical settings); integrating new members into older long-standing relationships was difficult; lack of a group mission project was disappointing (though the covenant aimed at providing each individual with a sense of mission); unwillingness/inability to assume local leadership happened often; sometimes overly enthused local leaders proved divisive; the lack of intellectual substance in the presentations/conversations bothered some; disappointment in the lack of interest on the part of CPs was present; failure to develop a handbook for a way of life was disappointing.
These things were happening despite good leadership provided at the top, first, on the part of Elaine Mickle, then of Tim O’Brien. NACAR (North American Conference of Associates and Religious) praised the CPPs for being virtually unique on the continent in entrusting the running of the CPPs to the laity. All other groups had a member from among the professed religious as leader of the lay group. In addition, another aspect rather unique to the CPPs is that our covenantal commitment is not to the CPs, nor to God, but to one another (cf. the covenantal formula at the end of this paper.)
The CPPs opted for independence, both from the CPs, and also from ecclesiastical authority. For a number of years, they had the benefit of as newsletter to bond them together: CHARISM. But it has ceased publication. Some (a minority) groups sought their bonding in Episcopal approval. At any rate, many lay affiliates throughout the US have continued to do well, for one reason or another, while the CPPs have had their problems. The Eastern Province CPs have had fairly good success with their lay members, as have the Passionist Nuns in Whitesville KY.
While the professed CPs have not held governmental control over the CPPs, they have been encouraged, as already noted, to join, or at least participate in CPP activities, but to little avail. Many CPs have continued to exclaim they don’t understand what the CPPs are all about: are they a Third Order, or are they an extension of the century-old Confraternity of the Passion?
In addition to the failure to enlist CP interest in themselves, the CPPs have had trouble enlisting additional lay members, especially younger people (with the notable exception of Nashville). It is not clear whether this is because the originals have been too clannish, or just their failure to actively solicit new people. And the few who have come have frequently quit, likely because the intensive formation period of an earlier period was not followed through with them. Is this due to a lack of a group mission? Has the group become a discussion club? Has the venue for the meetings been unconducive to the kind of atmosphere needed for an adequate group formation experience?
While it is unpleasant to roll out these familiar criticisms, they may contain the secret of success. That is, if we accurately discern the real problem at issue, we are on the path to working toward a solution to these problems, and to a healthy and developing group of CPPs, which is what we all want, including the recent provincial chapter of this province, which asked the CPPs and the Office of Mission Effectiveness (OME) to form a task force “to review and evaluate the original role and purpose of the CPPs relative to its present functions and role in the Passionist family. Prior to the 2012 Assembly, recommendations for a renewed CPP identity will be presented to the Provincial and council”.
Can we do this? If so, how? Do we reach out to new and unexplored areas for our revitalization? Or do we stick with our tradition, trusting that it is solid and reliable, and simply needs to be adhered to better than we have done in the past. We recall our mission statement: “We are a group of lay men and women who, with vowed Passionists seek to share in the charism of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, through prayer and ongoing spiritual formation. And the profession of the message of Christ Crucified.”
And Our covenant formula reads:
I covenant with you, the Community of Passionist Partners, in the presence of God and witnessed by those present and specifically by a representative of the Congregation of the Passion, to foster and pursue the memory of the Lord’s Passion, as a member of the Community of Passionist Partners, in Accord with the spirit and vision of St. Paul of the Cross.
I pledge to do so within the CPPs, for a period of________________, taking part during this time in communal prayer and in the ongoing formation programs of the CPPs, and in the practice of personal prayer and spiritual direction.
In addition, during this time, I, __________________________________________________
Furthermore, as an expression of my love and support for my brothers and sisters, I will serve them in the common mission, participating in community gatherings and entering fully into the community life.
With the help of God, the intercession of the Saints, and the support of this community, I promise to fulfill this commitment.
Representing the Community of Passionist Partners, I gladly accept the covenant you make with us this day.
It seems that we have a rich mother lode here that can provide us all the elements we need to rise to the challenge facing us.
by Dan O’Donnell
In the past four years, the Partners have moved from a structured hierarchical community to a more organic bottom up community, that is decisions are made locally with the least amount of identified leadership. This was not done by design (at least as this author sees it) but by necessity. Tim O’Brien who led the Partners stepped down (relieved—I don’t know) and the financial support from the Provincial Office stopped. The moral support continued however especially in the persons of Father Arthur and then Fr. Jack. Support from local Professed like Fathers Peter and Sebastian in Chicago as well as Fr. Clemente in San Antonio continues to this day. These are the individual Professed I know of. I suspect there are many more.
At the last gathering of local community representatives held in Fall of 2010 in Chicago, members, hoping to keep communication between the communities going, using consensus, decided to meet monthly via Skype. Phil Morales (Sacramento), Ricardo Riojas (San Antonio) and Dan O’Donnell (Chicago) did this for about a year. While that kept the three communities in touch, it did not excite or involve the other communities.
In May of 2013 In hopes of engaging the wider community, Dan O’Donnell thought he would try a CPP Blog. Father Sebastian (Chicago) and Jim Paulin (Detroit) quickly joined in by submitting weekly posts. Since that time we have had 172 posts. The first month we had 55 different visitors to the blog with 217 views. That has grown steadily over the months. In July of 2014, we had our best numbers ever with 378 views from 155 different visitors. That’s a 281% growth in one year for the number of visitors.