Sister Rose Ann Eaton
Years in the Congregation: 47 years
My favorite quote: “Never forget why you came here.” — Saint Mother Theodore Guerin
Sister Rose Ann Eaton chuckles when she says her life has not followed the path she had in mind. From an early age, she had an idea that she might want to become a woman religious. But her mother suggested that she wait, get her education, and then see if the idea was still with her.
Growing up in Southern Indiana was good, but enough was enough. A native of Vincennes, Sister Rose Ann had the desire for change that encourages so many young people to seek alternatives in their lives.
“I wanted to be a teacher, but I decided I didn’t want to stay in Southern Indiana for the rest of my life,” she said.
So, Sister Rose Ann chose the Sisters of Providence over a couple of other congregations that had some influence in her life, and, indeed, she started out with a teaching ministry, but it lasted only four years as a full-time ministry. She moved into a principal’s role and was still able to teach part-time for a while. And, you guessed it, it was in Southern Indiana at St. John School in Newburgh and Sacred Heart School in Evansville. During the 70’s, the Catholic Church was in dramatic transition. Society was in upheaval with a generation of citizens demanding change and questioning authority. And, change was happening so rapidly that the Sisters of Providence stopped accepting postulants for a couple of years. One day, Sister Rose Ann received a visit from the general superior, Sister Mary Pius Regnier, who asked Sister Rose Ann if she would become the director of postulants for the Congregation.
Well, for the older generations of sisters in those days, “asked” meant this is your new assignment. To the younger sisters, “asked” meant “would you consider.”
Sister Rose Ann said to her superior that she would think about it after she talked to a couple of other people.
“Many years later, Mary Pius was sitting in the dining room in Owens Hall and she said to me, ‘Do you remember saying to me that you would think about it? I didn’t know how I was going to go back and tell the council you would think about it. I was commissioned to go down there and tell you.”
Sister Rose Ann stayed in that ministry for eight years and saw significant change. “The main thing that was important with the postulants then, what we considered to be the essence of the program during that time, was experiencing the community. They entered here at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, but the whole point was to be on mission,” Sister Rose Ann said. “They were there about nine months. They had a job. We wanted them to live a life as much like the rest of the community as possible so they would get a pretty clear notion how this all works.”
At the beginning of her ministry, she said many women came with backgrounds in education, and, thus, were interested in teaching positions which were relatively easy to find. As the Church changed, as society changed and as women changed, new members of the community wanted to explore different professional options for their ministries and those positions were hard to find for short-term commitments.
“That led the New Membership Team to rethink the way that program was developed. That gave the impetus to the structure that is in place right now, with the postulancy being less of a work experience and more about visiting different places to experience community prayer and ministry,” she said.
The experience deepened Sister Rose Ann’s foundation of understanding in the Congregation.
“That was a time when I felt like I really understood the statement we make, that life and mission are one. I remember the time when I thought my life and my mission was to share my life with women who are interested, it’s just one,” she said.
“New members were inquisitive and didn’t take things for granted. Just because it was done before might not be a good enough answer. You had to get deeper than that. That forced me to re-examine and to look at those things myself,” Sister Rose Ann said.
Because of her mother’s declining health, Sister Rose Ann chose to seek a different ministry in Southern Indiana, again.
“I was the director of religious education (DRE) and pastoral associate for St. Clement Parish in Boonville. I had a good experience in parish life. Parish life offers such a variety, working with adults. As DRE, I could use my education experience, but I also had the opportunity to expand my own experience by working in the parish,” she said.
Another opportunity to expand her experience presented itself to Sister Rose Ann. As the Congregation’s election of officers approached in 1991, Sister Rose Ann’s name was on the list of candidates. She chose to leave herself open to election and she was chosen to serve on the General Council.
“You learn so many things about the Congregation. Part of it is visiting the sisters you are connected with. That is very sacred. And there’s always the bigger picture with what’s going on in terms of decisions that are being made,” she said.
Sister Rose Ann remembers what it was like to answer her own call to join the Sisters of Providence.
“I saw a good spirit among the sisters. They seemed to have a good time with one another. They supported one another in their work. They were very much connected with parish life and those were the kinds of things that I wanted to do. And I wanted to give service in some way,” she said. “I felt called and I really bargained with God about this. I wasn’t sure. There were times when I would say, ‘I need to see a little bit clearer.'”
Sister Rose Ann, who now serves as associate director of Facilities Management where she is focused on administrative work and projects that lead to a healthier motherhouse environment, savors the varied ministries she has had and the impact they have made on her life.
“Even though I have had a lot of different kinds of positions and experience to build on, it seems like I have been able to use my knowledge of what I was doing before. It is a gift to feel like your life has a purpose and that you can contribute something. Each place where I have been, I think I’ve been able to sense that I am in the right place at the right time,” she said.
And for women who might believe they have the call to religious life, Sister Rose Ann has a definite message.
Find a community whose spirit energizes you and where you feel that you will grow. Be open to new experiences and challenges. Saint Mother Theodore has said it well: “Love God, love one another and never forget why you have come”
Favoritesrecreation: playing bridge with friends
time of day: morning
TV show: Sunday Morning on CBS
comic strip: Family Circus
course in school: history
least favorite in school: science
flower: poppy and aster
vacation spot: Siesta Key, Florida
pizza topping: veggies
dessert: cookies with chocolate