1.) Who are the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind.?

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., is a Congregation of women religious founded in 1840 by Mother Theodore Guerin and her five companion sisters who were sent as missionaries from Ruillé-sur-Loir in France to establish the new mission. The primary purpose or mission of the Congregation is to “honor Divine Providence and to further God’s loving plans by devoting itself to works of love, mercy and justice in service among God’s people.” There are more than 300 Sisters of Providence serving in the United States, Taiwan and China. They are involved in education, social concerns, peace and justice work, advocacy, spirituality and retreat ministry, health care, pastoral ministry and administration. The identity message used with the logo for the Sisters of Providence is: Breaking boundaries, creating hope. The Sisters of Providence are about breaking boundaries of ignorance and injustice in all forms and creating hope by actively making a difference through works of love, mercy and justice. (See our become a sister section for more information.)

2.) Who was Mother Theodore Guerin?

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin was the foundress of the Sisters of Providence. You can read much more about her here.

3.) Who are Providence Associates?

Providence Associates are women and men (at least 18 years of age) of diverse faith traditions who seek a formal relationship with the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind. They may have known the sisters for a long time or have just recently heard about the sisters. Associates are drawn to this relationship with the Sisters of Providence for many reasons, but primarily, they wish to deepen their spiritual life and they see themselves as being called to respond to the Providence vision through their own particular way of life.

4.) What is the difference between a vowed member and an associate?

The Sisters of Providence invite people to consider two distinct ways of being in relationship with the Congregation:

1.) A vowed member is a Catholic woman who experiences God’s invitation to make a life commitment as a religious sister. After a period of 5 to 9 years of preparation, she discerns this call and professes perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

2.) Associates are women and men who are called to be in a formal relationship with the Congregation for period of time. They continue in their own way of life, deepening their spirituality through the lens of Providence. They do not profess vows with the Congregation.

5.) How do I become a Providence Associate?

There are several steps to become a Providence Associate.

1.) If you desire to be in a closer relationship with the Sisters of Providence, contact the assistant director to express your interest. Debbie Dillow, assistant director, may be reached at ddillow@spsmw.org or 317-994-6821.

2.) The assistant director will be in touch to talk with you and answer questions about the associate relationship.

3.) If you remain interested, make application to begin the process of becoming an associate.

4.) You and the assistant director will mutually choose a sister or associate to companion you through the process.

5.) The candidate-associate and companion will participate in one orientation session each autumn. 

6.) You will participate in a program of Spiritual Integration (generally 11 months) and a process of discernment with the Sisters of Providence. The program consists of personal and shared reflection, and prayer with a companion and other sisters and associates (as feasible) on the topics of Providence mission, charism, story, practices, spirituality, commitment and ministries.

7.) When it is mutually discerned, you will be invited to make a formal commitment as a Providence Associate through a written covenant. You will be received and blessed during a commitment ceremony. Generally, it will be on the feast of Our Lady of Providence in November. Associates receive a Providence pin, a symbol which publicly affirms the relationship.

8.) Commitments are discerned and renewed annually. An individual may choose to be an associate for a limited period of time.

6.) What does charism mean?

The word charism may not be a familiar word to most people. It has been used within religious circles and faith traditions to express the gifts given to individuals (or a group) for the sake of the community (For more information, see “Finding the Treasure” by Sandra Schneiders, IHM).

Charism is not always easy to define or name. It may be said that it is like a spiritual energy or a breath of the Spirit that draws people to be in relationship with a particular group because they identify with the unique spirit of that community. A charism is meant to be shared and it is given to further the mission of the congregation in the church/world.

In the case of the Sisters of Providence, the charism is recognized first in the life of the foundress. The charism continues to live on in the present-day members. Mother Theodore Guerin’s charism was her indomitable trust in God’s Providence.

Our understanding of charism is that this spiritual energy or breath of spirit manifests itself in many ways in all faith traditions. As we respond to God’s Providence in the life of our Congregation, we feel the call to enter more deeply into relationship with diverse faith traditions. The Providence Associates program offers a unique opportunity to do that. In a world where the need for relationship across faith traditions is of growing importance, we believe the charism of Providence may draw people from other faith traditions into relationship with our Congregation. Our own understanding of responding to God’s Providence calls us to be open to these relationships with all people of faith and to share the charism of Providence with them and through them with the world.

7.) What is the mission of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind.?

The mission of the Sisters of Providence is to “honor Divine Providence and to further God’s loving plans by devoting themselves to works of love, mercy and justice in service among God’s people.”

8.) How does a Providence Associate participate in the life and mission of the Sisters of Providence?

There are a number of ways for associates to participate in the life and mission of the Sisters of Providence. As the associate becomes more familiar with the mission of the Congregation through the period of discernment and reflection, she or he will discuss participation with the companion and the director. Some suggested ways for associates to participate in the life and mission are:

Participation as an associate is an individual’s response to the call depending on one’s particular gifts, interest and ability. The associate makes a commitment for one year.

9.) Do I have to be Catholic to be a Providence Associate?

No, it is not necessary to be Catholic to be a Providence Associate. However, a person will want to discern if her/his belief system is compatible with that of the mission and vision statements of the Sisters of Providence. The question to be asked is — can the person hold these two together? People who belong to and practice another faith tradition may be drawn to the spirit of Providence in relationship to their own particular faith tradition. They may find and experience common ground with the Sisters of Providence through prayer, ministries and the life and works of the Congregation. Associates remain faithful to their own faith tradition and commitments.

