Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Treasures from Archives

The local Terre Haute newspaper on Sept. 25, 1958, announces
the groundbreaking of the new novitiate building.
For the past 13 years, I have walked into Owens Hall almost every day of my life. I’ve often wondered about the women who called this building home during their postulant and novitiate days. I’ve also wondered about the women who made the decision to build this structure.

Mother Gertrude Clare Owens, general superior from 1954 to 1960, was dedicated to the formation of young women in religious life, and it was under her administration that Providence Novitiate, the former name of Owens Hall, was built. Sacrifices had to be made by all the sisters in order to build this more than $2 million facility. In his sermon during the blessing and dedication of the hall on April 19, 1960, in front of sisters and guests, the Very Rev. Joseph Brokhage, STD, said, “Your Mother [Mother Gertrude Clare] saw a further need, the need of a new Novitiate. Again she appealed to you, her daughters, to save here and skimp there to bear the heavy cost. Again, as loyal daughters, you all said: ‘Mother, we are behind you.’”

In addition to the sacrifices made by the Congregation, generous friends, schools and parishes donated funds for the building project. However, no official capital campaign was undertaken to build the new novitiate building.

Sacrifices were also made for the purchase and installation of a new organ in the hall’s St. Joseph Chapel located on the first floor. According to documents in Archives, sisters who were music teachers “gave extra lessons and taught on free days, during vacation time, etc., and realized over $7,000 in a period of three years. The talent of the music teachers in our own Community was utilized for the summer school in 1960 instead of bringing in outside educators and the money thus saved was added to the amount.”

The pipe organ in St. Joseph Chapel was blessed on Dec. 18, 1960, by the Rev. William Stineman.

During the April 19 blessing and dedication, the Rev. Brokhage touched upon a sad note about the completion of the novitiate. Mother Gertrude Clare was in poor health and did not realize that her dream of a new building had been achieved. The Rev. Brokhage said, “By design of God, your Mother has not been permitted to share your joy in this great day. Were she conscious, she would rejoice for two reasons: first, that she could make the additional sacrifice of not being in the limelight on this great day; secondly, she would rejoice that her beloved novices will now have suitable quarters in this beautiful new building.”

In 1968, Mother Mary Pius Regnier, general superior from 1966 to 1976, and her General Council renamed Providence Novitiate Owens Hall, in honor of Mother Gertrude Clare, who died in 1963. In the resolution for the new name, it was written, “Whereas, No other name could be more fittingly given to the building erected with so much confidence and trust in God than that of Mother Gertrude Clare.”

Now when I walk into Owens Hall I have a greater appreciation for all the women, especially Mother Gertrude Clare, who made it a reality.

This image of Owens Hall graces the cover of a 1960s brochure printed by the Congregation.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Our new postulant arrives!

On Monday, Sept. 17, Joni Luna, a woman from Corpus Christi, Texas, entered the postulancy of the Sisters of Providence.

Joni Luna knocks on the east door of Providence Hall Monday
before being invited in by Sister Denise Wilkinson, general
superior, to become a Sisters of Providence postulant.
For several years Joni has been discerning her call to enter religious life.

She came to know the Sisters of Providence through her Connections with Sister Barbara Bluntzer, SP, who ministers in Corpus Christi, her many visits to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, and through her recent formal commitment as a Providence Associate with the Sisters of Providence.

When asked why she wishes to become a Sister of Providence, Joni responded, “After meeting the Sisters seven years ago, I was captured by the spirit of the community and the heart of the Sisters. Their hospitality and warm embraces spoke and connected to the core of my soul. Immediately I felt a calling in my heart to pursue a deeper relationship with them. My soul longed to walk the footsteps of so many incredible women who are inspired to serve God by blazing and paving so many significant roads in the pursuit of love, mercy and justice.”
Joni Luna, center in blue, walks with Sisters Marsha Speth,
Mary Beth Klingel, Editha Ben, Dawn Tomaszewski, and me
after entering the Sisters of Providence postulancy.

This past Monday evening, as part of the simple postulant entrance ritual, Joni knocked on the east door or Providence Hall. She was invited in and welcomed by Sister Denise, the General Superior, her discernment guide, Sister Bernice Kuper, and members of the General Council and New Membership Team.

