Current ministry: Director, Terre Haute Deanery Pastoral Center

Years in the Congregation: 45

Contact Sister Mary at: mmontgom@spsmw.org
812-535-2582

Q. What do you like best about Saint Mary-of-the-Woods? A. The campus. The spirit. The sisters. Gosh, it’s hard to pick just one thing. The sisters!

Q. When I am not officially at work or involved in ministry, you are most likely to see me … A. Walking, or with friends, volunteering.

Q. What the world needs now is … A. Justice and peace for all.

Q. What would you like to hear God say when you arrive in Heaven? A. Welcome home.

Q. What is your biggest pet peeve? A. Intolerance, my own and others.

Q. How did you meet the Sisters of Providence?

A. It was when I was a little girl. My mom had a cousin who was a Sister of Providence, Sister Rose Angele Spalding who died in 2006. And, Sister Charles Ellen Turk was also a first cousin to my mother. So, it was a tradition that the Montgomery family and the Ryan clan and the Spaldings met at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods every summer for a huge picnic. Probably before I was born the families were coming up here for a summer gathering. And, I had the Sisters of Providence in school as well at St. John School in Loogootee, where the Sisters of Providence ministered for 124 years.

Q. Did you have a good relationship with your mother’s cousins when you were young?

A. Yes, a good relationship in only that for us kids it was like “Oh, great!” It wasn’t just hot dogs and hamburgers. We had fried chicken, fresh tomatoes from the garden and this campus was so delightful. Rose Angele was always so happy to see us little kids and she always had something little to give to us, probably a holy card or something like that. She would invite us to run around on the grounds. We would collect buckeyes and tried to catch chipmunks to take home as little pets, but that never worked out. We had our gathering on north campus at the lodge. Actually, we’re having another gathering in October.

Q. What kind of personal relationship did you have with them?

A. Rose Angele and I had such a big age difference, but my mom had a close relationship with her. They kept very regular correspondence with one another. When I was getting ready to come to the convent, we had a favorable, pleasant relationship, but we didn’t correspond like my mom and she did. I looked up to her and wanted to know what she did. We went to her missions in Indianapolis and Greenfield. And Rose Angele and Charles Ellen were friendly, supportive and were praying for me. They weren’t pushing the sisters on me. I’m glad they weren’t. Sister Rose Angele was a great baker. The fudge I make on special occasions is Sister Rose Angele’s recipe.

Q. Do you remember the day you entered?

A. I remember exactly. August 30, 1967, very hot and muggy. Beckett, the dog on campus, just had puppies. Sister Rose Angele prepared quite a number of things for me. I didn’t have to bring this and that because she already had it stashed away for me. That was nice. She had a clothing list. I didn’t wear the habit. I had the old postulant outfit. Black skirt, black stockings, black shoes, black blouse and a black cape with a white Buster Brown collar. It was definitely what you don’t see around anymore. The very next year, we did take the habit, but it was the modified habit. The hair was showing, a shorter skirt. We were the last group to take a religious name. Things were changing rather quickly. I was here in high school for three years at the Aspirancy. There were novices here whom I would have known. My sister novice, Kieran McNamara, was helpful.

Q. Why did you choose to become a Sister of Providence?

A. In seventh and eighth grade, we had made two trips up here as a class. The girls got to come to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and the boys went to St. Meinrad. My recollection is that we actually came both of those years. I loved my seventh-grade teacher, Sister Celine Therese Heck. She had to come back to work in the Express Hall at midyear. She would play softball with us on the playground. She gave us study guides for our tests. I loved that. She was so considerate. They all were. But she was one of my favorite teachers. I was fascinated by religious life. In third grade, my brother, Frank, had rheumatic fever and had to be home for many months. He didn’t want to get behind in his school work. After a period of time, the sisters agreed and my parents agreed I could go into the sixth grade classroom, get his homework, bring it home and bring back his homework the next day. I lived in a very, very rural area. Loogootee, itself, is rural, but I lived seven miles north in Bramble, very close to a Catholic Church; St. Joseph in Bramble. The sisters would come out to teach catechism on Sunday mornings. They would stop and see Frank. Not every Sunday, but occasionally. That spoke volumes to me, even though I was a third-grader. They were people who always seemed to be extending themselves in very helpful ways, besides teaching in the classroom. By seventh grade and eighth grade, I was seriously thinking about the Aspirancy. I had heard from one of the sisters, Rose Patricia Ward. Her nieces were good friends of mine. Their parents played cards with my parents. She was one of the chefs in my early days of community. What a wonderful person. She would slip us special ice cream, those little cheese things. She dressed up everything so nicely. When we grew up, we had plenty of food, but it was simple. What you saw was what you got. It didn’t have any extra garnish on it or things cut in special designs. I was amazed that you could make an orange or a tomato into something so pretty. But, I was thinking about those trips up here. The seeds were planted more significantly then. I wanted to help people like those sisters did. It was pretty innocent and basic. I never really explored another order. I told my mom I wanted to go to the Ferdinand (Indiana) Benedictines because it was closer to home. I thought she would say yes, and I had a cousin who was three years older there in high school. This was my idea about psychology because I really wanted to go to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She said, “If you are going to go anywhere, you are going to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.” My insides were dancing. I didn’t let her know. I was attracted to follow Jesus. I witnessed joy, compassion, service, love, faith, good sense of humor in most of the sisters I had encountered which I interpreted an expression of following Jesus.

