Assembling in a spirit of prayer
This article is reprinted from fall 2006 issue of HOPE.
By Sister Jeanne Knoerle
Every five years the Sisters of Providence assemble in a spirit of prayer to examine and evaluate the life of their Congregation, whose mission 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.” This meeting, called a General Chapter, is convened in two parts: a Chapter of Affairs and a Chapter of Elections. While it is in session, the Chapter is the highest governing body in the Congregation, an authority then assumed by the newly-elected officers, called the General Council.
The June 26-July 5 meeting this past summer focused on three major areas that the members of the Congregation wanted to examine with particular care, as well as a number of other ideas and recommendations suggested by the members.
The first major issue they examined in depth was based on their commitment — as a community and as individuals — to doing justice and living in right relationship. They identified these issues as the need to be just and to live in right relationship not only with one another, but with all humanity, with Earth, the Cosmos and all that is in it, and with God.
To do this, they committed themselves as members of the Congregation to continue their conversion of heart and mind in order to open themselves to the transforming action of Providence, and to live as responsible citizens of Earth. Further, they committed themselves to the promotion of gender equality and equity for women and to join with others in various forums to work toward this goal. These commitments were made more specific by agreeing to particular, identified actions based on deepening cycles of reflection, prayer, education, action and accountability.
The second issue they examined with care was how better to integrate their common life and their ministries as they live out the mission of the Congregation. After a good deal of discussion, and a number of suggestions about how best to do this, they called themselves to have a worldview that impels them to sustainability, non-violence, equality, mutuality, the interconnectedness of all creation, and to a spirit of “enoughness.” Further, they agreed to annually develop a personal plan for their lives that would keep this commitment before their eyes, focusing once again on very specific actions in the five areas listed above: reflection, prayer, education, action and accountability.
The third area they discussed at length was the concept of integrating and extending the ministries of hospitality, hope and healing at the motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. This piece of Earth is “home” to Sisters of Providence, and they wish to retain it as the central place of residence for sisters. But they also wish to share its beauty and offer its services to others in a variety of ways. They agreed that a variety of offerings that developed greater understanding of Providence Spirituality and further opened and explored issues of eco-justice would be a focus for the next five years, arising from their commitment “to live in right relationship.”
They further agreed to commission studies to evaluate the viability of developing at the Woods a Continuum of Care Retirement Community (CCRC) to complement the existing licensed and certified residential/assisted living and long-term care components of health care already in place. These areas will in the foreseeable future be opened to others than Sisters of Providence. This would allow a new group of people to connect with the beauty, the deep spirituality and the many educational opportunities that characterize Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
While this summary may give a glimpse into the Chapter of Affairs of the Sisters of Providence, it cannot capture the intense sense of community, the hard work of the 220 participants to express their own views and at the same time to hear and understand the views of others. The assembly concluded with a beautiful Eucharistic Liturgy, followed by a happy celebratory dinner after which sisters returned to their places of residence and ministry across the United States and in Taiwan.