This “practice” of welcome and blessing formally begins Joni’s time of postulancy.

Please join with us in celebrating the gift of Joni’s presence with us.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

ISU to host SPs and the Civil War presentation

Military Hospital in Indianapolis as it looked during the Civil War
Since late August, the Cunningham Memorial Library at Indiana State University has hosted the exhibit, “Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine.” The exhibit is sponsored by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. The exhibit at ISU runs through Oct. 6 and is one of only two locations in Indiana where the exhibit will be on loan.

As part of the programs associated with the exhibit, Connie McCammon, a Sisters of Providence staff member, will present “Lest We Forget: The Civil War Service of the Sisters of Providence” Thursday, Sept. 27, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. (EDT) in the Special Collections Area of the ISU library. The Sisters of Providence played a unique role during the Civil War, serving as sister-nurses for the duration of the war at Military Hospital in Indianapolis and two short stints at an emergency hospital in Vincennes, Ind.

Come learn about these women who cared for Union and Confederate soldiers during this national tragedy. You’ll also learn how the war personally touched not only the sisters, but students at the Academy, the predecessor of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Treasures from Archives

Our Archives has numerous pieces of correspondence from graduates of the Academy, the predecessor of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Craigie Gunn Mitchell is one such alumna who has a plethora of letters that have been saved in our Archives. Craigie, of Bedford, Ind., was born in 1854 and attended the Academy from 1868 to 1872. She served as president of the college alumnae board for many years. Just to give you a little historical perspective, Craigie was born before Saint Mother Theodore Guerin died (May 14, 1856) and she lived during the years of the Civil War (1861-1865). Now that we have that perspective, let’s turn our attention to the letter at right.

On Aug. 25, 1935, Craigie, writing from Somerset, England, penned a letter to Mary (Sister Marie Grace Molloy, a volunteer in Archives, and I believe this to be Mary McNutt, who was also an alumna). Craigie wrote:

“One month from today I will be somewhere on the Atlantic, homeward bound. I had my Italian passports before I left home, and thought, if at the time of my return I was free enough from rheumatic twinges, that I might go over to Rome for ten days and sail from Naples. But not now, with all this trouble brewing, and war talk of Europeans and British African interests to be protected against Mussolini’s arousing race and tribal menace. I was here in August 1914 — and think my little corner of Indiana more desirable than elsewhere, if Italy continues her preparations against Abyssinian.”

In a Sept. 20, 1938, letter (written in Bedford) to Mary, Craigie wrote:

“The news from Europe continues alarming. When you have but one grandson, and he is exactly the age to be called in the event of war, you can only try to imagine what it all means to me. John has been a 1st Lieutenant in the Yeomanry for two years. It is an organization between our militia and regular army, subject to call in case of war. He is a 1st Lieutenant — the higher ups being regular Army men & older. All of which is no consolation to me, for German guns do not respect youth nor age, nor anything else.”

Craigie Gunn Mitchell, who is pictured above on her 85th birthday in 1939, died in 1945.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

HOPE arrives!

For centuries, people have been making pilgrimages to sacred places throughout the world. For many people that sacred place is Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, where a saint once walked. The latest issue of HOPE addresses the need to relocate the shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin from the Church of the Immaculate Conception to a permanent place beneath the existing Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

As Sister Ann Casper writes in her article, Why relocate the shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin?, “ … in its current location in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, it [the shrine] is not exactly tucked away in the left alcove of the church. The huge banner of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, which hung in St. Peter’s Square, demands one’s immediate attention and detracts from worship. The celebration of daily and Sunday Eucharistic Liturgy, rather than having pride of place in the church, is somewhat dwarfed by the presence of Mother Theodore’s banner and coffin — these take center stage rather than the Eucharist, probably not something our humble foundress would delight in!”

Inside this issue you’ll read about the power of this sacred place and why one 20-something loves “Mama T.” You’ll also learn just how many times Mother Theodore’s weary bones have been moved! And, of course, you can catch up on alumnae/i news, newsnotes, photos, upcoming events, plus a whole lot more!

