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Sandra Hartlieb: a passion for Mother Theodore

Sandra Hartlieb (center) poses for a photo after her first commitment as a Providence Associate on March 21, 2009. On her right is Sister Diane Mason, assistant director of Providence Associates, and on her left is Sister Mary Alice Zander (RIP), director.

Sandra Hartlieb and her husband, Ron, have been married 39 years and reside in Indianapolis. They have a married son and daughter and three “exceptional grandboys.” Sandra and Ron are members of St. Lawrence Church, where Sandra serves on the Faith Formation Commission and does some volunteering at the school. Sandra received a degree in communications and theatre in 1993 from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), the same year her daughter graduated from Hanover College. Self-employed, Sandra does contract work in educational theatre, storytelling and performances.

1.) Who was your companion? What was it like going through the Spiritual Integration Units with your companion?

Sister Marilyn Herber was my companion – she still is! We actually began our Spiritual Integration Units as she drove us home from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods on Oct. 13, 2007. We forged a wonderful friendship on that drive. She has become many things to me over the last several months. More than a “companion” – Sister Marilyn is a gifted listener. She is a spiritual model. She is a gentle advisor. She is a profound thinker. She is a very dear friend.

2.) What challenged you the most as you progressed through your candidacy?

During the first several months of my candidacy, I was going through a depression. I was losing more and more independence because of my low vision. I would be so spiritually and emotionally uplifted on days when Sister Marilyn and I were together – then the next day I’d feel so depleted that I could hardly get out of bed. I was asking, “God, what’s the plan? I have asked you to use me, but I feel like I’m used up.” I sort of had a “Superwoman” complex. I’m involved in many forms of teaching, writing, directing, performing. I am often unable to show my inner-self to people other than my own family. Sister Marilyn took a powerful role in helping me to see that it is OK to be vulnerable. Here’s a simple poem that I wrote and dedicate to her.

Be me
Be powerful
Be wounded
Be empathetic
Be you

3.) Tell us about your first commitment on March 21, 2009. What commitment(s) did you make?

My commitment day took place during the spring retreat for candidates and associates. I really, really was sad that I could not make my commitment with the others in my group (because of a performance engagement). I truly missed that part of “community”. So, it was really special that I was able to share the moment with Sue Hyland, who was making her renewal of commitment. My husband, Ron, was there with me, supporting me as always with his whole heart! So many sister-friends that I saw at Mass, at lunch and throughout the weekend made me feel very blessed and honored to be a part of Mother Theodore’s daughters.

I made a commitment to continue to be a spokesperson for the story of Mother Theodore and the Sisters of Providence by presenting my play, “In Her Own Words,” as often as possible. I also committed to volunteer at Miracle Place in Indianapolis. Sister Marilyn introduced me to this wonderful ministry, so now I go once a month to tell stories to the after-school kids.

4.) What is your connection to the Sisters of Providence?

My kids went to St. Simon the Apostle school in Indianapolis, where the Sisters of Providence taught. But Mother Theodore really brought me into relationship with the sisters. And now I have an ever-growing circle of sister-friends!

5.) How did you become interested in the life of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin?

On October 15, 2006, my husband and I made a pilgrimage to Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods, because we couldn’t afford to go to Rome! I spent a long time “talking with” Saint Mother Theodore about my ministry, about my poor eyesight, about family. That time gave me a new energy for my calling.

After that, I really began to read everything I could find about Mother Theodore’s story. I was so inspired by her, especially her fortitude in the presence of so many obstacles to her ministry. I remember once, I saw a story about her in a newsmagazine at the grocery checkout. I started talking to people in line with me, “Have you heard of Mother Theodore? Do you know her story?” I talked to my sisters and my daughter constantly about this Saint’s remarkable story. Finally, one of my sisters, said, “Why don’t you write her story down?” And I thought, “Mother Theodore, is that what you would like me to do? To tell your story?”

So, then my research began in earnest. I spent many hours in the Sisters of Providence Archives, and always concluded my research days with a walk and a talk with Mother Theodore. I had the opportunity to “try-out” what I had begun to develop at a symposium held at the college. Encouraged with the response, I continued to work and finally debuted “In Her Own Words” at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for about 300 sisters in July 2007. The reaction was more than I could have imagined! The sisters embraced me and the style that I gave to the persona of Mother Theodore.

6.) What hobbies do you have?

Grandboys! What a thrill ride! We play games and make-believe. Go to museums and the park. Create treasure maps to find little surprises I hide in the house. Walk my dog. Read books and cuddle.

7.) How long have you been a part of Sisterhood Christian Drama Ministry? What is this ministry?

Sisterhood was born at a rest area on I-65 in August 1996. My sisters, Nora and Peggy, and I had been dreaming and planning and talking about a drama venture for a long time. We finally realized that God was calling us to use drama to tell the stories of Scripture. “To see Scripture with new eyes” was the catch-phrase we have always used to describe a Sisterhood performance. Our husbands came on-board right away as our stage crew. Eventually, our fourth sister, Bibiana, joined us as a writer, and our brother, Bob, joined us in performances.

Sisterhood is a touring, Christian drama company. We take lights, sound equipment, props and costumes in a 12-foot trailer to churches, schools and community centers all over Indiana and Kentucky. In 1999, we added interactive retreats and workshops to our programming. Workshops focus on helping people find relativity in the Scriptures in their own lives; using drama as a means to explore Scripture; teaching creative movement to contemporary Christian songs; and interactive/communal prayer.

Since 2001, we have taken performances and workshop programs to three prisons – Indiana Women’s Prison, the Juvenile Correctional Institute on the West side of Indianapolis, and the Kentucky Women’s Prison. We have also been on three mission trips to Appalachia. The summer of 2009 brings our biggest mission project ever. Ten members of Sisterhood will travel to Nakuru, Kenya. We will bring the Gospel through storytelling, music and a meal program to more than 300 orphans and very poor families.

8.) What is the best part about being a Providence Associate?

Being a Providence Associate has allowed me to experience a communal relationship with the Sisters of Providence, and in doing so, become even closer to Mother Theodore. Meeting, and getting to know, other women and men who also have a deep love of the Providence charism has strengthened my own spiritual life. I have found new ways to approach my journey on this planet, especially in areas of simplicity and ecology.

I have always felt that one of the most important facets of God is relationship.
From the Old Testament Covenant, to Jesus’ desire to “be one” with us is proof to me that God desires to be in relationship with us. To see the face of God in our companions, sisters and friends is our human way to find relationship with our Creator. From the earliest Biblical matriarch, to the newest saint, to the person standing beside us in worship, we are this huge crowd which no one can count. We reach across time and space to unite and bond with family. I feel this most intensely with my own biological family, and secondly, with my Providence family.

9.) Anything else you’d like to share?

Here’s a poem that I wrote in my journal after a meeting with Sister Marilyn.

Trail Signs

God is without ears,
And yet He hears the cry
Of the lowly and persecuted.

God is without eyes,
And yet He sees the tiny swirls
And whorls in a newborn’s footprint.

God does not smell,
And yet He created the sweet
Fragrance of a meadow of wildflowers.

God does not have arms,
And yet he envelopes us with
The tender whisper of a caress.

God does not have feet,
And yet He moves us
To follow Him into the fog.

The trail signs He leaves are unmistakable –
A phone call from a friend
A good cry with a sister
A card from a daughter
A kiss from a beloved
A prayer with a companion.

Sandra Hartlieb
June 2008

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Connie McCammon

Connie McCammon worked in the communications office for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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