NACAR History

In the early 1970’s, God’s Spirit began moving lay men and women to find ways to embrace and live the charisms of many religious communities in Canada and the United States of America. Groups of like-minded people, commonly known as associates, began forming, and the increase in their numbers was quite rapid. A new movement was born, one based on the mystery of call and response to the particular charism of each community’s founder/foundress.

By the 1980’s, leaders of many associate groups reached out to associate groups of other religious communities, both to share how the Spirit was moving with them, and to begin addressing mutual concerns. Eventually, the need to have an even wider forum developed and thus, the first North American Conference of Associates and Religious (NACAR) was created.


NACAR Timeline


Seeds of NACAR

The first conference of associates is held in Marriotsville, Maryland.



Birth of NACAR

Jean SonnenbergThe North American Conference of Associates and Religious is born at the 1996 National Associate Conference. The first logo is developed and NACAR coordinators are Associate Jean Sonnenberg of the Sisters of Bon Secours and Sister Ellen O’Connell, Sister of Charity of New York. In addition, the first issue of the Associate is printed and over 400 subscriptions are purchased by the end of the year.


NACAR Structure Unfolds

The organization adopts bylaws and elects its first board of directors. For the first time the conference moves outside of Maryland and is held in New Jersey, with 221 participants in attendance.



1997 Conference

NACAR holds the 1997 conference, the first on the West Coast, with the theme: Celebrating the Gift of Association. A conference was also held in May 1997 on the East Coast with the theme How to Foster Community in the Associate/Religious Relationship.


New Member Levels

A new two-tiered structure for membership is revealed; now both individuals and congregations can become members. Surveys for the first CARA study are sent to congregations; this fall the first of several Leadership for the Future: Guiding Associate Communities is held.



NACAR Website Unveiled

Associate Patrice Athanasidy, Sisters of Charity, will update the new NACAR website. A partnership between NACAR and CARA, Partners in Mission: A Study of Associates and Religious in the U.S. is published.


2000 Annual Conference

Ellen O'Connell at podium

NACAR holds a conference in San Jose, California, with the theme Associate Ministry: Empowering the Laity. Keynote speaker is Catherine Harmer, MMS.



Seminars Based on Study

A grant from the Lilly Foundation and an anonymous donation allow NACAR to partner with the Washington Theological Union to begin hosting seminars based upon the recent CARA study.


2002 NACAR Conference

Joan Chittister

NACAR holds its 2002 conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Keynote speaker is Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, with the theme Let the Call be Heard.



CARA Study Part Two

Questionnaires for part two of the CARA study are sent to all congregations with associates in the United States.

A new editorial staff takes over The Associate as Associate Jean Sonnenberg and assistant editor, Associate Marie Truffer, both with the Sisters on Bon Secours, resign their posts after seven years.

A video of three workshops by Associate Jean Sonnenberg is ordered for sale by NACAR.

The first of several Unpacking the NACAR/CARA Study: Partners in Mission Part II workshops is offered.


National Lay Leaders of the Future Project

The National Lay Leaders of the Future project by NACAR, which strives to empower mutuality of lay associates and religious, receives a grant to identify Hispanic women as leaders in the associate movement. Sister of Mercy Carren Herring and Mercy Associate Kathy Wade publish Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives: The Associate Movement in Religious Communities.



New Logo Created

NACAR LogoA new logo for NACAR is created by Sister Catherine Martin, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. A new CD, Message of Hope, by Sister Jean Louise Bache, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Sister of Charity Ellen O’Connell, is available for sale from NACAR. Sister Cathy Schwemer, Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, is the new executive director. The Partners in Mission Award is established and presented at the biennial conference.


Canadian Associates

This year NACAR will begin reaching out via e-newsletter to associates in Canada. The inaugural NACAR workshop, The Seven Deadly Mistakes in Associate Ministry, is held as the first in a series of professional development workshops over the next few years.



New Editor

Associate David Lavender, Sisters of Divine Providence, became the new editor of The Associate.


Facebook Presence

Facebook logoNACAR has a group on Facebook for NACAR members. This will later become a public page.



Leadership Manual

Lead with the Spirit CoverThe first section of the new NACAR manual for associate leadership, Lead with Spirit, goes on sale.

For the first time participants can register for the NACAR biennial conference online.

The first NACAR Servant Leadership Awards are presented at the conference.


Newsletter Online

The Associate is now an online magazine, which will save on print and mailing costs.

With the resignation of Sister Cathy Schwemer, Associates Mary Jo Mersmann, Sisters of Charity, and Fred Goddard, Maryknoll Affiliate, assume some of the day-to-day administrative duties for NACAR.



Leadership Manual Part 2

The second section of Lead with Spirit is on sale. It features the essential steps in associate initial formation.


Committee Structure

The NACAR Board puts a new committee structure in place and calls for volunteers to serve.

The biennial conferences are put on hold as the board assesses the financial feasibility.



Leadership Manual Part 3

Cover of The Associate

The third section of Lead with Spirit is ordered for purchase. This section covers Ongoing Formation for associate leadership.

Lisa Olson is hired to design NACAR publications.


New CARA Study

CARA LogoNACAR partners with CARA for an update to the 2000-2002 study on the associate relationship.

NACAR hosts a virtual Pentecost Picnic fundraiser.

Carla Rush is hired as the new mission advancement coordinator for NACAR.



20th Anniversary Celebrations

Associate gathered at conferneces

To celebrate its 20 years, NACAR hosted gatherings in partnership with regional associate groups in, Wisconsin, Canada and California. Kathleen Wade, an associate with the Sisters of Mercy, will facilitate “Celebrating Our Charisms Alive in the World.” The updated CARA study results were presented in 2016. Associate Spirituality and Faith Development by Marci Madary is added to the Leadership Manual.


Creative Conversations Begins

Screen shot of participants in a webinar

NACAR initiates Creative Conversations, interactive Zoom webinars designed for associate leadership to network with one another on topics of interest. The sessions are recorded and posted on the website for for registred users for viewing again or with a larger group. Fostering Our Future is the latest chapter of the Leadership Manual added in 2017.



Online Courses with VLCFF

 VLCFF Logo Globe with person and cross

NACAR enters into an agreement with Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation (VLCFF) to offer online courses in religious education and faith formation for adults to NACAR members at a discounted rate. The VLCFF is sponsored by the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives (IPI) of the University of Dayton—a Catholic Marianist Institution. Leading Vibrant Groups is published as part of the Leadership Manual.


Redesigned NACAR Logo

nacar red stacked rbg

After 13 years, the NACAR Board choses a new layout for the NACAR logo, retaining the original artwork, but with a clearer presentation of NACAR's wording in both a horizontal and stacked (above) format.


© 2018 North American Conference of Associates and Religious.