If you would like to make a donation to the permanent shrine, visit our website. To view HOPE online, click here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tutoring at Educational/Family Services brightens Dalton Burry's childhood

Dalton Burry and his tutor Randi Everett, left, laugh together
as Dalton displays a dead butterfly he found near the sign
for Educational/Family Services in West Terre Haute.
Three years ago Dalton Burry was in second grade. He didn’t know his ABC’s; he couldn’t read; he couldn’t do basic math. He was in special education classes, and he seemed to think school was play time.

His grandmother Marlene Abrams wanted more for Dalton. She sought help from Educational/Family Services (EFS) in West Terre Haute, a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Providence that offers free tutoring for children and free GED preparation and basic education assistance for adults.

“He’s a different little kid since he started coming to tutoring. He used to be afraid to do anything. Now he’s all boy,” Marlene said.

“He has more self-respect and more discipline about doing his school work. He is more cheerful about going to school. Before he used to cry about going to school because kids would tease him and call him dumb,” Dalton's grandma said.

Dalton is now 10 years old and a fifth grader at West Vigo Elementary. With help from his tutor Randi Everett, he has transitioned out of special education and into mostly mainstream classes.

Twice a week Dalton gets off the bus and his grandma brings him straight to tutoring for at least an hour. His tutor Randi Everett helps him with his homework. Then they might work on math facts or study state capitals or go to the computer to work on math games. During the summer Randi worked with him twice a week for 2-3 hours at a time.

“I had F’s and D’s and now I have A’s and B’s,” Dalton said proudly.

“Randi and Penny [Sullivan, director of EFS] have done great wonders for my grandson,” Marlene said.

“I love Randi. It takes a special person to spend time with any child,” Dalton’s grandma said. And when that person is able to help a child and show them that they are something and that they aren’t dumb, that is really making a difference, she said.

Randi said caring is part of the ministry at Educational/Family Services.

“We help with life skills; we listen to problems. Everybody wants someone to listen to them,” she said.

For more information about educational assistance at Educational/Family Services or for information on ways you can help, visit or call 812-535-4206. To read more about Dalton, click here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Meaningful work

As a child, I dreaded Labor Day. It marked the end of summer — the end of daily swims, of neighborhood baseball games and tennis tournaments, the end of playing outdoors until dusk.

Sister Shawn Marie McDermott teaches 5th grade students
at St. Agnes School, Arlington, Mass.
School opened on the day after Labor Day, and for a long time I thought the holiday was given its name because it marked the beginning of what I thought of as labor — days spent in a classroom, evenings spent with homework. Early to bed and early to rise. Ugh.

Only later did I realize that Labor Day was established to pay tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers and to acknowledge the efforts to attain workers’ rights. Beyond the picnics and parades and speeches — and certainly more significant than Labor Day sales — the holiday provides us an opportunity to consider the value of meaningful work.

Sisters of Providence have in recent weeks been engaged in reflection on and conversation about their “ministry stories” as together we move forward with our 2011 Chapter commitment to “engage in a Congregation-wide assessment of all of our ministries to determine their sustainability and effectiveness as lived expressions of love, mercy and justice.“

The process has encouraged us to question ourselves about our individual and corporate ministries and to consider the impact of our past, present and future ministries on advancing the mission of love, mercy and justice.

Sister Beth Wright ministers at Saint Ann Clinic in
Terre Haute, Indiana, which provides health services
to persons in need of affordable health care.
 In the process, many of us have been able to say “Looking back, I can see the hand of Providence in every ministry I’ve had” or “I’ve always been happy in my ministry.”

At a time when researchers estimate that fewer than 50 percent of Americans are satisfied with the jobs they hold and millions of Americans wish they had a job to be dissatisfied with, the opportunity to engage in meaningful work is indeed a gift.

Perhaps Labor Day can provide each of us an occasion to reflect on the meaning of the work we do, whether compensated or not. And perhaps each of us can find the time to unite in prayer with those who continue the search for meaningful work and with those who continue the effort to bring justice to the workplace.

Happy Labor Day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A nudge to see the people around me

Much about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious National Assembly in early August was memorable. Much has been written about it and its outcome; but much of what happened will never be deemed newsworthy.

