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Mutual relationship of sisters and associates

Providence Associates and Sisters of Providence Gather to Reflect on the “Mutual Relationship of Sisters and Associates”

June 28, 2010, at Saint Mary of the Woods, Indiana

(Summary of the presentation given by Sisters Diane Mason, assistant director, and Mary Alice Zander (RIP), director.)


During our 2001 General Chapter one of our mandates was that “We, the Sisters of Providence, will create new ways for the People of God to know, understand and more actively participate in the life and mission of the Congregation.” By 2005 we were well on our way to welcome women and men to begin the process of becoming Providence Associates.

The first Commitment Ceremony took place on Nov. 17, 2007. Fifty-eight women and men made their commitment that year. Forty became associates in 2008, and 27 in 2009. As of June 2010, there are 124 associates.

The focus of this relationship with the Sisters of Providence is on spirituality, prayer, mission and participation.

ASSOCIATE MOVEMENT IN THE CHURCH (gleaned from a presentation: Revitalized Charismatic Expression of the Laity: Reflections on the Spirit and the Law by Sister Kate Kuenstler, PHJC, Canon Lawyer.)

Development of Religious Congregations in the United States of America

Foundation Period of the Sisters of Providence – 1840 – 1899

Oct. 22, 1840 – Mother Theodore Guerin, and her five companions: Sisters Vincent Ferrer, Basilide, Olympiad, Mary Xavier and Mary Liguori arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. In 1896 there were 522 professed Sisters of Providence.

According to Sister Kate Kuenstler, the founders/foundress who died before 1900 never knew that they were authentic religious. Apostolic religious institutes were for the first time in the history of the Church given official approval as being an authentic expressions of religious life in 1900.

Expansion Period – 1900

In 1901 apostolic life became official. This new breed of religious called the apostolic women went out of the convents to do their work with the people of God. In 1917 the first canon law was written down regarding apostolic religious women and men. This canon law merely describes the apostolic life. This canon law held the expression of monasticism of those in cloisters or religious orders who had centuries of history. They did not know what to do with the apostolic orders. More and more rules were being made for religious women to follow. Times for prayer were very evident within the schedule of the day. The sisters would chant morning prayer, vespers, compline and time for spiritual reading was also included within the sisters’ daily schedule. As Sisters of Providence we have always been an apostolic religious order, but for many years we did follow a monastic schedule until Vatican II.

Stabilization Era – 1930 – 1960

1930 – 1960 was known as the Stabilization Era of Religious Life and the entire Catholic Church. At this time we did not have a handle on the founders/foundresses and their charism. Our religious communities prayer life was considered the individual’s spirituality. Religious women and men followed the rule, the order that was given to them. The churches were filled with priests and the convents were overflowing with young women eager to obey the rule whatever it may be. No one questioned the authority. This was all for the love of God.

Vatican Council II 1962 – 1965 (A New Model of Community)

It was at this time that the communities were strongly encouraged to go back to their founder’s charism. It was at this time the Associates Movement came into being. More laity involvement was encouraged.

Lay women and men are attracted by the courage and vision of various founders. Lay people feel called to holiness and service in partnership with religious women and men without embracing a celibate lifestyle in community. The Associate Movement is pointing toward a future for religious that isn’t clear for them as well as for the associates. The Associate Movement is clearly being driven by the Holy Spirit, but it is messy.

Breakdown /Revitalization Period – 1970

During this Breakdown/Revitalization Period we all continued to struggle to define, describe and understand what was happening. Religious life has always evolved with the times and to this day we are still evolving differently than the way we were in 1970. Vatican II broke open the windows in the Church and Pope John XXIII proclaimed let the winds of change take hold.

Most of us as Sisters of Providence have experienced a period of this breakdown in our life time, but we have and are experiencing a move towards revitalization at the same time.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Associate Movement was beginning to form. Some communities have had associates for over 20 to 40 years, but nothing is written down as how to form them. The Associate Movement is still considered very new.

The Associate Movement is not under canon law.

Present Era: the Charismatic Family

A Charismatic Family might be identified as two distinct groups (sisters and associates) becoming a community of communities under ONE CHARISM. The association within the Charismatic Family is not membership in religious life.

