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Impacted by a few U.S. Federal Penitentiary inmates

Sisters of Providence cabin dedication Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012.

The past week has been a full one at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Last Friday and Saturday, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College hosted its annual homecoming, and many alums and their families returned to campus to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones.

On Sunday, the White Violet Farm Alpacas open house provided our neighbors in the Wabash Valley the opportunity to get up close and personal with the alpaca herd, to witness spinning and weaving and felting demonstrations, to shop for alpaca-related products, and to wish our Providence Joseph a happy fifth birthday.

And Wednesday, Oct. 3, brought many friends to campus once again as we celebrated Saint Mother Theodore’s feast and dedicated the log cabin that replicates the chapel Mother Theodore and her companions found when they arrived here in 1840.

We are always happy to receive visitors at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and to share the beauty of this place with others. It was great fun to spend time with current and former SMWC students at homecoming and to lead a “Bats and Rats” tour of historical and hysterical sites on campus.

Visitors at White Violet Farm Alpacas’ open house Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012.

I loved being with the alpacas on Sunday, and I especially loved watching children interact with the animals, learning to hand-feed them and delighting in the unique sensation of alpaca lips searching out the last bit of grain in one’s hand. And I was gratified by the number of friends and benefactors who came on the feast day to honor Saint Mother Theodore with their presence.

It has been a week filled with interaction here — with handshakes and hugs, introductions and reunions, shared laughter and shared memories. No single conversation, no shared experience has had more impact on me, though, than a brief exchange I had with three inmates from the U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute.

These three men were part of a group of seven inmates who had worked to construct the cabin, and they were our honored guests at the feast day meal and the dedication service that followed.

Because of their status, they could not be named publicly, and they could not be photographed or videotaped. So they stood at the rear of the crowd during the service, out of range of the media, seemingly isolated and unrecognized despite the vital role they had played in bringing the cabin into being. I’m not sure they were even able to go into the cabin they had helped to build. Still, they seemed proud and happy to be present.

After the dedication, I thanked the three men for their work on our behalf. One responded as the others nodded their heads: “No, ma’am, we should thank you. It can’t mean as much to you as it does to us. The way we’re treated here, the way we feel when we’re here . . . it’s so different from what we know.”

I promised to pray for them when I pass the cabin every day. Again, one spokesman and two nodding assenters: “Thank you, ma’am. You can never have too many prayers.”

Indeed. Please join me in praying for these benefactors of ours.

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Sister Lisa Stallings

Sister Lisa serves as vicar of the Sisters of Providence leadership team. After teaching junior high and high school, she spent twenty years ministering in music and worship in parishes in Chicago, Kentucky and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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1 Comment

  1. Chuck Fisher on October 12, 2012 at 9:19 am

    I had an opportunity to meet the three men from the prison who helped build the replica of The Log Cabin, the first “place/space” of the founding Sisters of Providence from France. I said that Saint Mother Theodore is so grateful for their work, as expressed by Her Community of Sisters, that she will always remember them, no matter what. One of the men said “I thank these women.” Yes, they love you and pray for you as the Log Cabin replica is a physical reminder of your work. You will not be forgotten. Each one of the men was moved by the expressions of thanks from the many Sisters of Providence who shook their hands, saying, “Thank you.” The men seemed speechless, except for “Thank you.”

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