I refer to so many tender moments shared between sisters attending the meetings and staff people working at the Millennium Hotel, site of the assembly. Let me mention my chance (or Providential) meetings with a gentleman named Richard.

Richard was an extremely efficient and friendly waiter. The first time we met, I was the guest at a luncheon hosted by Great Lakes Advisors, an investment manager the SPs employ.

The luncheon was lovely, and Richard enjoyed the sisters he served — just as we enjoyed his humor and attentiveness. Our table loved the dessert served and made much of it!

The evening of that same day, I attended our annual Women of Providence in Collaboration (WPC) dinner. WPC is a group of congregations in the U.S. and Canada who share the charism of Providence. We have gathered for more than 30 years in order to explore the spirituality of Providence for our times.

The dinner is always a gathering of friends. Richard was on duty again — again he served the table where I sat. Again he charmed us. He delivered two desserts to me that evening — since it was the same dessert we had at the luncheon and he knew I liked it. (I didn’t eat either — not to worry.)

The next night was the final banquet of the assembly. You guessed it — Richard served our table. His same friendly and fun self. Again, all at the table enjoyed him.

At the end of the dinner, as we were all leaving the ballroom, I managed to track down my personable and kind Richard to thank him for being such a wonderful waiter and more than that — a wonderful man.

He gave me a hug and said, “Sister, it’s been wonderful to have you sisters here. We’re all going to miss you. None of us are invisible to you — the way we are so much of the time we serve others.”

Oh my! It was a lovely compliment and a better reminder. How often those around us are invisible to me!

Thank you, Richard, for your many kindnesses and your gentle nudge to see the people around me.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Reconnect with friends at an upcoming reunion

Immaculata High School, 1928.
 More photos available on the SP stream on Flickr.
Sometimes, it’s just good to get back to your roots.

At least 13 current and former Sisters of Providence schools have scheduled reunions soon — most in the next two months.

From St. Rose School in Chelsea, Mass., to St. Rose Academy in Vincennes, Ind., from Marywood High School in Evanston, Ill., to Marywood High School in Orange, Calif., reunions are on the calendar. Check on our website for more information. You will find 15 association pages in our alumnae/i section.

We maintain alumnae/i associations with many schools and are always willing to support any former SP school in planning a reunion. Let us know if you have a school or class reunion planned by emailing us at or by calling 812-535-2800. If you are planning a reunion and would like to have SPs in attendance, we will be glad to try to accommodate your request.

We also welcome updates from these events. If you have photos to share — current or historical — we might be able to use them on our website.

The alumnae/i of our schools are dear to the SPs. Sisters consider alumnae/i to be the living legacy of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. It is always heartening for them to hear from former students, so do keep us informed! If you would like to reach out to a former classmate or teacher individually, you can use the Contact a Sister request form to find a sister.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Step in the Journey of Providence for Sister Arrianne Whittaker

“This is the path traced by Providence. And I follow it.” — attributed to Saint Mother Theodore Guerin
On Saturday, August 18, Arrianne Whittaker, following her time of postulancy, took the next step on her Providence journey as she was received into the novitiate of the Sisters of Providence.
Our Constitutions state that “the primary purpose of this canonical year is to foster the internalization of Gospel values. The novitiate program includes extended time for prayer; spiritual direction; service to the Congregation; and instruction in religious life, Scripture, theology, and the history and traditions of the Congregation.”

Arrianne Whittaker receives her Sisters of Providence cross
pin from Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior, Saturday
in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-
of-the-Woods, Indiana.
When asked how she feels about this transition time, Arrianne said, “Entering the novitiate is another step along this Providential journey. I’m finding on this journey that each step I take brings me a little closer to knowing more fully, who God is calling me to be.”

Last Saturday, this beautiful and simple reception into the novitiate ceremony was held in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. The image of journey is very significant for Arrianne, and she chose the scripture passage for reflection from the Gospel of St. Luke 24:13-32 — the story of the disciples on their journey to Emmaus.

When Sister Denise, our general superior, posed the question to Arrianne, ”What do you ask?”