Q. You never had the proverbial lightning bolt. It was just a natural progression.

A. Yes, it was. It wasn’t like I knew then that I was definitely going to go, but I knew I wanted to go to the high school and just continue to look at the possibility. We were high school kids having fun and getting a good education. In our senior year, we were back home. The school closed and a girlfriend from home and I were actually here together.

Q. So you went back to St. John for your senior year.

A. Yes, didn’t miss a ball game, home or away. Dancing on Saturday nights. The Calumet in Jasper was great. You could just go. You didn’t have to have a date. I did have a date now and then, but you could just go in clusters. We’d go places, have fun and meet people.

Q. Then you began working after high school?

A. Yes, at Crane Naval Center. I worked as a lifeguard part-time at the residential pool for enlisted men my junior summer and the next summer I worked as an ordnance learner on an assembly line. I was thrilled when I got my acceptance papers (from the Congregation).

Q. Why do you think religious life would be an attractive choice for women today?

A. I think it depends on what a woman is looking for. I think in all walks of life there are people looking for meaningful relationships, meaningful work. The mission orientation of this calling is so important and by that I mean I have felt most engaged in who I am called to be when I am really extending myself, engaging with people who are either in need , who are in an educational setting, working with other people who are trying to make the world a better place and helping one another. This is a lifestyle that is designed with a support system, a spiritual basis, a bedrock of faith. This attraction for me was there was something inside that felt connected. I think the Gospel stories, the invitation to “Come, follow me,” whether that’s a marriage state, or a single state, or the religious life, what is Jesus calling us to do? There is a challenge to be a good disciple and feel the dare to follow that invitation. It was a natural progression for me. It wasn’t a turmoil time trying to decide, “Will I do this, or will I not?” Religious life today offers women many areas of service, support, community, sharing of faith, life and work in the name of Divine Providence.

Q. It wasn’t a surprise to you?

A. It was not a surprise. My eighth grade teacher, Sister Patrice Borders, was from the Southern Indiana area. Three of us girls got to go into the convent a few times, like during recess or after school. Well, it wouldn’t have been after school for me because I rode the bus. But, we helped her clean out stuff. It just felt like we were big stuff. It gave me the feeling like, “she’s a normal person.” We were helping her out, and she was trusting us to help her out. It felt good. She was complimentary. The Mass was always part of our family picture.

Q. Please complete this sentence. Sister Mary is …

A. Sister Mary is generally happy, eager to be of help, enjoys people and solitude, likes to work hard and have fun.

Q. What role does prayer have in your life?

A. Prayer has a central place in my life. I describe it in so many different ways. It is foundational. I love to pray in nature. I love the outdoors in early mornings. I like to go for a walk. If weather isn’t good, I can walk indoors. I consider it a prayer walk. I enjoy birds singing and the day awakening. Yesterday I saw a mother deer and a baby deer in our cemetery. That was so cool. The little fawn was jumping over tombstones. And then on north campus there was a skunk. I have only seen a live skunk once before in my lifetime. I’m glad it was a few feet away. I love the scriptures and meditating on a verse or two. Other times, I am just wordless, realizing I’m in the presence of God. The very breath we breathe is a gift. God is presence, light and energy. I love the stories Jesus shared in parable form. Prayer is as important as breathing.

