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Sisters reflect on coming home to the Woods

Sister Noralee Keefe outside the doors to her home at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in Providence Hall.

Sister Noralee Keefe outside the doors to her home at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in Providence Hall.

(This article was originally printed in the Summer 2013 edition of HOPE.)

“To me home is one’s rootedness. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods is my rootedness as a Sister of Providence.

When I reached retirement time, Saint Mary’s was where I wanted to spend my final years. I came back home while I could still give some Community service, spend time with sisters I’ve known and lived with over the years and also be able to roam this exquisite campus to enjoy nature and the great outdoors.

Saint Mary’s is a peaceful place, a place of holy ground and a place of richness in SP heritage. I’m delighted to be here, at home.”

—Sister Noralee Keefe

Sister Mary Maxine feels at home in her room in Providence Hall. For her, any reflection on home begins with memories of the strong start she received with her parents and nine siblings. This photo display in her room brings together varied aspects of Sister Mary Maxine’s visions of home.

Sister Mary Maxine feels at home in her room in Providence Hall. For her, any reflection on home begins with memories of the strong start she received with her parents and nine siblings. This photo display in her room brings together varied aspects of Sister Mary Maxine’s visions of home.

“As the years sped by, we came home every summer. We were rooted in that tradition of ‘coming home’ by Mother Theodore herself, and it has continued for these 173 years.

The thing that opened up for me right away [upon retiring to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods last August] was a reality that we always knew when we came home for the summer — what a spiritual haven this is. I’m just a hop, skip and a jump from the chapel corridor or from the adoration chapel. And there is a group of about 15 of us that prays our Vespers together every day. And of course, that ties back to my childhood because the church was kind of a haven for our family.

I’m 85 now. Returning to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods has given me a marvelous experience of letting go of what in my previous life was sort of a frenzied rush around. And I feel at home in accepting a calm, a stillness, sort of a contemplative approach to each day. And yet, you know, the days fly by.”

— Sister Mary Maxine Teipen

Sister Bernadette Mary Carroll has found great comfort since returning to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in praying for loved ones at Saint Mother Theodore Guerin’s shrine, above. “That’s home, too: Mother Theodore. It all started with her,” she says.

Sister Bernadette Mary Carroll has found great comfort since returning to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in praying for loved ones at Saint Mother Theodore Guerin’s shrine, above. “That’s home, too: Mother Theodore. It all started with her,” she says.

The excitement on Sister Bernadette Mary Carroll’s face as she talks about coming home to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods is so alive, you can almost touch it. There’s the huge smile, the joy-filled telling and the fact that she is at times nearly bouncing in her chair. At age 90, Sister Bernadette Mary has waited a long time to come home to Saint Mary-of the Woods. The California native retired from parish work in her 80s and then cared for her ailing sister in California for seven years before finally returning to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods this past December.

“As a Sister of Providence, before I knew Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, I recognized that the word ‘home’ was a sacred word. When sisters were assigned to California from here, the first thing you heard was, ‘I won’t get home for four years!’ (because of the expense of travel). So I made my first vows and everything in California, and I didn’t come ‘home’ until it was time for my final vows, my tertianship. I kept saying, why is this place ‘home’ so important?

[You understand] when you see what happens here: the friendship and the support. It’s the prayer life and the companionship and the acceptance of each other.

Being home is just wonderful. I wish I had a better word. But I’m here. I’m at home. I’m at peace.”

— Sister Bernadette Mary Carroll

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Sister Maureen at one of her favorite places at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods: the cemetery. Here she feels connected to all her SP mentors who have gone before her.

“For the past 10 years I’ve come to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods about every month. And I think every time I come, I’m so welcomed, that I come back. And just the coming onto the property, it’s like you relax, because whatever tension there was is gone. Whether I’ve come in snow storms or ice storms or storms of my own, it’s just a bit of … not like everything is perfect here, but there are people here who have endured whatever it is that I’ve endured and have come out on the other side, and they’re pleasant. I can’t imagine not wanting to come here.”

— Sister Maureen Fallon ministers as a math and science teacher at Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis.

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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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