Arrianne responded, “I have heard God’s call; and it is with faith and great joy that I respond to the call. I humbly ask to be received into the novitiate of the Sisters of Providence. And I ask you, my sisters, to continue to walk with me on this Providential journey.”

Please join with us in prayer and gratitude as we welcome Sister Arrianne Whittaker! Let us journey the path of Providence together.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Treasures from Archives

Another foray into the inner sanctum of Archives has produced another gem. In the Properties/Buildings/Shrines area is a large Hollinger box with a plethora of information about the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. One of the folders within that box contains invoices and other communications regarding the building of this gorgeous chapel.

The invoice that particularly struck me was the one dated Aug. 29, 1923, from the Daprato Statuary Company’s Chicago studio. This was the bill for the 8,000-pound block of Carrara marble as well as for the design for the altar and platform upon which the monstrance resides. The total bill for this altar was $29,500. This invoice also caught my eye because the printing is stunningly beautiful!

The Congregation received permission for perpetual adoration of the Eucharist after Mother Mary Cleophas Foley, general superior from 1890 to 1926, was granted a private audience with Pope Pius X on Nov. 19, 1913. On June 10, 1914, the Right Rev. Francis Silas Marean Chatard, bishop of Indianapolis, formally opened Perpetual Exposition in the crypt of the Church of the Immaculate Conception. On June 7, 1920, the cornerstone of the chapel was laid. Inside the cornerstone is a box that contains a list of the Sisters of Providence who were living at that time, some medals, a relic of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, and a short history of the “Development of Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament at Saint Mary’s.”

Four years later, on May 19, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was consecrated by the Most Rev. Joseph Chatrand, bishop of Indianapolis. The consecration included a procession as the Eucharist was transferred from the crypt of the church to the chapel.

Included in the Hollinger box is a file containing information about the donations that were received for the building of this magnificent chapel. A ledger lists the names of people who donated to this sacred structure. Each donation, from the smallest at 50 cents to the largest in the thousands of dollars, was received in deepest gratitude by the Congregation. Also inside this file is a typed page from Sister Ann Kathleen Brawley (RIP), former archivist of the Congregation. Sister Ann Kathleen wrote:

“ … most of the cost of the erection of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was covered by the gifts and donations from the family and friends of the Sisters. … All of the jewels and most of the gold in the monstrance came from the families of the Sisters. According to correspondence there were many jewels left over and returned to us to be used in other sacred vessels. …”

To learn more about the Chapel of Divine Love as Bishop Chartrand called it during its consecration in 1924, visit our website.

An interesting side note about the Daprato Statuary Company is that it is still in business today with offices in Chicago, New York and Pietrasanta, Italy, just as they were in the 1920s! You can learn more about the company by visiting its website.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Arrianne enters the novitiate

Arrianne Whittaker entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods on Saturday. Read Sister Denise Wilkinson's reflection from Saturday.

By Sister Arrianne Whittaker

My time in the postulancy certainly stretched and challenged me to grow in many different ways. I find that transitions through change tend to do that; and I certainly had my fair share of transitions this past year!

I thoroughly enjoyed my ministry visits. They gave me many opportunities to see, first hand, the varied types of ministries the Sisters of Providence are involved in; they also allowed me to get to know individual sisters a little bit better.
Sister Arrianne Whittaker entered the novitiate of the
Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind.
on Saturday. The time she spent at White Violet Center
for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence,
this year provided a good base for understanding eco-
justice and right relationship with Earth, she said.
Arrianne plants peas last spring in the photo above.

I also highly enjoyed my time at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, my home ministry. My time at WVC provided a good base of understanding in eco-justice; and illustrated to me how these values of right relationship with our Mother Earth connect deeply to our congregational roots, here at the Woods. This in particular is a topic which I have become quite passionate about!

Entering the novitiate is another step along this providential journey. Just as the postulancy helped me learn about the external ministry and identity of our congregation; the novitiate, as I understand it, will challenge me to explore the internal spirit of both the congregation and of myself.

A multitude of emotions run through me as I think about this next step. I’m excited for the new adventure and eager to fully engage this year. Still, as there always are, there are parts of me which are anxious.

