Part 1 : What is a Secular Institute?
The principle is – being a leaven in the midst of society… To be totally concerned about making Christ’s love present in that particular milieu that she is present.
Interview with Ms. Thresiamma Mathew, a member of the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate (OMMI), a Secular Institute.
(The transcript has been edited for clarity.)
eVocation: Could you introduce yourself?
I am Thresiamma Mathew. I belong to the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate Secular Institute. An institute founded in Canada, working in 23 countries. And we are in India – in three states – Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
eV: What is a Secular Institute?
A Secular Institute is an association of people – lay people – consecrated to God with the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. And this is a new way of consecration approved by the church since 1948.
A big difference between religious congregations and secular institutes is the fact that we remain – even with the consecration of the evangelical counsels – we remain lay. We don’t change our ordinary positions or ordinary way of dressing, our ordinary way of lifestyle. The difference in appearance is very striking. No uniform, no special mark of any cross. or medal… anything like that. You are one with the ordinary people around.
The consecration may be by vows or by promises. It depends on each Secular Institute.
We have to understand why we do not have a uniform, or why the church does not promote a uniform for secular consecrated people. It is because the church wants that – these consecrated people who remain lay – that they remain very close to their secular communities; lay communities. So that they may work like one of them. There is no need for the secular consecrated person to live in a convent-like structure or a community.
Though different secular institutes have different modes of operation; in general, the principle is – being a leaven in the midst of the society, in the midst of the people. So, bearing Christ in their heart, and committing themselves to Christ totally, the presence of a secular person in the midst of secular reality. This means the daily life situations of – any human being – is to connect with that love of Christ, that charity of Christ. To be totally concerned about making Christ’s love present in that particular milieu that she is present; or he is present (since secular institutes can be of women or of men and it depends on which secular institute you belong).
Another important aspect of secular institutes is that we can have our own personal charism fulfilled through the apostolic project. The apostolic project is what is called your profession. You don’t have to have a special apostolate like a religious congregation. The secular institutes generally do not have their own typical apostolate. Every member – as in my Institute, of course – has the choice of her ambition… as her longing for serving God’s people. Maybe as a teacher, or as a doctor, or as a nurse; or an office worker; or a social worker; or anywhere… Wherever Christ has the right to be present. The Church has the right to be present amongst any kind of region, any kind of people, any kind of society. And that is why the Secular Institutes keep their identity hidden – hidden from others.
So they move one among the other people who are working along with them. And they make a difference through the spirit of their evangelical values, their attitudes, their words, their work culture, their lifestyle, etc.
STAY TUNED for the rest of the Interview!
Ms. Thresiamma has been a member of OMMI since 1968.
She is the Founder and Director of the Archana Women’s Centre (AWC) in Ettumanoor, Kottayam, Kerala. Ms. Thresiamma gave leadership to the creation of JEEWOMS, the first ever association formed for and by women masons.
AWC continues the work (for over 18 years) in empowering women and ensuring women’s rights. AWC works in Skill Development (primarily in non-conventional skills), Women Empowerment, Community Action and Entrepreneurship Development.
Ms. Thresiamma has won numerous awards for her work with women, which can be seen at www.archanawomencentre.org
Thank you for answering this unique call! 🙂