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Mel Wolff: one of Mother Theodore’s daughters

Mel Marino Wolff (left) poses for a photo with Sister Nancy Nolan, her companion, during a 2008 orientation at the Woods.

Mel Marino Wolff is a life-long Chicagoan. She comes from a big family with eight younger brothers. Mel has two grown daughters — twins. Mara is the associate marketing director for Northlight Theatre and Amanda is a professional singer and sings mainly with swing bands at well-known Chicago locales like the Drake Hotel and the Green Mill.

Mel has spent many years as a teacher, mainly as a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher for Chicago Catholic Schools. For many years she was a Certified Lamaze Childbirth instructor. For the last 10 years, Mel has ministered as the art and drama teacher at Pope John XXIII School in Evanston, Ill.

Mel’s husband of 25 years died nine years ago of cancer. Today she has a special friend in her life, Jay, who is very supportive of her.

In her spare time, Mel loves movies, theatre, listening to her daughter sing and dark chocolate.

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

I had the Sisters of Providence as teachers all through grade school and high school: Our Lady of Mercy in Chicago, Providence Aspirancy at the Woods and Marywood High School in Evanston, Ill. I decided I wanted to become a sister when I was in eighth grade and went to the Aspirancy until it closed after my junior year. After senior year at Marywood, I went back to the Woods as a postulant but was only able to stay for a semester because my mother passed away and I had to return home to help care for my six younger brothers.

In a time of turmoil and change in religious life, many of my friends left Saint Mary’s, and my life gradually also went in another direction, but I always felt a tug at my heart for the sisters and the Woods and had a kind of longing to continue to be part of that picture.

2.) Share with us about your relationship with your companion, Sister Nancy Nolan. How did you proceed through the Spiritual Integration Units? What have you enjoyed most about the candidacy process?

Sister Nancy Nolan and I did not know each other before the candidacy process. I knew who she was because she had been general superior of the sisters and also president of Mother Theodore Guerin High School [in River Grove, Ill., now known as Guerin College Preparatory High School], but we hadn’t really met before. I am so grateful to Sister Mary Alice [Zander, director of Providence Associates] for pairing us up.

Working with Sister Nancy has been one of the best things about the candidate experience. She is so down-to-earth, intelligent, friendly and always reassuring. She is definitely a servant-leader, and I feel she embodies the spirit of Mother Theodore.

Sister Nancy and I read the units on our own and then took turns meeting at each other’s homes to discuss what we had read. Her insights and advice were thoughtful and welcome, and she always seemed interested in my ideas as well. I treasure a comment from Sister Nancy when she told me that the commitment to the Sisters of Providence and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods “is already in your soul.”

I also enjoyed meeting at Saint Mary’s for the orientation and the Day of Reflection. I have been “attached” to the Woods itself since I started high school. Although I have visited many times over the years, during these recent times, I was able to meet more sisters, associates and candidates and to once again feel a genuine part of this wonderful place.

3.) Will you be making your commitment in November 2009? Do you know what your commitment will be?

Yes, I am planning on making my commitment in November and am really looking forward to it! I have ideas about carrying out my commitment, which involve both prayer and art.

4.) How do you see Providence at work in your life?

I’m sure that Providence has been at work throughout my life, although I may not have always been thinking about it. For example, there is a group of women from Indiana, Illinois and Oregon who have stayed friends all these years, since we first met at the Woods when we were teenagers. We meet once or twice a year at our friend Sheila’s in Jasonville, Ind. We re-unite with laughter, talk, food and song (always singing some of our old Aspirancy parodies). These friends have proved to be life-affirming and nurturing. When Mother Theodore was canonized, three of us ordered a cake with her picture and the words: “Thanks for bringing us together!”

Although I was already close friends with two of these women, Sharon Medicis Michaud and Sheila Dailey Donis, we decided together to apply for the associate relationship. This time has strengthened our bonds of friendship and our connection to Providence.

When Sheila’s 28-year-old daughter recently died after years of battling juvenile diabetes and its related conditions, our group was able to support and rally around Sheila and Theresa and share in this bittersweet time, gaining comfort and wisdom from their strength.

5.) What have you learned about yourself or the world that you didn’t realize prior to studying the Spiritual Integration Units?

The word “Providence” itself has become more meaningful to me as I begin to understand its many definitions and uses. In all my reading about Mother Theodore this past year, I have become so much more appreciative of her life, struggles, kindness, wisdom and charisma. More than ever lately, I think of myself as one of her daughters. I was very interested in reading too about the practices of the Sisters of Providence. Humor, education and the arts are especially close to my heart and already part of my own life’s mission.

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

I would like to thank Sisters Mary Alice Zander, Diane Mason [assistant director of Providence Associates] and my companion Sister Nancy Nolan, for all their hard work, dedication, caring and humor!

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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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  1. Avatar Kate Hamilton on November 19, 2023 at 7:56 pm

    I just finished reading this entire section. I recognized many of the names. Reading what inspired these people’s trips through the process was really heartening. My first acquaintance with the woods was withh Sr. Margaret Quinlan through Joan Townsend, who had started her journey to become an Associate.
    St. Mary’s has a “feeling” about it, thanks to the women who don’t just talk a good line…they live it and spread it to everyone. I am glad to read about so many people who are continuing the love and work of Mother Theodore.

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