Australia’s Lay Salvatorian community is celebrating its recent recognition by the Vatican as an international association of the faithful.
Sammantha Da Luz, chair of the Lay Salvatorians in Australia, said the February 8 ceremony in Rome, during which the decree of recognition was delivered by the office of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, was a moment of great joy for the community.
“This is something that’s been in the pipeline for the past 16 years or more, to get these statutes recognised and accepted,” she said. “There’s been a lot of hard work from the international Salvatorian community.”
Officially known as the International Community of the Divine Saviour (ICDS), Lay Salvatorians form one of the three branches of the Salvatorian family, along with the Salvatorian Fathers and Brothers, and the Salvatorian Sisters.
The Vatican’s recognition of the Lay Salvatorians is validation of the community’s significant international spread – there are more than 1,800 Lay Salvatorians in 18 countries – and of the spiritual and apostolic fruits borne by its members around the world.
There are 108 other ecclesial communities that already have this recognition – including the Legion of Mary, Couples for Christ and the Neocatechumenal Way – according to the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life’s website.
The origins of the Lay Salvatorian community in Australia go back about 20 years, when a group of Salvatorian priests began inviting members of their parishes to explore the lay apostolate.
One of the first Australians to commit to becoming a Lay Salvatorian, Anne Cullender, said initially the community members were simply known as “collaborators”.
“After about eight or nine years, people started asking what they had to do to become a Lay Salvatorian,” she said. “So units of study began to be developed … and two of us started out as Lay Salvatorians under the direction of Fr Leonard Macionczyk, who is still our spiritual director.”
There are now 15 committed Lay Salvatorians in Australia – one in South Australia, five in Western Australia and nine in New South Wales. All 15 members meet regularly for prayer, fellowship and meetings online, while local groups meet weekly.
Those in Western Australia – including Ms Cullender and Ms Da Luz – gathered for Mass before watching a livestream of the Vatican ceremony and sharing a meal. Lay Salvatorians in New South Wales also gathered to watch the ceremony, albeit in smaller groups due to distance.
Ms Cullender, who is the Secretary of the ICDS’s General Committee in Rome and a former chair of the Australian branch, said the community’s recognition as an international association of the faithful was a significant moment for all Salvatorians – lay and religious.
“It took many years to get the statutes written… but we got there in the end and we feel very privileged that we were given that honour,” she said. “Now we have to show that we are going to work towards everything that the statutes ask us.”
The Salvatorians were founded in 1881 by Fr Francis Mary of the Cross Jordan, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that a branch of the community for laity was established. Their work is guided by a verse from the Gospel of St John:
‘And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent’ (John 17:3).
Ms Da Luz, who became a Lay Salvatorian in 2017, said members are committed to making Jesus known by everyone, everywhere.
“Lay Salvatorians are married or single men and women,” she explained. “The Society was set up as a teaching society, and it’s about not resting until everyone knows about Jesus Christ, and we do it through all means – it could be through our vocations, through our volunteer work, or through our families.”
Those interested in becoming a Lay Salvatorian complete a formation program, which takes up to three years, before making a formal commitment to live their life according to the identity, mission and spirituality of the community.
Images: Lay Salvatorians in Perth gathered to celebrate the Vatican’s official recognition in February. A celebration of 20 years of Salvatorian ministry in Gosford Parish, New South Wales, in January 2023 (Credit: Tom Croll – Photom).
Words: Matthew Biddle