Sisters of Providence host national shrine, pilgrimage leaders
Twenty-six members of the National Association of Shrine and Pilgrimages Apostolate (NASPA) gathered at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., Nov. 8-11 for their annual convention. The Sisters of Providence hosted the convention.
“Each year, this national group has an annual meeting. We go to some place that has a national shrine. This year, the shrine of Saint Mother Theodore [Guerin] is our location,” said Msgr. Walter Rossi JCL, president of the association. Msgr. Rossi also serves as rector at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., one of the most renowned churches it the world.
“We hope our presence here brings more awareness to Saint Mother Theodore, and also to the Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, and also the full concept of spiritual tradition of pilgrimage and shrine which is something most American Catholics have no concept of. We are trying to encourage that in a greater way,” Msgr. Rossi said.
Convention participants are responsible for shrines throughout the United States. Also included was a trip to Vincennes to see historical places there that had a significant role in the Sisters of Providence foundation years. NASPA members also traveled into Terre Haute for Eucharistic Liturgy at Saint Joseph University Parish.
“The purpose of our gathering is to share ideas, share wisdom, share understanding and to see how we can continue to promote the whole question and practice of pilgrimages throughout the country, and to get people to understand the importance of making a pilgrimage,” Msgr. Rossi said. “Pilgrimages are more of a European tradition. European folks have grown up with the custom of going on pilgrimages, one shrine to another. That’s part of their spirituality. That is something we need to develop and encourage. That’s what this meeting is all about.
“How do you do that? By telling people there is much more to life than going on vacation. We need spiritual vacations, spiritual trips. The purpose is not to see something, but to gain something internally and that is through a relationship with the Lord. We can do that by speaking to people about their spiritual life. There has to be something more. You need to develop it. Pilgrimages are a way to develop your spiritual life. Once you convince people to make a spiritual journey, and they actually do it, they understand better and they courage others to do the same thing,” Msgr. Rossi emphasized.
For the record, the association’s president defined a shrine as a “special place, a significant place, where people go in order to pray, to come into contact with God, and it’s normally a place associated with the life of our Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or one of the saints like Saint Mother Theodore. It’s a building, a place. A pilgrimage is designed as a spiritual journey. We all go on vacation, we make trips. It is a spiritual trip with the purpose of coming closer to the Lord.”
Msgr. Rossi has been to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods twice previously.What are his thoughts about the historic grounds?
“Saint Mary-of-the-Woods is a magnificent, magnificent place. It is definitely a place where people should come, not only to come to pray, but also to walk in communion with the Lord. This beautiful, conventual church [Church of the Immaculate Conception] is magnificent, a hundred years old, beautifully restored. Above all, you have the presence of Mother Theodore here and what more could you ask for than to be in the presence of a saint?”
Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior of the Sisters of Providence, spoke with the group for a morning-long session on Tuesday [Nov. 9]. She talked about the evangelization of Indiana by Saint Mother Theodore, and included her own insights about Saint Mother Theodore as a person.
“It was shear joy to do that. They already had been on a tour of the grounds and experienced the places of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, and everywhere they went people talked to them about Mother Theodore. They were very open to it. Each of those people in that group has responsibilities for a place where people come to pray and gather, to thank God, to ask favors of God. We are very grateful that they chose to have their annual meeting here,” she said.
During October, visitors, pilgrims if you will, came to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from Indiana, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, Nevada, Kentucky, Florida, California, Minnesota, Maryland, Virginia, Michigan, Colorado, Ohio, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Montana, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Visitors also came from Northern Ireland, Haiti and Canada.
About the Sisters of Providence
The Sisters of Providence, a congregation of 214 women religious, with 300 Providence Associates, collaborate with others to create a more just and hope-filled world through prayer, education, service and advocacy. The Sisters of Providence have their motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, located just northwest of downtown Terre Haute, Ind., which is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840. Today, Sisters of Providence minister in 13 states, the District of Columbia and Asia, through works of love, mercy and justice. More information about the Sisters of Providence and their ministries can be found at SistersofProvidence.org.