Sharing the Interior joy

Apostles of the Interior Life establish their North American provincial house in Overland Park


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

OVERLAND PARK — The house on Cody Street looks a lot like the others in this quiet, suburban neighborhood: comfortable, nondescript, and tidy.

Nothing on the outside — neither a statue nor a sign — gives the slightest hint that this is the North American headquarters of a growing religious order and two affiliated lay organizations.

But it is. This modest suburban structure, within walking distance of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park, became the provincial house for the Apostles of the Interior Life on Sept. 29.

The Sisters chose that date for their move-in because it was the feast day of the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, said community president Sister Susan Pieper, AVI.

“We want to have their help,” said Sister Susan. “That’s why we came here on their feast day.”

The neighbors have already dropped by for introductions during an open house on Nov. 4. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann made his first official visit to the provincial house on Nov. 10.

The order is a private association of the faithful, approved by the Diocese of Rome and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

The association was founded in Italy in 1990 and consists of two provinces — Italy and the United States. The second provincial house is in Rome.

The unique purpose of the order, or its charism, is evangelization and spiritual direction. The members express that charism through the four pillars of their community: prayer, community, formation and apostolate. The Sisters have no habit, but wear normal street clothes instead.

The main focus of their ministry is on young adults, and they usually conduct their ministry in a college setting. They also, however, conduct parish retreats and do spiritual formation. Recently, the Apostles have teamed up with the School of Faith to provide spiritual formation for the first permanent deacon class of the archdiocese.

The order is not a “mixed” order, but rather one order with male and female branches. The female branch has 18 members, with nine Sisters in the North American Province — three each at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, the provincial house in Overland Park, and at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

The male branch, founded in 2003, has five members. All five men are studying for the priesthood at the John Paul II Institute at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. Three of the five men are Americans, and one of those is Vince Huber, from Leawood.

The Apostles take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They live totally on the providence of God — meaning they have no regular paychecks, but survive on the faithfuelled generosity of laypeople. They don’t even own the provincial house, which was donated just for their use by a generous couple.

The three Sisters at the house are Sister Susan, a native of Napa, Calif.; Sister Loredana Mazzei, a native of Rome; and Sister Debbie Li, a native of Singapore. Sister Susan and Sister Loredana are the first and third members of the order, respectively.

The Apostles originally had not planned on establishing an American presence, but the foundation was laid when they offered a retreat in California in 1998.

The following year they were invited to establish a house at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Next, they were invited to establish a house near St. Lawrence Center in 2003.

The Apostles established a house at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 2005, but both this house and the house in Illinois were closed. Another house was opened at Texas A&M University in 2006. The Apostles established their American provincial house in Overland Park for several reasons.

The first was to give the Sisters a sense of rootedness in the United States; a second, was to direct the growth and activities of the association. A third reason was to run programs of spiritual formation, in collaboration with the archdiocesan School of Faith, in a former farmhouse adjoining Holy Spirit Parish, now called the Center of Spirituality.

Finally, the Sisters wanted to assist the growth and activities of two affiliated lay groups. One is the Collaborators of Your Joy; the second is simply called the Family.

The Collaborators, founded in 2006, has more than 40 members. Their focus is on fostering spiritual friendships, developing an interior life of spirituality, praying for others, and promoting a relationship with Christ.

“They want to continue our charism — bring it down into the world where we cannot reach,” said Sister Susan. “Anyone can belong to it who wants to live out our charism.”

Members of the Family have a more serious commitment. They promise to undertake ongoing spiritual direction, daily meditation, thanksgiving after Communion, and practice the care of souls — basically, praying for others.

“The first group was of 26,” said Sister Loredana. “The second group of 20 people has started its formation. If all goes well, they will take their promises in January 2011.”

Although the association’s headquarters is in Rome, the Apostles have sunk deep roots into the Kansas soil.

They have formed strong relationships with the St. Lawrence Center, Holy Spirit Parish, and archdiocesan programs like the School of Faith and the permanent diaconate.

“Our main desire and hope for the future is to sensitize people ever more to the beauty, importance and necessity of their interior lives, their relationship with Jesus,” said Sister Susan. “That’s the whole reason why we exist. It’s why we’re here in Kansas City. And we want to do it with balance and joy.”

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