Q. How important to you is the community lifestyle the Sisters of Providence have to offer?

A. Community for me is very important. What a gift. I’ve had a variety of living experiences. I’m living in Owens Hall now. I’m around incredible women of talent and experience. On Friday mornings, people at the table are saying, “Oh, it’s Friday. You’re so glad it’s the weekend.” I thought that would be changing here because people are retired. No, they are not retired. They are in their 80s, off working five days a week at their various volunteer posts. They are just very inspiring to me, very inspiring. The community is the support – interested in one another’s life and ministry. The community prayer I have enjoyed very much. I’ve had inter community living experiences, too, and I have enjoyed that as well.

Q. How much influence does Saint Mother Theodore Guerin have in your life?

A. Oh, she is such a good friend. Often, on my morning walk, I stop by the statue to rest my hands into her hands, to touch the cross she is holding, and just offer a prayer of gratitude, a request or an intention. She is such an inspiration. Her life is an inspiration. Her deep faith and trust in Providence inspire me and call me to more. I appreciate so much that we have so many of her writings. To me, it’s like it is part of scripture. Her writings are sacred to us and to many in the world. Her words are good advice, helpful, humorous, or very spiritual, encouraging, strengthening. She is just an endless source of inspiration for me and I am so proud to be one of her daughters, and her sister.

Q. What is the most important thing in your life right now?

A. The most important thing right now is my Sister of Providence life, my spiritual life, relatives and family.

Q. Can you share some information about some of your ministries?

A. Well, I did work in the (Terre Haute, Ind.) mayor’s office. That’s pretty curious, huh? Mother Theodore brought me to that. Providence Volunteer Ministry (PVM) I enjoyed very much. It’s all other things. Sometimes there are challenges that you would just rather not deal with, but there are things that keep you going. The mayor’s office was a very unique slice of my life. I never dreamed I would be doing that. It was a Providential moment. I met Kevin Burke in Rome (Terre Haute Mayor Burke and his wife attended Saint Mother Theodore’s canonization). I was in transition and had been applying for work. I did not want to leave Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. I met Kevin and Vicky again at a fund-raiser at a local art gallery. They were just amazed that sisters were dancing in Rome and having such a good time. Why not? Mother Theodore was canonized! That doesn’t happen very often! I like to have fun and I like to dance a little. I’m not very good at it, but when there is an opportunity, why not? Kevin was teasing me about that. But while we were talking, there was something inside of me saying, “Ask him if there’s any work at City Hall.” I was kind of shy about that. I got up the courage and I really felt like Mother Theodore kept saying to me, “Go ahead, ask him.” He got his card right away and wrote his personal email address on it and said, “Send me your resume. As a matter of fact, very recently a job came open in the mayor’s office. Of course, my heart … and I’m thinking “what am I even doing?” He said go on the website and HR would have listings for other openings. I drove home late that night thinking about will I send my resume, will I not send my resume? I did, obviously. I got a call, did an interview and started a couple weeks later. That was just a great opportunity that one year that I worked there. I really liked his spirit and his philosophy, his vision. I met so many people in what I interpreted my role to be. Yes, I was the receptionist and secretary in the mayor’s office. I had no idea what people called the mayor’s office for and they called for every reason under the sun. I felt like I was in a new pastoral ministry setting: City Hall of Terre Haute, and that I was learning and gaining from everyone there. There are still some special people that I stay connected with. I also had eight years with the administration of PVM. It was exciting meeting people interested in volunteering. These young people were inspiring to me. Again, you’re discussing whether it’s going to be a good fit. It was a small program. We didn’t have all that many placements. During my administration, I was so happy to expand it into White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, St. Ann Clinic and Woods Day Care/Pre-School., and also to start the Woods Works program. Because I had come from a college campus that was offering spring break alternatives and mission trips to Central America and things like that, those short-term immersion experiences are stretching for me personally, no matter what age I am, but I think for young people in general it is a good experience. It was never meant to be a vocational program. It was to provide a good quality lay ministry, to focus on good, meaningful work for the common good of the planet.  It was rewarding to me. In all my ministries, it’s like I like it, it’s rewarding, I’m engaged, I move on. Some people can stay 20 years, 30, 40. Not me. I like variety, a lot of variety.

