Sister Cathy White
Years in the Congregation: 21 years
Sometimes it takes a call even though “the call” already has been received.
Once Cathy White had decided to act on her desire to join a religious congregation, she did what a lot of prospective women religious would do. She visited four congregations to experience first-hand what might await her.
Confidently, she decided on the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and sent a letter of application.
Months passed. Cathy received no response. She remembers an emotional meeting with a friend. “What’s going on here? Didn’t I make the right decision?” she asked her friend.
“Did you call?” her friend responded.
“Then how are you going to know if you don’t call?” her friend asked.
Cathy’s letter of application arrived at a provincial office during a change of leadership. The outgoing administrator thought the incoming administrator responded, and vice versa.
Once Cathy made contact with the Sisters of Providence, she was on a fast track to become Sister Cathy White. Months were shaved off the normal initial formation application process.
“When I drove through that gate (at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods), I knew I was home,” Sister Cathy said.
Perhaps, through that conversation with her close friend, the hand of Providence was at work.
“Being a Sister of Providence, there is no such word as ‘accident.’ We’re all guided by a hand that we cannot hold. I know there is a hand that holds my hand. I don’t always know where it will lead me. I could make a choice to go another direction and that hand would go with me” she said.
The direction she chose early in her life was to enrich her desire to be with children by becoming a teacher, while foregoing what she felt was an earlier call to go to medical school.
Sister Cathy was born on a dairy farm in West Chester, Pa., one of four children in her family. She attended parochial schools throughout her life. She was involved in many school activities, including “anything to do with music.” She performed with the concert band, marching band and drama department. At Immaculata College where she majored in biology, she was in the glee club.
“I truly thought I’d go to medical school,” Sister Cathy said. “Medicine is a way to help people make their lives whole. But music does the same thing, sort of a spiritual healing.”
The vein of music talent runs deeply in Sister Cathy’s family.
“Music is very important in my life. It is part of my being. There’s not a cell in my body that doesn’t have a music gene,” she said. Many members of her family were dedicated vocalists and instrumentalists. Her grandmother sang light opera.
After graduation from college, she applied for a volunteer position with the Diocese of Oklahoma City and began teaching. Five years later the school site was sold and later became the site of the Murrah Federal Building, which was destroyed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
“After a lot of discernment and talking with a spiritual director, I became a member of a Carmelite monastery. I found that there is a very contemplative side to my being, but I needed to be with the kids. So, I thought to myself, ‘Well, silly, go be with the kids.’ Kids do nothing but energize me,” she said.
She found employment in Oklahoma as a dormitory parent for children who came from split families. She was a counselor for junior high kids at the summer camps sponsored by the Diocese of Oklahoma City. That’s where she met Sister Barbara Bluntzer, a Sister of Providence.
She later found a teaching position at Corpus Christi School in Oklahoma City, where Sister of Providence Nancy Nolan was principal.
She continued her own education and obtained her teaching certificate and also studied to obtain a certificate to teach children with learning disabilities.
“There was something nagging in me. I truly had to look at religious life again. In 1982, I started the process,” she said. A few months later, she was accepted into the postulancy.
She headed back to the classroom to meet the challenge of teaching young people again, and served in that ministry for many years. She also served as the first executive director of the South Central Los Angeles Ministerial Project. Then she learned she was about to face a major personal challenge. She was diagnosed with cancer.
After surgery and chemotherapy treatment, she realized she didn’t have the stamina to handle the rigors of being the director of such a dynamic program as South Central LAMP. The program needed a full time person who could give the large time requirement necessary to lead the organization. So she left there to again teach, this time at Notre Dame Academy in Los Angeles. In 2004 Sister Cathy answered another call. She currently serves as Safe Environment Coordinator for the Diocese of San Bernardino.
Her journey as a Sister of Providence has been fulfilling.
“I have never regretted the decision at all. There are times I ask myself ‘What am I doing here?’ But 97 percent of the time I know what I’m doing and why I am doing it,” Sister Cathy said.
Without hesitation, Sister Cathy said her best day as a Sister of Providence was her profession of final vows.
“That was wonderful. Sister Jenny Howard and I professed together. We professed the vows and signed the cards. Then I looked up and saw the church filled with Sisters of Providence and knowing what I just said, it seemed like we were just one. I never saw my family sitting in the front row. I only saw Sisters of Providence.”
The unity, support and spirituality that accompany life as a woman religious continues to motivate Sister Cathy.
“What continues to encourage me is that I don’t do it alone. There is a grounded support. It gives me a conduit to live my Christianity. It gives me the opportunity to live my baptismal vows in union with other women who have the same goals and objectives. I’m part of a family that will support and give life-giving challenges,” she said.
Favoritesactress: Julie Andrews
hobby: hand stitching
dessert: berry pies
time of day: morning
least favorite course in school: Latin
If I Weren’t an SP I’d be: I’d be very sad.
web site: Google
course in school: biology
least favorite food: bosch pears
saint: Mary Magdalene
sinner: Mary Magdalene
childhood activity: jumping into stacks of hay
my best friend says: I ask too many questions.
book: “The Source” by Michener