Peggy Balensuela: finding a home for her spirit
1.) Share a little about yourself.
I grew up in northern Wisconsin in a small dairy-farming community right in the heart of “Packer country.” I attended Indiana University in Bloomington from 1977-1989, and earned the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor of music degrees in voice performance. I joined the Indiana State University Department of Music faculty in 1989 and am now a full professor of voice, teaching private lessons, advanced vocal/opera literature, and foreign language diction for singing. My professional performance activity has been primarily as a soloist with orchestras around the country, and in South America, in oratorio and other concert repertoire. I am a member of St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Terre Haute, Ind.
I have a terrific teenaged daughter, Elinor, who will be a junior at Terre Haute North High School this fall. She brings incredible joy to my life every day. We share our home with three kitties (Seamus, Franklin, and Winston) and our “serenity dog” Tasha, a 10-year-old Pembroke Welsh corgi we adopted two years ago.
I love to read, mostly historical fiction. I have been known to knit and cross-stitch and to cook some pretty fabulous meals. I am not a TV or movie person; I’d rather read the book!
2.) What is your connection to the Congregation?
As a non-Catholic, it was up to Providence to lead me to the Congregation. My first visit to the Woods was in 2001: to celebrate my five-year-breast-cancer survivor anniversary, I participated in the Komen Race for the Cure. My reaction: “Wow, look at this place! I never knew it was here!” When my daughter was ready for kindergarten, her father and I chose to send her to Sacred Heart School, where we got to know Sister David Ellen [Van Dyke] and other members of the Catholic community (Elinor went to St. Patrick School for grades 6-8).
In the fall of 2004, I was in the midst of what I now recognize as a very dark “dark night of the soul,” in which I was physically, spiritually and emotionally dying. A friend had turned me on to praying/walking labyrinths, and I was grateful to find such a lovely one so nearby. As time went on that fall, I returned often to the Woods and its sacredness began to seep into my very troubled spirit. I credit a spiritual awakening I had while walking the grounds in September 2004, as a catalyst for the beginning of the healing process, which is ongoing.
Providence began to put SPs in my path and, as I learned more about the Congregation and Mother Theodore, I realized that here was a community, right in my backyard, in which my spirit felt at home. Soon after I adopted Tasha, my corgi, in 2006, I began to bring her out to visit sisters in Health Care; that’s when I saw the brochures for the Providence Associate Relationship and was delighted to discover that it was open to non-Catholics! I missed the deadline for the first group, but was in touch with Sister Mary Alice [Zander, director of Providence Associates] throughout that year before I applied for candidacy in 2007. I couldn’t wait to begin a more formal relationship with the Sisters of Providence!
3.) What was your candidacy like?
The most immediately meaningful moment of my candidacy was at the initial orientation when I realized that SPs really mean it when they say “All are Welcome.” I feared that my being a non-Catholic, and a “newbie” to the Community, would be a serious, perhaps insurmountable, handicap. Au contraire! Where I was/am in my “God quest” makes me securely one of many within the charism of Providence.
I was blessed to have Sister Connie Kramer as my companion during the candidacy process. With her, the Spiritual Integration Units were truly “integrating.” I discovered a form/name for the elusive sense of God that I’d had for most of my life. For me, “Providence” has meant: “Namaste,” “Amazing Grace,” Acceptance, and Trust. It has been the “All is well …” of Julian of Norwich. It has been the “Ahhh!” in Bach. It has been the “Spirit” in my reSPIRITation/breath of singing. It has been an Idaho sunrise. It has been the spaciousness of Independence Pass in Colorado. It has been a December “sundog.”
“Providence” has been in my daughter’s eyes and in the hug of a dying friend. “Providence” is that “which has protected us until the present, and which will provide, somehow, for our future needs,” and “has sustained us in so visible a manner [italics mine] the we cannot fail to see in it the attention of his Providence.”
4.) What commitment(s) did you make?
My commitment is very simple: On a pragmatic level, I continue to bring Tasha out to visit the sisters in Health Care as schedules and weather permit (a wet corgi is not the most welcome guest!), and, as a “local,” lend a hand with various events as I can. Fortunately, I can also attend celebrations and Mass at the Woods on a regular basis. In a broader sense, my commitment is to grow in my awareness as a person of Providence, to stay open to the opportunities to say “Yes!” when its spaciousness beckons.
5.) What do you enjoy most about being a Providence Associate?
Beyond all of the above, I have relished my new friendships in the Providence Associate Relationship. Every retreat has introduced me to extraordinary people who celebrate Providence in their lives in ways both spectacular and mundane. Each encounter has been pure gift. Sisters Mary Alice and Diane [Mason, assistant director] bring such warmth, humor, and wisdom to our gatherings; their leadership/stewardship is phenomenal. I am so very grateful that Providence has brought me to this point in my journey; at our commitment ceremony, Sister Connie gave me a framed, handmade decoupage of the portrait of Mother Theodore with her words, which has become a mantra for me: “This is the path traced by Providence and I follow it.” Amen.