In the summer of 2005, we Apostles of the Interior Life (AVI) felt the call to found a group of lay people to evangelize in places where consecrated people are not present. It was a desire and a prayer. A few months later, a small group of our spiritual directees in Lawrence, KS shared their desire to be more deeply formed in the sisters’ spirituality so to spread the AVI charism in their families and everyday environments. The Lord had given both the sisters and this small group the same inspiration!
What was the initial goal? In January 2006, we AVI and our small group of about 15 spiritual directees started to regularly spend time together, gathering in a member’s house or in our house in Lawrence to pray together and share ideas. Although we began without any specific guidelines, a clearer identity began to emerge as the friendships deepened and our similar dreams began to materialize. Something united us—we all cared for the souls of others by leading them to an interior life and personal relationship with God by means of spiritual friendship. In the starting group of Collaborators of Your Joy, everybody felt at home; it was like a family.
Why, then, the name “Collaborators of Your Joy”? On June 21, 2002, during the celebration of Father Salvatore’s (the founder of AVI) 50th anniversary of his Priestly ordination, hundreds of friends and relatives of the Apostles gathered in Rome. For the first time the Apostles’ Italian and American friends could meet, talk, and pray together. They were able to share their spiritual and apostolic desires. Sister Michela quoted Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in a meditation, saying that “we want to be collaborators of your joy” (2 Cor 1:24). At those words, a voice from the crowd shouted, “Collaborators of your joy! This is what we want to be!” It was Peppino, Sister Clara’s dad. A few days later, we Apostles thought, “Whoever loves us, desires to share in our joy.” What is our joy? It is the joy that comes from knowing and loving Jesus in the intimacy of a deeply formed interior life, and the joy that comes from sharing this prayer life with others. This is the reason for the joy of the Collaborators: it is the participation and sharing in the joy of Jesus. Our friends desired to share in the joy of Jesus that they saw in the community. We sisters were not yet thinking of a lay movement, but that meeting was, in embryonic form, what that group of friends one day would become.
Thus the lay movement was named Collaborators of Your Joy (CO-JOY). In the fall of 2006, we sisters and the original 15 Collaborators of Your Joy held the First National Meeting of the Collaborators in Belleville, Illinois. The goal of the weekend was to connect families, students, and friends that we Apostles had met during our years in various parts of America. The meeting, which included prayer, conference sessions, shared meals, skits, music, socializing, and witnessing, provided a way to share personal faith stories and to encourage each other to respond to the New Evangelization called for by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. For the first time a “rule of life” was laid out for the laity according to the four pillars of the sisters’ community.
The Second National Meeting of the Collaborators was held in a parish in Kansas City, Kansas in September 2008, and it gathered people from across the United States, who traveled to Kansas to celebrate the joy of belonging to the sisters’ lay movement.