Sister Barbara Sheehan
Years in the Congregation: 46 years
Something that I have always wanted to do: Give service in Africa
September 30, 2006 I celebrated my 50th anniversary from St. Philip Neri Elementary School in Indianapolis with my 1956 classmates. The general theme expressed was of being special in the lives of our teachers who were Sisters of Providence. This was expressed as: “When we were here there was always a sense that the nuns had our back.” “They were always with us, cared about us, took care of us really.” “We were all in it together in those days.” “This was the most influential part of my life.”
My vocation was born – actually my thirst for justice built upon community and living – in this atmosphere. It was an atmosphere where I did not separate the neighborhood and the church because the priests and sisters were so much a part of our lives.
Of course, this atmosphere of church-in-neighborhood was relevant because of the faith of my parents. My father’s discipline in receiving communion every morning before work and my mother’s leadership in the family praying together at meals, after the Christmas tree was decorated, in attending Sunday Church together, in honoring the sacramental life by frequent reception of the sacraments, in praying the family rosary were all part of my vocational call.
There was also a particular moment for me when I was walking down the street (literally!) and I had an overwhelming sense that God loved me and all people. I was so excited I wanted to tell everyone in the world. The only way I knew was to become a Sister of Providence. Big confusion inside! Big fear inside! I was scared even to mention it to myself much less my parents. But I did. My dad said I could go to “get it out of your system;” my mother was saddened that her only daughter wasn’t going to be the daughter of her desire.
I didn’t get it out of my system and I remained and grew into a mature daughter. And, my parents were asked many sacrifices and gave me a great deal all along the way. Their pain and sacrifices I recognize as part of my heritage as much as is my Irish, German and French roots. I probably learned the Irish gig faster, however, than I learned to honor all aspects of my heritage! Also, I still benefit from the wonderful support and love of my brother, sister-in-law and nieces, nephews and grand nieces and nephews. They remain very important to me.
I entered the Congregation Sept. 12, 1960, not focusing on a particular service but in response to my experience of being loved. From that day until now many significant persons and events have paved the path of my journey toward greater awareness and a broadened sense of my part in the mission of love, mercy and justice.
I was initially “stretched” in claiming my own gifts by the particular support of Sisters Marilyn Ginder and Mary Joan Kirchner whose belief in me fostered my ability as a leader and my competence in service with and for others.
I have been privileged to utilize my gifts, and passions, in a variety of ways. One way seemed to pave the way for the next. I have ministered as a secondary dean of girls and teacher, a medical technologist and pathology administrator, a medical center chaplain and CPE supervisor. I am now ministering as executive director and CPE supervisor in Urban CPE Consortium, Inc. in Chicago where I train persons for urban ministry among and with the most marginalized. I also minister as a spiritual companion. My encounters in this ministry are with persons of diverse religious faiths, diverse cultural heritages and languages, and sexual orientations. Knowing oneself and exploring systemic issues and learning not only one-on-one care with the poor, the undocumented, the homeless, the addict, the oppressed but also the art of advocacy and systemic change in engaging the powers and principalities ground this ministry.
Along the way I have been privileged to travel and experience England, Chile, Ghana, West Africa, Singapore, Taiwan, Ireland, Rome, France and Italy through scholarships and mission funds. I have lived in large community settings, with one other sister, singly, and with women of other religious communities, with an African American Muslim woman and been “house parent” for a Japanese teenager.
These multiple experiences have changed me in profound ways. They have changed my heart, my attitude, my way of being, as well as my understanding of my life as a Sister of Providence. They have opened me to my own growth needs as a woman, as an ENFJ and as an “8” moving toward a caring “2” on the Enneagram and my gifts of passion and compassion. They also opened my eyes to our white privilege, to selfother empowerment in differences of style and perspectives, to ecology concerns and my choices as they affect others.
I have served on the Congregation’s Corporate Responsibility Committee, participated several times in the School of the Americas non-violent protest in Georgia, and been part of a book discussion with new members. I am a member of the Congregation’s Anti-Racism Team, a mentor for a newer member, a book-clubber with five other sisters, a member of a Congregation’s spiritual direction group, and a companion with a Providence Associate member.
I have come to understand that part of my call is shaping community and being shaped by community through the challenges and the joys. I continually go back to my days at St. Philip School where I learned that church is about being where the people are. The grounding of the real meaning of community living was sealed for me with the sisters at Costa High School in Galesburg, Ill., in 1969-70.
During some of my ministries my experience of sexual harassment and attack and oppression because I am a strong woman opened my eyes (and my inner guts!) to the realities of oppression and how easy it was to blame only myself. It also taught me the power of support from others to stand firm in integrity and to confront carefully the oppressors, recognizing my way of engaging in the context of the relationship and the part others play.
My master’s in Theology work from Xavier University put “flesh” upon my doing of ministry. It helped me to integrate and strengthen my spirituality and faith in greater balance of contemplation and action. Engaging in spiritual direction and professional consultation continues this path.
Two non-ministry/SP events have also been profound in shaping me: living through breast cancer and falling in love. My breast cancer experience was a major turning point in my realization of being loved for who I am and not what I do and made me continual aware of my mortality. Falling in love coincided with my vocational challenge in realizing I wanted to experience being pregnant. Agreeing to take time alone to ponder my commitments strengthened and affirmed my vocation. It fostered our true care with and for each other, a loving friendship that is vital and supportive to this day. This loving relationship fosters for me the interior meaning of love that extends beyond our relationship.
I came to share that each one is loved and found much more. I have been and am still invited to being loved and to love in diversity with a deep sense of justice in the midst of our world of injustice and to pass it forward for social transformation. I am grateful to be an SP on this communal journey of love, mercy and justice.
scripture: The Emmaus story, Beatitudes, Magnificat
holiday: Christmas (Incarnation!)
food: feta cheese
pizza topping: anchovies
comic strip: Garfield
books: murder mysteries
tv show: Murder She Wrote or Diagnosis Murder
recreation: being with friends and no responsibilities (just being)
hobby: jigsaw puzzles (I need to do more)
sport: watching football and basketball ; playing tennis, swimming, jogging, biking
music: piano and harp music
saint: Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Saint Mother Theodore Guerin
style of music: classical and meditation music for