There are some distinctions between vowed membership and associates:

  • The associate relationship is CUSTOM. This means while being in the Custom Stage (this is not a law) every law begins as a custom. The Associate Movement is in the years of formation. Thus there are questions: What needs to be done? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? We listen as the Spirit guides us and always remember this is a period of making mistakes.
  • Vowed membership is in canon law. Association is not.
  • Associates have boards (however they determine it for their needs)
  • Vowed membership have an elected leadership council
  • Associates have guidelines, policies, etc.
  • Vowed membership have constitutions
  • Associates make a commitment for a period of time.
  • Vowed membership profess vows .

The Associate Movement is Spirit-led and Providence guides it! As Sisters of Providence we give associates encouragement to continue to walk this journey with us. You need confidence in yourselves to be who you are. We need to continue to communicate at all times as associates and sisters. There will be times that we will agree and we will disagree. Remember this is all so very new – nothing is written down on how associates are to be. Together sisters and associates need to carve out a vision. We are so very different, and we are so much alike. We are all LAY people as religious sisters and associates. It is messy. We know about order and chaos when we talk about Providence.

We have gleaned some insight from reading, research, and talking with those congregations who have had associates for 25-30 years.

What Associates are:

  • They walk together with us in a distinct and collaborative way of spreading the mission and charism through their lives.
  • The associates are a part of the family of the apostolate communities.
  • The associates are a lay expression in the Church. They are not an expression of religious in the Church. They are not new members of the apostolic religious congregations.
  • They are to be themselves; they are to be who they are.

What Associates are not:

  • Associates are not here to replace vowed religious.
  • Associates are not involved in the internal governance of the congregation; no more than vowed members tell them how to run their households.
  • Associates are not involved in the finances of the congregation; no more than vowed members tell them how to manage their money.
  • They are not the same as the third orders – such as the oblates or lay sisters.

WHAT ARE AREAS OF MUTUALITY between Providence Sisters and Associates?

The first area is PROVIDENCE: Both sisters and associates are called to deepen our understanding and experience of Providence. Providence is the overarching point of mutuality for us. It is like the “umbrella” that is over all of us! It must be what we as sisters and associates have in common, even as we grapple with the meaning of Providence, learn more about the theology and spirituality of it, share our insights and experiences of how we know Providence moving in our lives, and perhaps even disagree with one another on certain aspects and see it through our particular lens.

There is a unit in the associate notebook on Providence Spirituality written by Sister Jan Craven that provides the candidate and companion with insights and understandings of Providence Spirituality for reflection and discussion.

The second area is that of MISSION. The SP mission statement states:

The purpose of this Congregation is to honor Divine Providence and to further God’s loving plans by devoting itself to works of love, mercy, and justice in service among God’s people. Constitutions, #3

Our Mission statement is central to mutuality between sisters and associates. This is what we are about — the mission! We each give expression to how we live it in unique ways as vowed members and associates. It must be in our bones and in our hearts, in our language and in our actions.

The third area is that of CHARISM: to live/share/promote the spirit (charism) of the Congregation with others. Charism is the particular spirit or gift or grace given to us as a congregation. It is woven in our mission.

Sisters and associates are called to live, share and promote it with others wherever we find ourselves. We become the face of Providence to others. Associates often express that it is the charism and mission that draws them to become an associate with the Sisters of Providence. The reflections shared on the website reflect this! The charism is in your own stories—in your experience!

In the associate’s notebook, there is a unit on charism which was written by Sister Rosemary Nudd. She points out that just as “a bell is no bell ‘til you ring it” (Oscar Hammerstein) a charism is no gift until it’s given away.

The forth area of mutuality is PRAYER and PRAYERFUL LIVING, both personal and communal prayer. We may all name how we pray in different ways, what is more familiar to some may be new to others.

There is a unit on prayer and prayerful living in the associate notebook written by Sister Mary Catherine Keene. Sister Mary Catherine provides endless possibilities for prayer experiences both personally and communally. She also provides reflections on “what it means to be a prayerful person.”

When a candidate or associate is formulating his or her commitment statement, she/he is asked to consider how they will commit to join with the sisters in mutual prayer. Some choose to pray the Companion to the Breviary, the Litany of Non-Violence, the Inclusive Reunion Prayer, participate in Liturgy, make a retreat, or perhaps be in spiritual direction. Some associates and sisters in local areas occasionally come together to pray.

Another way for us to pray mutually is at the time of a death of a sister or associate. SP relays are sent to associates and sisters.

The fifth area of mutuality is RELATIONSHIP. The relationship between sisters and associates began happening from the get-go! Sisters gave us names of women and men to invite to become associates. Adding to that, close to 140 sisters (includes sisters in health care who have been a companion. Some sisters have been a companion more than once! Several of our associates who have had a long-time relationship with the Congregation serve as a companion to a candidate now. Being a companion develops a mutual relationship through shared story.