Q. What were you like as a child?

A. Very quiet, shy, tomboy. Oh my gosh. I followed my brother around a lot and actually got five stiches in my head because of it. I came from a big family. We made our own fun. I loved playing outside in the back yard. We had a big garden and one of our sports was throwing dirt clods at each other. We made forts in the corn crib. We had our cows. We grew up on a farm, a 40-acre farm. It was a hobby for my dad, but also it supplemented our income and our family well-being. Part of our family activity at harvest time was that you would help to have most of the corn picked. There were families who would share a corn picker in the area. Dad would have most of it picked, but save a few rows for the family to do because it was a family after-supper activity. I drove a tractor once, but got demoted from that right away. I didn’t know where the brake was. I have good memories of childhood. My dad had a lake put in when I was 10. He taught us all how to swim. That was the neighborhood gathering place, but we couldn’t do it without mom and dad there, of course. Summer softball games at the conservation club is a good memory. I loved to play house under the grape arbor, ice skating in winter.

Q. Of all the things that you learned from your parents, what do you believe was the most important?

A. That’s a really good question because there are so many things; tell the truth, don’t forget your prayers, be kind. You can do anything you put your mind to.

Q. Do you have a particular philosophy about life that you could share?

A. I have to think about that.

Q. What gives you your most pleasure or satisfaction?

A. What excites me is when things get going that are creative or engaging with the help of the people, things that help people, help me grow. Working together for what I interpret as a greater good.

Q. What gives you hope?

A. I have a lot of hope in our Congregation. Our community meeting this summer was so engaging, as they have been for a number of years. We’ve grown a lot. We have more and more challenges and yet we have a lot of hope. I have a lot of hope. I am pretty realistic, too, but I have a lot of hope in who we are as Sisters of Providence and our Associates relationship gives me so much hope. And our Providence Volunteer Ministers. We don’t have that program any more, but I think that was such a valuable program for the people who got to know us in a pretty significant way. Some of our interns are getting that advantage today. I’m hopeful for some good leadership in society. I get discouraged on the political scene; all that talk and all that propaganda. So depressing. What gives me hope is when people really work together. What gives me hope, too, are some of the particular ministries in our Congregation, the combination of spirituality and ecology and care of the Earth. It extends beyond White Violet Center itself.

Q. Do you have a favorite vacation destination?

A. St. Joe’s Lake (at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods). I do like the beach, but when you can’t have the beach, St. Joe’s lake is really good. I’ve had some great opportunities for travel through my work and through the Gilchrist-Conway Fund. That’s for sisters to have Third World experiences. That’s how I was introduced to El Salvador and Guatemala. We had a group when I was in Bloomington that raised funds to build a school in El Salvador. That was fun, very challenging and a lot of work. I’m not a great fund-raiser. I’ve been to Nicaragua, Bolivia and Kenya. I got to meet Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Q. Do you have any crafts or hobbies that you enjoy?

A. Not that I work on very steadily, but I did make a cathedral window quilt. I’m not planning on making another one. I can sew a little bit, do a little baking, ride a bike, swim.

Q. What would be the one thing you’d most want people to remember about you?

A. That she cared.

Q. What would you like to do if you didn’t have to work.

A. I would like to do a bazillion things, but what would be like three of those things? I’d go visit my grandnieces and nephews, spend some time with my sister and my brothers, hang out with sisters in health care, maybe plan some wheelchair races. I’d just volunteer around various places. Maybe do some creative programming and planning with whoever else is doing that sort of stuff.

Q. When you think of God, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

A. Friendship, love, light, energy, compassion, peace, Providence. I could go on and on about God.

Q. What energizes you spiritually?

A. Retreats, quiet prayer time, inspiring talk, book, music. The saints inspire me, some of the lives of saints; just little snip-its of those. Mother Theodore inspires me spiritually. Jesus inspires me spiritually. People like Dorothy Day, Romero, Nelson Mandela. Some of our liturgies really inspire me, the commentaries at wake services and special community prayer times such as vows, jubilees and liturgies.

Q. If you could invite three people to dinner, who might they be?

A. Mother Theodore, Jesus and my Mom, and I have a long list of people I’d like to join with us.

Favorites

Movie: August Rush

TV show: NCIS

Hobby: Baking

Sport: Walking, swimming, Tai Chi

Holiday: Easter

Author: Maeve Binchy, Joyce Rupp

Scripture passage: “I have come to bring you life and life more abundantly.” John, 10:10

Comic strip:  Peanuts

Childhood activity: Ice skating, sledding with family and friends

Hero or heroine: Martin Luther King Jr. and Dorothy Day