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Diann Neu: reclaiming her Providence roots

Diann Neu (left) and Sheila Donis sing and dance at a social during the 2010 Annual Gathering.

Diann Neu, a Providence Candidate-Associate from Silver Spring, Md., will make her commitment as a Providence Associate on Nov. 13, 2010.

1.) Share with us about yourself.

My father and my siblings are very much a part of my life. They connect with the Providence community through St. Jude Parish and Roncali High School in Indianapolis. Like them, my mother loved the Woods. There is a tree with her name on it planted near the St. Anne Chapel. My partner, Mary E. Hunt, and I have been together for thirty-one years. We are the proud moms of our daughter, Min Hunt-Neu, whom we adopted in 2001 from Wuhan, China. Min connects me to the Chinese heritage of the Providence community.

Mary and I are cofounders and codirectors of WATER, the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, an international, interfaith non-profit that is located in Silver Spring, Md. Since 1983, we have worked to promote the use of feminist values for religious and social change. We work to assure that everyone, especially feminist women and girls, have the human right to be religious and spiritual on women’s own terms. We have given workshops at the Woods. We continue in the spirit of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and, like so many women of Providence, know the truth of her words: “And rest assured, my daughters, if you lean with all your weight upon Providence you will find yourselves well supported.” (Click here for a book that Diann co-edited titled, “New Feminist Christianty: Many Voices, Many Views.”)

I was educated by the Sisters of Providence at St. Jude Grade School in Indianapolis; Providence Aspirancy at Saint Mary-of-the Woods; and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College where I received a BA with majors in theology and education. I taught at St. Ann School in Terre Haute, Ind., and Ladywood-St. Agnes High School in Indianapolis. I received my masters of divinity and masters of sacred theology at The Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif.; my masters of social work at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.; and my doctor of ministry with a concentration in international feminist theology at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, Calif.

My parish is SAS, a women-church based community that has been meeting in one another’s homes for liturgy since 1979 when Sister Theresa Kane, RSM, addressed Pope John Paul II at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and asked him to recognize women’s ministries in the Church.

I live in Silver Spring, Md., in a welcoming home that is surrounded by oak trees, a lovely connection to the Woods.

2.) What is your connection to the Congregation?

I first met the SPs when I was in sixth grade at St. Jude School in Indianapolis where Sister Agnes Arvin was the founding principal. The young nuns at the new school were full of energy, excitement and enjoyment that was contagious.

Attracted by this life choice of these women, I went to Providence Aspirancy and was the president of the last graduating class in 1966. These high school years connected me to the Congregation worldwide, especially in Latin America and Taiwan. My love of Providence grew as the Woods became my home; my spirituality deepened through daily Eucharist, Sodality and prayer; my commitment to justice expanded through working in Dresser, Ind., connecting with the SP missions, and becoming friends with classmates from many classes, family constellations, ethnic backgrounds and geographic locations.

I entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Providence in 1966, just in time to be the first and the last of many changes from Vatican II. I was a Sister of Providence “officially” until 1982. I will always be a woman of Providence.

3.) How did you learn about Providence Associates?

The founding director, Sister Mary Alice Zander, invited me to be part of the first group of Providence Associates. My mother was very sick at the time and I could not join the group. Sister Jane Marie Osterholt spoke to me about the relationship when we were in Rome for the canonization of Mother Theodore. My aspirancy, novitiate, and SP friends urged me to become a Providence Associate. I heard the Spirit calling and I was ready to say yes.

4.) Since you and your companions, Sisters Agnes Arvin (Saint Mary-of-the-Woods) and Kathleen Desautels “Kak” (Chicago), are geographically separated, how do you progress through the Spiritual Integration Units?

Kak and I talk on the phone monthly for about an hour; Sister Agnes and I speak on the phone periodically. We begin by catching up on personal and community news. We talk about how we know the person who wrote the unit, what wisdom we gained from the unit, and what we would include and delete in a next version. We then choose a unit/topic for our next phone call. These conversations have been a highlight of the relationship for me.

5.) What insights have you gained from the Spiritual Integration Units?

Since I began this process, I have developed a greater awareness for how Providence is and has always been at the core of my being, and I have renewed my love for the Congregation. I am reclaiming my Providence roots, grateful that I was formed in the womb of Providence. Providence is in my bones and on my fingertips. I feel held in the arms of Divine Providence and embraced by the love of Providence.

6.) You attended the first Annual Gathering this summer. What did you most appreciate about this time with other associates as well as with the sisters?

“Welcome home” is the phrase I heard from Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates time and again this year. Connecting with this Providence community at the first Annual Gathering this summer was a coming home for me that is healing, comforting and challenging.

I most appreciated the openness of the sisters to the associate relationship. Sisters Mary Alice and Diane [Mason, assistant director] did an excellent job of presenting the relationship to the community. I value renewing friendships with SPs, reconnecting with friends from my aspirancy and novitiate days who are now associates, meeting associates, visiting the Woods, and reflecting on Providence together.

7.) What role does Providence play in your life?

Providence gives me roots and wings: roots of love, mercy and justice through liturgy, spirituality, ecology and social justice and wings of freedom and risk-taking to go where Divine Providence calls me. Providence challenges me to do works of love, mercy and justice so that women, children and those who are not yet at the banquet table can be welcomed home.

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

I look forward to continuing this journey with the Providence community as a Providence Associate.

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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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