The Vocation To A Secular Institute

by Therese Ivers

The first secular institute with whom I came in contact were the Father Kolbe Missionaries. Not many people respond to a call to a vocation to a secular institute and in part, I believe it is because few people even know about their existence.

What is a secular institute? A secular institute is an organization which helps the faithful strive to mirror Christ more faithfully in their daily lives by following the evangelical counsels. Priests and laity may join a secular institute and it is a good vocation. However, the public consecration of vows or promises does not change the canonical status of the individual. Thus, those of the laity who profess the evangelical counsels in the form of vows do not enter the consecrated state but remain in the world and in the lay state in the Church.

Each secular institute has a different charism. The Father Kolbe Missionaries, the secular institute I am most familiar with, has a Marian charism. Their apostolate is to promote devotion to Our Lady as a way of assisting people to grow in holiness of life. Other secular institutes will have different apostolates and charisms.

Religious institutes emphasize communal life. Secular institutes, on the other hand, are usually composed of members who live separately. While some consecrated members might live in small groups as brothers or sisters, the vast majority of members live on their own. They support themselves and contribute to their secular institute. The idea is that a member of a secular institute is to live as leaven in the world. They are to be a good example to others in the daily routine of normal living.

It is because the members of secular institutes are not within the consecrated state but are dedicated to Christ’s service in either the priesthood or lay state that they do not wear a habit or uniform. The members blend in society and bear witness to Christ.

Members of secular institutes profess vows or sacred bonds of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These vows are understood according to the rules of the institute. Poverty is not a renunciation of ownership of goods. Chastity means celibacy for the sake of the kingdom.  And obedience will be defined in the rules.

A few months ago, I discussed the three elements of religious life. The elements of a secular institute, are different in that they seem to be that of the evangelical counsels, life as leaven in the world, and the apostolate. It is to follow Christ more thoroughly in the world “secular manner” that people choose to embrace the evangelical counsels in the context of a non-religious institute lifestyle.

(c) 2008 by Therese Ivers and

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