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Wood carving defines couple’s love for sisters

Kathryn and Dick Hillier of Paris, Ill., present an oak woodcarving Dick made to highlight Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, Our Lady of Providence, the Church of the Immaculate Conception and other icons associated with the Sisters of Providence. Br. Barry Donaghue, executive director of Providence Center, accepted the gift on behalf of the sisters.

Who would have thought that a connection between the Sisters of Providence and a woodcarver and his wife would have begun with pie?

Thinking about it now, Dick Hillier and his wife, Kathryn, of Paris, Ill., simply chuckle.

The “pie” episode took place approximately six years ago. “Sister Joseph Clare McCarthy and some other sisters came to Arthur, Ill., for the Cheese Festival,” Dick said. The sisters stopped for a bite to eat at the Dutch Oven restaurant, where Dick’s  wife was working.

“[Kathryn] saw their crosses and said how pretty they were, and Sister Joseph Clare McCarthy told her they were Sisters of Providence,” Dick explained. Kathryn, who wanted to do something nice for the sisters, gave them a whole pumpkin pie to take back to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. When Sister Joseph Clare followed up with a thank-you note, she and Kathryn began corresponding. Approximately a year later, Kathryn and Dick climbed into their vehicle and made a trip to see Sister Joseph Clare and the others at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Dick and Kathryn’s association with the Sisters of Providence grew deeper when Kathryn signed up to be a Providence Associate, a group of people of diverse faiths who come together because they desire a more formal relationship with the sisters. Dick signed up to be a Providence Associate, too. (For more information about Providence Associates, click here.)

Dick Hillier’s latest creation was given to the Sisters of Providence when Dick and Kathryn became Providence Associates.

When asked what it was like the first time they visited Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Dick said, “It was beautiful. We came in through the north gate, past the horses and the alpacas, and drove around. We went into Providence Center,” he said, referring to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods’ official welcome center, “and The Gift Shop [at Providence Center]. We both felt, entering the gate, just how peaceful, calm and holy it was.”

Kathryn agreed, adding, “We came in as strangers. Now, we’re part of the family.”

And just like family the bond between Dick and Kathryn and the sisters grows deeper. So much, in fact, Dick put his woodcarving skills into creating a beautiful carving that depicts Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, Our Lady of Providence, the Church of the Immaculate Conception and other icons associated with the Sisters of Providence.

The piece, which measures approximately 3 feet in length, is being temporarily displayed in Providence Center next to a framed print showing past buildings connected to the sisters’ history. Both are located just past The Gift Shop at Providence Center just before you enter the hallway in front of the Heritage Museum.

Dick started doing woodcarving when he and Kathryn were first married. When Kathryn asked Dick what he wanted for Christmas, his response was “something to put together.” It was soon after that a book about woodworking, tools and carving with a 6-inch block of wood became a part of Dick’s past, present and future.

“One time, I carved a buffalo and found out I had a knack for it,” Dick said. Since then, he’s carved numerous pieces, including busts of Native Americans, an osprey, a golden eagle and a dragon, among others. Dick has also carved a crucifix, which he calls the “most important and best piece I ever did.” He has won many awards that further recognize his skill as a woodcarver.

During one visit to the Woods, Kathryn noticed that information explaining Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto was not very sturdily made to stand up to all kinds of weather conditions. Kathryn told her husband she believed he could create something better and more permanent. He did. The carved wooden plaque he made now stands the test of time at the grotto.

Dick enjoys woodcarving, and has made other faith-connected items such as candleholders and cross holders.

His latest creation — the piece of oak now on display in Providence Center — was given to the Sisters of Providence when Dick and Kathryn became Providence Associates. It felt right to do that in so many ways.

“We do feel like we are part of this family,” Dick said of the Sisters of Providence. “This is something I felt the spirit in me to do. It was a carving that was done on a very personal level. And with all the things we do it comes from the heart.”

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Becky Igo

Becky Igo worked as a marketing manager for the Office of Congregational Advancement. She was an Indiana State University grad and former newspaper reporter/editor who worked with Providence Center, Volunteer Services and the Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

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