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Wedding gown tradition

It was a day a young woman in formation with the Sisters of Providence waited for eagerly.

On that day, she would process into the flower-decorated, candle-adorned Church of the Immaculate Conception dressed in a white wedding gown — a symbol of her marriage to Christ. During the ceremony, the bishop would place into her hands the habit of a Sister of Providence. She would then leave and change into that dress which she planned to wear for the rest of her life.

An excerpt from a newspaper clipping documenting the event, believed to be from 1895, reads: “The whole ceremony of the day, the Veni Creator, the Invocation of the Saints, the blessing of the religious garb, the exchange of the showy robes of the world for the somber serge of the religious — all told of an impressive consecration to the service of God.”

Sister Gertrude Eileen Getrey’s big day was in 1925. She was 17 years old and remembers looking forward to receiving the habit and knowing that she was a Sister of Providence. “It was nice to meet the family again, dressed in a habit,” she said of the day.

She wore the habit every day for nearly half her life. “I liked it while I had it, but this is more comfortable,” Sister Gertrude Eileen says of the clothes she wears today. After receiving her habit in 1949 at the age of 27, Sister Delia Leonard spent her canonical novice year in the sewing room, where she fitted other young women for their bridal gowns.

She remembers that a few of the women brought their own gowns, which she helped to fit. The gowns then stayed with the Congregation for future use by other members.

“When the two times came that new novices were to enter, then I got to work on the wedding gowns. If they brought their own, then I might have to adjust them in some way. For instance, one brought one that was a little risqué, so I had to put a piece of lace or something on it.”

The group that entered after hers had 52 in it. “So that was a lot of wedding dresses that you had to see were nipped, tucked or made modest,” Sister Delia said with a laugh.

Another sister familiar with the wedding gown tradition from her years in the sewing room is Sister Mary Loyola Bender. She ministered in the sewing room from 1939 to 1968. Sister Mary Loyola recalls that as the wedding gowns became old and not as attractive, the Congregation would find other uses for them.

“One use we found for them was to rip up the gown and use the material as lining for the coffins when a sister died,” she said.

After the Second Vatican Council, the Congregation’s tradition of wearing the habit changed, and the wedding gown tradition faded with it. Yet memories of the tradition remain alive with many Sisters of Providence as part of a day of great excitement and joy.

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The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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