10.) Why would I want to become a Providence Associate?

People desire to be Providence Associates for a number of reasons. Primarily, they want to be in a mutual relationship with the Sisters of Providence and to give expression to the mission of the Sisters of Providence through their own lives. They see this relationship as one that will help them strengthen and deepen their spiritual lives. Sisters and associates unite in prayer wherever they may be. There is a mutual benefit for associates and sisters as they come to know one another and share their particular giftedness through spiritual practices and the works of love, mercy and justice in various capacities. The best way to find an answer to this question is to ask an associate why she or he became one!

11.) How much time will I need to devote to becoming a Providence Associate?

The process of becoming a Providence Associate involves a time commitment that is fairly flexible. Once a person makes application and has discerned to begin the process, she/he will be connected with a companion-sister or companion-associate.

  • Ideally, candidates and companions meet for approximately two hours every four to six weeks for 10 to 11 months to reflect together on the Associate Relationship with the Sisters of Providence. The candidate will be provided with user-friendly materials (seven Spiritual Integration Units) on the Sisters of Providence Story, Prayerful Living, Providence Spirituality, Practices of the Sisters of Providence, Providence Charism, Mission and Ministries of the Sisters of Providence, and Commitments and Relationships: Vowed and Associate. The candidate reads, reflects and prays with each section at her/his own pace. The candidate and companion will reflect together and share on these units when they meet.
  • Candidates are invited to participate in appropriate community gatherings, celebrations, retreats, eco-justice, social justice and peace activities.
  • Depending on circumstances and location, it may be feasible for several sisters and candidates to periodically meet together for prayer, faith sharing and a meal.

12.) How do I make a commitment to be a Providence Associate?

Toward the end of the process of discernment with the companion, the candidate will be invited to make a commitment for one year as a Providence Associate. The candidate discerns what this commitment will be according to her/his desire, capacity and availability. Some may choose to enter into an intentional prayer relationship; others may want to become involved with the Sisters of Providence in a specific aspect of ministry. For those already involved in a particular ministry or work (not necessarily with the Sisters of Providence), it may mean becoming more intentional about how they will “further God’s loving plans through works of love, mercy and justice” in their particular work or ministry. The candidate, with the help of the companion, formulates a written covenant. The candidate writes a letter to the director of associates requesting to be received as a Providence Associate. Candidates become Providence Associates during a local commitment ceremony. Generally, the commitment ceremony is in November. Associates are presented with a distinctive Providence pin, a symbol which publicly affirms the relationship.

13.) Is there a financial commitment to being a Providence Associate?

There is no canonical, financial or legal obligation to one another on the part of the associate or the Congregation. Associates do not participate in the governance of the Congregation nor do they profess vows with the Congregation. The associate’s travel expenses for the program and for participation in community meetings, gatherings and events are assumed by the associate.

14.) What is the relationship between Providence Associates and the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind.?

From the early foundation of the Congregation to the present, the Sisters of Providence have cultivated relationships with persons who are drawn to the mission of the Congregation. Although the term “associate” was not used in former times, there have always been women and men who have been closely affiliated with the sisters.

Both associates and sisters share in the mission, vision, and spiritual life of Providence through prayer, ministry, celebration, and works of love, mercy and justice. There is a mutual benefit between associates and sisters in that each gives expression to Providence in her/his unique way of living and are invited to share one’s giftedness with one another and the world. Associates are invited to participate in appropriate community events, gatherings, retreats and eco-spirituality and social justice activities.

15.) How long is my commitment as a Providence Associate?

During the first three years, each Providence Associate, after prayerful discernment, may renew her/his commitment for one year or may decide not to renew. After three years of the annual commitment renewals, the associate may renew for a period of 1, 3 or 5 years or may decide not to renew the commitment.

Remembering that this is a mutual relationship, once an associate has made an initial commitment, she/he may continue to renew the commitment for as long as it is mutually agreed upon.

16.) What do I do if I’m interested in becoming a Providence Associate and there isn’t a Sister of Providence who lives close to me?

There may be persons interested in becoming associates who live in parts of the world where no Sisters of Providence are living and ministering! However, many of them have been in a mutual relationship with the Sisters of Providence (alumnae, friends, family, co-workers and co-ministers). We make every effort to be creative and resilient in the program in order to welcome and engage with you in a way that will foster a mutual relationship!

17.) Does a Providence Associate have to meet physically with others?

Sisters and associates are strongly encouraged to get to know one another. This happens best when we can occasionally come together with the few or the many! Coming together for communal prayer, face to face conversations, idea sharing, a meal, quiet reflection, laughter and mutual support releases an energy among all. However, we realize that this is not always possible.

18.) What activities of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., may I participate in as a Providence Associate?

Associates with the Sisters of Providence are invited to participate in appropriate gatherings of the Congregation (e.g., annual meetings, General Chapters (as non-voting participants), retreats, spiritual programs, social justice seminars and activities and planning committees according to interest, experience and time). Associates do not participate in the governance of the Congregation. Locally, associates and sisters are encouraged to come together for prayer, faith sharing, a meal and peace and justice actions. An associate may discern that she/he wants to volunteer service with a particular ministry of the Congregation. Providence Associates receive appropriate Congregation mailings.

19.) How can I find more information about associates with religious congregations?

The North American Conference of Associates and Religious (NACAR) provides information on associates with religious congregations. The Sisters of Providence are members of NACAR.