Many questions run through my mind. What will this year hold for me? What experiences will stretch me? Will I continue to follow God’s path marked out by Providence? I’m finding on this journey that each step I take brings me a little closer to knowing, more fully, who God is calling me to be. And yet as I gain more answers I also gain an exponential number of questions.

I cannot say that I know what this next year will be like for me. And even if I tried to say, experience has taught me that my efforts to predict such things never turn out the way I envision them. What I can tell you is that I know I will spend a lot of time in reflection and prayer. I will have the opportunity to learn more about the community’s history. I know the year will provide time and opportunity to further deepen relationships I have with individual sisters. I know that the year will be full of joys, laughter, and probably some tears, too.

I know, too, that I don’t walk this path alone. Standing by my side I have my sisters, my family, and my friends; they walk with me providing the support and encouragement I need to take each step. And I know, above all else, God walks by my side.

God has called me to follow this path and by entering the novitiate I willingly respond to that call. As for the rest of the details — I’m going to leave that up to Providence!

Monday, August 20, 2012

“The Sisters are always there”

Given the magnitude of the issues facing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious during its recent annual assembly Aug. 7-10 …

Given the amazing presence and presentation of keynote speaker Barbara Marx Hubbard…

Given the inspiring presidential address offered to 900 members of the conference who responded with a sustained (and sustaining) standing ovation …
“Force the dawn to be born by believing in it.”
From the presidential address of Sister Pat Farrell, OSF.

Given all of this, the lingering image in my mind as I reflect on being part of what everybody called an historic assembly is that of a young woman speaking to us during an optional session on the last day of the conference. (Optional meant that only about 850 of the 900 attendees were there.)

Katie was actually part of a three-person panel, sponsored by one of the LCWR regions about human trafficking. (Fortunately, we didn’t only talk about the CDF mandate!) Although the other two persons on the panel were equally compelling in their remarks, it was something about Katie’s tears — the spontaneity of them, the sincerity of them.

Referring to us as both “sisters” and “you guys,” this young woman shared her story of the web of drugs and stripping and prostitution and trafficking in which she had been entangled for a significant part of her young life.

The good news is that Katie is now free of that web and is caught up in creating new life for other victims through something she has named the Healing Action Network in St. Louis. And as she faces new challenges she told us, “the sisters are always there.”
These sisters do not belong to just one congregation, but come from various orders and comprise a sisterhood, I believe, that now extends beyond the boundaries of congregations and regions.

That’s what LCWR has become for me — a sisterhood — a sisterhood that desires always to be there with Katie and others like her in greatest need of healing action, with each other around the tables of our lives and with our brother bishops in dialogue for the sake of the fresh in-breaking of the reign of God.

At the annual assembly of the Leadeship Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in St. Louis Aug. 7-10, more than 900 participants, including the Sisters of Providence General Officers, gathered for sustained prayer and dialogue, to consider various responses to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) report, with the goal of deciding together the next best steps for the conference following the assembly.

The address of outgoing LCWR President Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, provides insights to the content and spirit of the gathering, as does the press release issued by LCWR on Friday, Aug. 10.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Experiencing a deep and authentic unity

Pictured above, from left, are members of the
Sisters of Providence General Council: Sister
Dawn Tomaszewski, Sister Denise Wilkinson,
Sister Lisa Stallings, Sister Mary Beth Klingel
and Sister Jenny Howard.
The following reflection is from the Sisters of Providence General Council: Sister Denise Wilkinson, Sister Lisa Stallings, Sister Jenny Howard, Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, and Sister Mary Beth Klingel.

The April 2012 announcement of the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has been widely covered in the national media, evoking a variety of responses from many persons.

True to its commitment to shared leadership and communal discernment in reaching decisions, the presidency of LCWR had been cautious in responding until it could consult with its members during the recent August LCWR National Assembly.

All of us on our leadership team participated in this assembly. During this past week, we took some time to process what we had experienced during these important days. We’d like to share some of our experience with you.

A bit of background information: LCWR organizes itself into several regions across the U.S. to facilitate relationship building and decision making across the large organization. The Sisters of Providence belong to Region 7 (Indiana and Michigan). Regions ordinarily meet twice a year – autumn and spring. To prepare for this important National Assembly, regions gathered in June or July, as well.

