Kathy Fleming: We know Sister Mary Alice’s spirit is still inspiring us
1.) Please share a little bit about your life history and experiences.
Indianapolis has been my home since my birth but I’ve had two interesting life experiences in Virginia and California. There are seven children in our family, four are still living. We had an U.S. Army father during World War II so he was seldom home. After the war, he was transferred to Virginia where he was in charge of the ROTC program at Massanutten Military Academy. We had been attending St. Joan of Arc School and the transition to Woodstock schools was unbelievable. Virginia has good schools today, but in the 1940s they were second from the bottom in educational ranking. Our parish was a mission church; the priests had breakfast with us after Mass and then taught us our “catechism”. This was a blessing; they truly were men ahead of their times. My parents divorced while we were in Virginia and that was not talked about in the 1940s and 1950s in Catholic circles. (I always said that gave me special compassion for students in single parent households.) We moved back to Indianapolis my sophomore year and I attended St. Agnes Academy. It was like going from third grade to high school! My younger brother was in 8th grade and loved Sister Marie Kevin Tighe. The first time I met her I burst out crying and told her I was way behind my high school classmates. She gave me a pep talk and told me to be patient with myself and soon I would catch up. I did but it was very hard work. I have been indebted to her ever since.
I had to work while in high school and loved the job(s) I had at WFBM, the first TV station in Indianapolis. I actually had three jobs there, I typed file cards and filed records in the music library, programmed the FM stations for the weekend, and typed commercials for the weekend shows. It was a dream job for a high schooler and it kept me extremely busy. Most weeks I worked a minimum of 30 hours. I learned to live on very little sleep. When I graduated from St. Agnes, I entered the Sisters of Providence. While it was a wonderful experience for me, most of us aren’t very mature at 18. While attending college, I worked for Sister Celeste in the college registrar’s office. It was amazing the work the woman did! She taught me a work ethic that was life changing.
My first teaching job was in Gardena, California. I loved the West Coast; my oldest brother was out there and so were my aunt, uncle and many cousins. The 1960s were challenging times everywhere in our country and I got a little taste of our changing society. Vatican II was in session and we devoured the documents and any news of the council. After California, I came back to Indiana and taught in several outstanding Sisters of Providence schools: St. Mary in Richmond and St. Simon and Holy Spirit in Indianapolis. I was named principal of St. Mary in Richmond where I had taught. The pastor was a holy, brilliant, conscientious man. He died on the first day of school from pancreatic cancer.
I spent 31 years as principal in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. I was at St. Charles in Bloomington, St. Joan of Arc in Indianapolis (my childhood home parish) and Our Lady of the Greenwood. All had Sisters of Providence and they continued to inspire me. Even after leaving the community, they still were my “sisters.”
2.) Do you have a special connection to the Sisters of Providence?
The Sisters of Providence have always been the most consistent part of my life. They taught me in the primary grades, in high school, and college. Some of the most gifted, God-centered people I have ever known were Sisters of Providence.
Sister Marie Kevin was working on the Cause for Canonization for Saint Mother Theodore and I promised her when I retired I would come and do secretarial work for her. (I often teased her I had to appoint myself as her secretary, it was the only way I could get the job!) It was a good experience and I was grateful for the opportunity to be back at the Woods and to grow in my love and knowledge of Mother Theodore. I met many sisters I had not previously known and they greatly inspired me. I became reacquainted with sisters I had worked with and that was a growth-filled experience. Sisters Mary Imelda, Raymond, Lucy, etc., continue to inspire me.
3.) Why did you seek to become a Providence Associate?
I was thrilled when the Sisters of Providence decided to have an associate relationship. I wanted to join with them in their ministry on a deeper level. It was just a natural thing for me to do.
4.) What did you find beneficial about the process?
Many of us teased about getting a better understanding of what it meant to be affiliated with the Sisters of Providence than when we were in the novitiate. Maybe it was because we were more mature!
5.) Please describe your relationship with your companion. Do you still meet?
Sister Mary Beth Klingel was/is my companion. It was a gift. I remember telling Sister Mary Alice Zander I wanted someone I didn’t know very well who would inspire me. I stopped her in the hall one day and said, “Can Mary Beth be my companion?” She took me by the hand and said, “Come to my office.” She showed me her list of our group and she had written Mary Beth by my name. I knew that was God’s Providence. I learned so much from Mary Beth and we had some stimulating conversations. I could see why she had been so successful in her jobs. Today she is a GO (General Officer) so she’s busier than I’d like but I always stop to chat when I see her and once in a while we really talk! She is an inspiration; an introvert next to me but when she says something, it is worth hearing. I thank God for her.
