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Dynamic Providence in the Desert founder celebrates 60 years as a religious Sister

Sister Carol Nolan, founder of Providence in the Desert, right, teaches the English language to immigrant farm workers who live in the Desert Mobile Home Park (Duroville), near Coachella, California.

The trailer park residents at the east end of the Coachella Valley in Southern California are some of the poorest people in the United States. Mostly immigrant farm workers from Mexico, they are often marginalized and discriminated against for their lack of money, differing culture and inability to speak the English language.

Enter a tiny, dynamic, retired Catholic sister from the Midwest bringing with her a drive for justice and a background in education, and Providence in the Desert was born.

For the past nine years, Sister Carol Nolan, SP, a Sister of Providence from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind. has been traveling around to several of the more than 300 isolated trailer parks in the valley. She finds a group interested in learning English and then packs up her teaching supplies twice a week and heads out to the homes of the immigrant farm workers. Most of the students are women home for the evening after a full day working in the fields. Tired, often with children climbing around their feet, they choose to spend the evening learning the English language. It’s a chance for a better future for them, a better future for their children.

Since Sister Carol first sought out a group not otherwise being served and brought her services to them in 2002, she has grown the ministry to include two more full-time sisters of her order, Sisters Loretta Picucci and Concetta Banez, and two part-time teachers.

At 78 years young, Sister Carol oversees the program with astounding energy.

“She’s amazing; her work style is to work. She runs circles around anybody with her energy and how much she can work and do. She teaches English and music, runs the program, asks for grants, gets the volunteers for the program, does all the paperwork, and never forgets anyone’s name. And the people love her; they really do,” said Sister Loretta, who has been teaching with Sister Carol at Providence in the Desert for the past eight years and serves as the program’s director of teachers.

But Sister Carol is aware that she will have less energy as the years move on, and she is starting to prepare for the future.

This year Sister Carol is celebrating her 60th anniversary as a Sister of Providence. In honor of her 60 years, Providence in the Desert has begun a campaign to raise $60,000 for the ongoing support of the ministry.

“My dream for the future of Providence in the Desert is that the students can take over the teaching of English, and that friends in the Upper Valley can support them with their money and clout,” Sister Carol said.

Overhead for the ministry has always been low, since teachers travel to the students and no store-front location is needed. Yet as the sisters age and more people learn of the program and ask for help, there is becoming more need to hire additional teachers.

“We are trying to raise $60,000 to begin to fund payment for part-time lay teachers, and for a ‘younger Sister’ to come here, learn the ropes, as it were, and eventually take over as director of this ministry,” Sister Carol said.

This opportunity to show others that they are valuable, that they are loved, that they are worthwhile, to give them the confidence to speak to their children’s teachers or to their doctors in English, is a mission dear to the hearts of those involved. Sister Carol and her staff put their all into seeing that it continues.

“To someone considering donating money to Providence in the Desert, I would say, ‘Education changes people as nothing else does. Think about how your education has changed you and your life; be a part of that change for others!’” Sister Carol said.

For more information about Providence in the Desert and to learn ways you can help through donations or volunteering, call Sister Carol at 760-347-3937 or visit www.guerinoutreachministies.org.

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Amy Miranda

Amy Miranda is a Providence Associate of the Sisters of Providence and a staff member in their Mission Advancement office. Amy is a 1998 graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She currently manages the SP publication HOPE and works on marketing support for Providence Associates, new membership and Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

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2 Comments

  1. Miriam Loewenstein Zimmerman on June 18, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Dear Sister Carol,

    Google found you for me and I am amazed by your work. What a wonderful social justice program you have instituted. You might remember my dad, Werner Loewenstein, MD, a family doctor in Terre Haute for 53 years. He passed away in 1990. He loved wearing the Renaissance costume you provided him (for the recorder group you conducted). I hope you will contact me.

    Sincerely,
    Miriam

  2. Judy Ryan on May 22, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    My dear sister,
    Quite by “Providence”, I have come across your name and your mission. I am a long ago (1952), graduate of Marywood High School, Evanston, Il. and before that St.Athanasius grammer school also Evanston, and so the Sisters of Providence have always seemed early family to me.
    I’m now living in San Diego since my return from 15 years in community with the Oratory of St.Philip Neri both in France and Hawaii.
    My story is long of course, as I approach 81 years. Thoughts of connecting in some way with the Sisters of Providence, who I feel in my heart, were the beginnings of my spiritual journey, is most exciting!
    I hesitate to add to your busy schedule by phoning, but would it be possible to email me? If there is a San Diego address or contact for any part of your mission perhaps I could be in closer touch.
    I’m sorry to say I have no funds for assistance, but would be honored to commit any of my remaining energy to your endeavors.
    Most sincerely yours in Christ,
    Judy Ryan

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