The special pre-assembly meetings across the U.S. allowed the national board and presidency of LCWR to get a sense of how members wanted to move forward in terms of responding to the assessment.

At the August assembly, the LCWR leadership presented us with a list of common values that had emerged in each of the 15 regions summer meetings. These values included a desire to act from our best selves; to proceed in a spirit of shared dialogue based on communal contemplative prayer and a commitment to speak for the authenticity of the way we live as apostolic women religious.

During the days of the assembly, all five of us experienced a deep and authentic unity among the more than 900 women religious present. Sitting at different tables, we each experienced prayer and table conversations marked by a deep level of trust and openness. None of us experienced any sense of fear or, on the other hand, bravado among table members or in the assembly as a whole.

Sharing at microphones was candid, respectful, and thoughtful. The sharing demonstrated again and again unanimity of thought and feeling among the members. A palpable peacefulness emanated from the entire assembly and from individual members.

Before and during the National Assembly, we received an outpouring of love and support from many of our associates, friends, alums and benefactors. On each of more than 100 tables in the assembly meeting room, we found 20-30 letters of support from people across the country. What all the support made abundantly clear to us is that this assessment has touched the hearts of the faithful who are counting on us to find a way to open up dialogue in our Church and  assist in a reconsideration of the role of women in our Church.

Barbara Marx Hubbard, in her keynote address, expressed her belief that US women religious are a “perfect seedbed” for furthering the reign of God. She named the following characteristics of women religious that convince her that our lifestyle holds promise for the “good of the whole:”
  • deep gospel living;
  • mystical presencing;
  • faithfulness and responsiveness to unmet needs;
  • solidarity with Earth;
  • building of community;
  • risk-taking for the sake of mission;
  • social entrepreneurship;
  • practice of dialogue and discernment;
  • ability to speak truth to power;
  • commitment to seeking “the more.”
We left the meeting hopeful and justifiably proud to be part of this gathering of women religious. Each of us sensed the tangible presence of God throughout the meeting days. We were buoyed up by the knowledge of being held in prayer by our sisters, associates, friends, and many others.

A special thank you to all who organized and participated in prayer vigils held during the days of LCWR’s meetings.
For additional information about the assembly, read the LCWR  Aug. 13 press release.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sisters of Providence and LCWR

In April, 1956, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican Congregation for Religious asked the U.S. sisters to form a national conference and in November, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) was born. (It was initially launched as the Conference of Major Superiors of Women but in 1971, the organization was renamed.) It is a “voluntary organization whose members are dedicated to apostolic service in the Spirit of the Gospel” (Bylaws of LCWR, introduction). The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods are members of the LCWR to communally carry out its service in furthering the mission of the Church in today’s world. Today, LCWR has nearly 1,500 members who are elected leaders in their religious orders, representing approximately 57,000 Catholic sisters. It is the largest organization of Catholic women religious.


Recent events

On April 18, 2012, in a document entitled Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has called for renewal of the LCWR. The CDF named Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle as its Archbishop Delegate for the initiative. Upon receiving the CDF document, the LCWR leadership asked its members to spend time in prayer as they began the process of discerning a response. The Sisters of Providence leadership asked the Congregation to especially pray the Litany of Non-Violence.
Dozens of Sisters of Providence, Providence Associates and
Candidates, staff and friends gathered in the Church of the
Immaculate Conception on Aug. 9 in prayerful support of
the Leadership Conference of Women Religious national
  meeting in St. Louis. The theme focused on enlightenment
and justice as participants shared prayer and hymns.
Leaders of the vigil also raised up the names of powerful,
enlightened women and held them in prayer; women from
  the Hebrew Testament, women who were leaders in Church
history and holy women of today.


August update

At the annual assembly of the LCWR in St. Louis, Aug. 7-10, more than 900 participants, including the Sisters of Providence General Officers, gathered for sustained prayer and dialogue, to consider various responses to the CDF report, with the goal of deciding together the next best steps for the conference following the assembly. The address of outgoing LCWR President Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, provides insights to the content and spirit of the gathering, as does the press release issued by LCWR on Friday, Aug. 10.