6.) What are your impressions of the Spiritual Integration Units?
I think the units are very good; some better than others. I definitely think they give you a good feel for the mission and works of the Sisters of Providence. I admire and thank the Sisters who took the time to share and witness to us. I think having the units was an excellent decision.
7.) Has being an associate enriched your life in any way?
Definitely being an associate has enriched my life. The people are incredible and what an eclectic group! They do have a deep sense of discipleship and that inspires me. It has helped me grow spiritually and I think we old folks hunger for that opportunity
8.) Have you participated in any activities or gatherings?
I participate in them whenever I am free. Indianapolis has several gatherings each year and it is good to meet with the Sisters of Providence and know what they are doing. The prayer sessions and presentations are always inspiring. Our gatherings at the Woods are especially stimulating and always well prepared. Sister Diane and Debbie work hard and are spiritual women. While we all miss Sister Mary Alice, we know her spirit is still inspiring us.
9.) What do you want to gain through your relationship with the Sisters of Providence?
The great sisters I have met continue to inspire me and show me by their example what it means to follow Christ. Sometimes I cease not to be amazed at how sisters at the motherhouse use their talents; Sister Ruth Johnson when she takes your guests out to see the alpacas, Sister Rose Marita who shows you what to do when on duty at Providence Center, Sister Helen Therese when you have prayer requests for sick friends and relatives, Sister Agnes Eugene whom we teased about being “the house mother of two west.” Sister Margaret Kern and Sister Mary Roger spent a lot of time with me when we were setting up the Docent Program at Providence Center. I cease not to be amazed at the work Sister Ann Casper does. I have seen her in so many rolls and her thank-you letters are magnificent. Want me to go on and on? They are prayerful people whose actions show you what they stand for.
10.) What advice would you give to someone who might be thinking about becoming a Providence Associate?
I would tell them the associate relationship has given me a greater understanding of God’s Providence. It has helped me mature spiritually. You are surrounded by good people and it helps me learn how to use my time, talent and treasure to serve the Lord. People from all walks of life, all religions, both men and women, come together to grow in knowing what it means to grow spiritually as an adult. I think you could put us all in Reilly Auditorium with no agenda and we would have an enriching time. Some of the most unpretentious people I have ever known are associates and their lives have taught me a lot about what it means to be a good and humble person.
11.) What do you like best about Saint Mary-of-the-Woods?
I love the tranquility and the feeling of God’s presence at the Woods. It is a beautiful place that reverberates the love of God.
12.) Now that Mother Theodore has been canonized, what do you do with your free time?
I schedule the Docents who work in the Church of the Immaculate Conception and temporary Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore. We greet visitors on Sundays and answer their questions, tell them a little more about Saint Mother Theodore, and basically join them on their pilgrimage to Saint Mary-of –the-Woods. Their stories are very inspiring. You meet many interesting people. Our visitors love the Woods!
I’ve taken receptionist duty in Providence Center when asked. That’s a fun job! You meet the many folks who visit Saint Mary’s and see first hand the hard work the folks in Providence Center do. Sometimes they give me things to type or ask me to give a talk to a group of school kids. It is never dull and always inspiring. I’m game to do anything I’m asked to do.
I am pretty busy at my home parish, Holy Spirit, where I am a Eucharistic Minister. I am a receptionist in the Parish Center on Tuesdays from 4:30 to 8:30, I teach in the RCIA program the classes on Saints and the Blessed Mother. This year I taught in the Religious Education Program. I love putting into practice one of Mother Theodore’s great beliefs, “Love the children first, then teach them.” I worked on the Faith Formation Goal Setting Committee and some of the Year of Faith programs. We are an older parish with a large Hispanic population. That has been inspiring! Gradually folks realize I’m not spending as much time at the Woods so I get called a lot. “How about helping us with tomorrow’s funeral meal?” Our parish does some wonderful things.
The one thing I have grown in while being an associate is, “It doesn’t matter what we do, as long as we do it in a loving, caring way.” One of the best parts of being retired is you have the time to help your parish. That was a luxury I didn’t have when I was working.
I love the days I can be home but I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve others.