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Foundation Day 2011

Happy Foundation Day! We thank our Provident God for the lives of our six foundresses: Sister St. Vincent Ferrer Gagé, Sister Basilide Sénéchal, Sister Olympiade Boyer, Sister Mary Xavier Lerée and Sister Mary Liguouri Tiercin and Mother Theodore Guérin.

Let us imagine these six women standing in the tiny, dark log cabin that serves as their chaplain Father Butuex’s home and as the area’s church. They have finally arrived at their destination in America – not in Vincennes as they had been led to believe but “in the midst of a forest,” in St. Mary-of-the-Woods.

It is late afternoon of October 22, 1840; they left France on July 12 of that same year. After their arrival by ship in New York, they had traveled by train, river boat, ferry boat and stage coach to reach journey’s end.

They had waited from ten in the morning of the 22nd until about 3:45 that afternoon to be ferried across the Wabash River from Terre Haute to the west side of that river.

The stage coach that carried them to St. Mary-of-the-Woods traveled across land covered by water – so twice the carriage was thrown on its side and water rushed in before the driver could set it right again.

The six now standing in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament have ended one journey only to begin another – the journey of their work to establish a school and to found a religious congregation.

Now let us imagine that these six brave, wet and tired French Sisters of Providence hear proclaimed to them – as we just did – the reading from the prophet Jeremiah.

How would they hear the phrases: I have plans for your welfare and not for harm; to give you a future with hope; I will hear you; you will find me; I will restore your fortunes?

I don’t know how you are answering the question about how they’d hear the words; but I think they’d experience conflicting thoughts and feelings – perhaps with equal parts belief and disbelief, with a sense of being comforted and of being challenged. Perhaps they’d be thinking both “When will you hear us, when answer us?” and “You have brought us safely thus far and been with us; we know you will be with us still.”

Would these sentiments be surprising – if they did arise – since these women had been traveling for over four months? They had endured terrible ocean storms; had had to put aside their habits for a time to travel safely; had ended up not in Vincennes as expected but in St. Mary-of-the-Woods and all they could see was a thick forest, a tiny log chapel and small frame house where the postulants awaited them. Might they not be allowed some qualms, some hesitations, some trepidation and even a little doubt?

Yet the six persevered. They opened their Academy nine months later; they accepted postulants who became novices and professed sisters; they did what Providence marked out for them to do. In their deepest, most authentic selves they believed the promises of God – for a future with hope, to be heard and answered, to be loved.

Each of us here has made a journey of our own to arrive at this moment, this day. What if each of us pictures our self standing in that tiny, dark log chapel? What has been my life journey? What have been the storms and obstacles, the shelters and the safe arrivals? For what and for whom have I risked myself, my own well-being, my own preferences and desires?

As Providence would have it, we are here together in this Church, in this place to hear the Word of God proclaimed in Word, Sacrament and Assembly.

Do we experience being given a future with hope? Of calling upon the Holy One and being answered? Of having our fortunes restored and being brought back from whatever our places of exile have been?

Like our six foundresses, will we persevere? Will we be faithful to the sacred promises we have made? Will we, like our six foremothers, be able to say, “This is the path traced by Providence and I follow it.”?

Of course each of us wishes to walk the path of fidelity marked out for us by Providence. Each of us knows the voice of God that echoes in our hearts and comes to us in the cries of other people and from Earth. Each of us wishes to be – as were our foremothers – a providence to others.

That is why we approach this altar of Eucharist – to be fed and to become the Body of Christ with and for others. As we continue this Eucharistic prayer, let us pray for one another that God’s dream for each of us will become real in our lives.

Let us ask the six women who arrived here 171 years ago today to be with us and intercede for us as we walk the path traced by Providence.

Please respond to each invocation, pray with us.

Sister St. Vincent Ferrer, pray with us.

Sister Basilide, pray with us.

Sister Olympiade, pray with us.

Sister Mary Liguouri, pray with us.

Sister Mary Xavier, pray with us.

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, pray with us.

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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