The unit in the associate notebook on story written by Sister Margaret Quinlan is meant to create a mutual sharing between associates and sisters. Our hope is that this mutual sharing of story expands so more associates and sisters get to know one another at various gatherings and events.

Another unit in the associate notebook focuses on relationship and commitment written by Sister Joan Slobig and provides a lens for sisters and associates to go to the deeper story about making a commitment as vowed members and associates in a unique relationship with the Congregation.

And another unit on our practices, written by Sisters. Jeanne Knoerle and Bernice Kuper invites associates and sisters to talk about how our practices are a part of our story (past and present),
and how we, as sisters and associates, can practice them in meaningful and mutual ways today.

LOCAL AREA GATHERINGS (“Providence Circles”)

The bonds between associates and sisters happen and deepen in many ways besides companioning! There are sisters who perhaps do not wish to be a companion but are in relationship in other ways as a family member, a good friend, shared ministry, prayer, and local gatherings.

Sisters and associates have helped plan and have provided hospitality for local commitment ceremonies and renewals in Indianapolis, Chicago, California, Southern Indiana and Kentucky, Florida, New Mexico, and Taiwan. Some associates have initiated local gathering to which they invite sisters. We are calling these Providence Circles!

Associates coming to part of the Annual Meeting provides another opportunity for us to put a name with a face and get to know one another and to deepen and strengthen the bonds that unite us.


We, with the help of Sister Rosemary Schmalz, provide associates with SP communications (i.e. appropriate parts of the General Mailing that are informative and of interest to them. We ask associates to share their news events, stories etc. that appears in the Providence Associate newSPaper two times a year.

The SP website is a tremendous source of information for all of us, always up to date news about the Congregation’s life and mission. You can meet associates as they share their stories of why they want to be an associate with us! You can put a name with a face in the photo gallery!

Sisters and associates have a common directory so we can locate one another!


Associates are invited to Congregation celebrations such as jubilee and vow celebrations, Foundation Day and other significant events at the Woods or in local areas. Sisters are invited to the commitment ceremony of associates and renewal celebrations at the Woods and local areas.


As associates and sisters get to know one another better there are opportunities for associates to become more supportive of the Congregation through involvement at events and to serve on various committees according to the needs of the Congregation and the skills and expertise of associates.


The final unit in the associate notebook is on mission and ministries written by Sister Kathleen Desautels. It connects where we began talking about mission and brings us to an awareness of the concrete ways we are called to be in ministry wherever we are as sisters, as associates. Sister Kathleen speaks of being intentional about doing ministry through the lens of Providence.

Sisters and associates meet one another doing service in ministry. Associates participate with sisters in various events, such as docents for Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Shrine, phonathon, Family Day, Earth Day, service in health care, the grounds at the Woods, St. Ann Clinic in Terre Haute, and Miracle Place in Indianapolis. Some serve on the Mission Advisory Board, the Committee for Peace with Justice, Anti-Racism Committee, the Providence Associate Advisory Board. We have a number of associates who are committed as employees and staff members at the Woods and Guerin Prep in River Grove, Ill.

Some time ago, we asked the General Council to consider that each time we address something to the sisters — if it is to share information, to invite them to serve on a committee, or to announce an event, we need to ask ourselves, “Is this appropriate for associates to be included or is it not?” The council seriously took it to heart and we all need to continue to ask the question as we feel our way together. Sometimes it is appropriate and sometimes it is not!

The associate relationship is very, very new to the Church, and it is still being shaped and is evolving after 30 years. As Providence sisters and associates we are even newer to this movement and are grateful for those congregations who have gone before us.

We are grateful to the many sisters, who have been so supportive of welcoming our associates, for inviting women and men who you see as called to walk with us in the mission, for those who companion candidates in the process, and for those who continue to meet together in your local areas.

We are grateful to the associates, who are drawn to be in a deeper relationship with the Congregation and with one another through your commitment in MISSION, PRAYER, and RELATIONSHIP. Thank you for your response and for walking the journey with your sisters and associates. Thank you for helping to shape the future with us.

Someone recently said that she did not feel good enough to be an associate: In response to her: “The associate relationship with the Sisters of Providence is simply sharing in times of prayer and being aware of Mother Theodore’s charism to honor Divine Providence through works of love, mercy and justice. It’s not about doing more. It is simply about being intentional. It’s not about being good enough. It’s about being who you are and this IS good enough.”

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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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