Please note: Sister Mary Alice Zander lost her courageous battle with cancer on March 5, 2011. May she rest in peace.
Sister Mary Alice Zander, a member of the Congregation since 1962, is the director of Providence Associates. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She also holds two master’s degrees. One is in religious studies from Mundelein College and the other is in pastoral studies from Loyola University, both in Chicago. Sister Mary Alice has also received spiritual direction training from Claret Center, Chicago. Below she shares a little of her story. (This interview was originally posted in December 2008.)
1.) Tell us about your family — where did you grow up and where did you attend grade and high schools?
I’m an only child. My Mother had eight siblings and my Dad had nine siblings (all girls) so I had lots of aunts, uncles and cousins. I grew up on the northside of Chicago and attended grammar school at St. Genevieve and St. Andrew where I was taught by the Sisters of Providence. After grammar school I went to the Aspirancy of the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. The Aspirancy was a high school for girls interested in becoming a sister.
2.) What was your connection to the Sisters of Providence?
I knew the Sisters of Providence from the time I was in first grade and I loved being around them! I sensed they were happy women and by the time I was in third grade I knew I wanted to be a sister. Once I knew I could volunteer to help them after school, I was there, washing chalkboards, dusting, correcting papers, running errands. I would always volunteer my Dad to drive the sisters (sisters did not drive in those days) any place they needed to go! I always went along.
3.) When did you enter the Congregation? Why did you choose the Sisters of Providence?
I entered the Sisters of Providence in 1962 (after attending the Aspirancy). My parents encouraged me to become a sister. My Dad had two blood sisters in another community and I thought he would want me to enter their community. When I told him I wanted to be a Sister of Providence he totally supported my decision. I wanted to teach and becoming a Sister of Providence was a perfect fit for me. I was “at home” with them.
4.) What have your ministries been?
I began as a primary elementary school teacher. While teaching I became very involved in parish ministry, especially child and adult catechesis, RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), and liturgy. I was a director of parish religious education for 13 years before I served as a consultant for faith development with the Chicago Archdiocesan Catholic Schools for 7 years. In 1993 I was asked to be the director of novices (Sisters of Providence). After 6 years as novice director, I was drawn to retreat ministry and spiritual direction. I facilitated retreats for women, parish groups, faculties and various religious congregations.
5.) In addition to your responsibilities with the associates, you are also a spiritual director. Tell us more about this ministry. What do you enjoy most about this ministry? It must be very sacred to share one’s spiritual journey, is it not?
For me, the role of the spiritual director is one of companioning a person in her/his spiritual life journey as she/he seeks to be attentive to the presence and experience of God in her/his life — in daily life, ordinary experiences, critical times, in relationships, in recognition of one’s own giftedness, limitations and struggles, personal and world issues, and in one’s prayer life.
In spiritual direction, I need to really focus on listening not only to the spoken words but what is underneath the words. I am not there to fix or solve problems, advise, or counsel, but to invite the person to listen for the promptings of God in one’s own story. It is a privilege for me to “walk” with another person and I know that through this relationship I have deepened in my relationship with God.
6.) What do you enjoy most about the Providence Associate Relationship? What are your hopes for this ministry?
I’ve loved every ministry I have had, but I think this one tops them all! It just seems to flow and fit with the gifts I have been given and with every other ministry I have done prior to this. The ministry has been so rewarding because of the overwhelming support and participation of sisters and staff. I could never do this ministry alone! Sisters serve as companions, hostesses, writers of materials, prayerful support; they volunteer and help where needed. Our Providence Associate Advisory Group is strong, creative, imaginative, and they are do-ers!
It is such a profound and humbling experience for me to meet and get acquainted with so many of the wonderful women and men who desire to become Providence Associates. They are Providence people with Providence stories, even before some of them knew the Sisters of Providence!
We are only in our third year of welcoming women and men as Providence Associates, and there is a new energy and excitement in the Congregation among sisters and associates. Our associates come with a spirituality and giftedness that has the potential to expand Providence beyond vowed membership. Associates express a deep love and respect for the Congregation, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and the mission of Providence. It will only thrive if it is a mutual relationship of both vowed members and associates in which we can forward the mission of Providence in the world!
My hope for the future is that the bonds between sisters and associates will become stronger as we come to know one another through spiritual enrichment and deepening of the charism, through prayer and celebration, and active participation in the life and mission of the Congregation. Another hope I have is that associates will take leadership roles in the creative development of the relationship. Some associates are involved in Providence ministries, committees and volunteering.
7.) What are some of the challenges of the Providence Associate Relationship?
Because the Providence Associate Relationship has expanded and grown so rapidly, one of the challenges is for us to keep the momentum going — to keep it alive and well — staying connected with associates through communication, inclusion and participation in local and Congregation gatherings. Many congregations have had associates for 25 to 30 years, and we can learn from them. This is new for us so we need to keep it on our radar screen and always ask the questions about how associates need to be included and what will be their level of participation with us.
8.) Why is it so important to share Providence Spirituality with others?
Providence Spirituality is at the heart of who we are: sisters and associates! Consciously or subconsciously it shapes who we are, and what we are becoming, what we believe about God, one another, and the universe. It informs our choices, decisions and relationships. I believe that the more we explore Providence Spirituality in all of its wisdom, expansiveness, mystery and beauty, we will be lured to go deeper into a process of personal and communal transformation of the heart that beckons us to make a difference in the world and reflects our commitment to further God’s loving plans through works of love, mercy and justice.
9.) What are some of your hobbies and other passions in life?
Whenever I have free time, I love to cook — just basic cooking, nothing fancy! I enjoy preparing a dinner for friends. I also relish quiet time, reading a good book, walking in nature and watching old movies from the 40s and 50s. Going to the Chicago Botanic Garden feeds my soul — I often find inspiration there for retreats, talks, and personal reflection and prayer. I enjoy playing golf—I never lose a ball because it does not go far enough (unless it goes in the water!).