Community from afar
Sister Janet Gilligan ministers in Wayne, Neb., as a freelance writer and editor. Currently, she is editing the upcoming Volume 4 of the Sisters of Providence history. She is more than 660 miles from the Congregation’s motherhouse and more than 500 miles from another sister.
Sister Helen Vinton ministers in New Iberia, La., where she works to improve the quality of life for fishing families and farming communities. She is about 850 miles from the motherhouse and more than 800 miles from another sister.
Sister Doreen Lai ministers in Singapore where she serves as a teacher/tutor while caring for her mother. She is more than 9,500 miles from the motherhouse and, well, a long way from another sister.
Other Sisters of Providence live singly in Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, Virginia and Wisconsin. Still others live singly but within an hour’s drive of the motherhouse or another sister.
But maintaining a connection to other sisters and the Congregation they joined years ago seems to be of little or no challenge.
“I ended up living alone only because jobs teaching at the college level are hard to find and I had to go where I could get employment,” Sister Janet said. She retired from teaching at Wayne State College in 2011.
“I stay in contact through emails, area meetings, LGU [Local Government Unit] meetings, committees on which I serve, and service on the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Board of Trustees,” Sister Janet said. “I feel connected, although I sometimes miss being closely involved with convent life.”
Sister Helen offers a similar thought.
“I share with my sisters news of what I am doing and all that relates to our general mission and my work here in South Louisiana. I do not see my SP life separate from my work and my relationship with other sisters. Being in this community is being with those sisters at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and with those in other places.”
Sister Doreen, the most remote of all sisters living singly, said, “I keep in close contact via e-mail, publications, Skype and online information. I miss the presence, friendship, laughter and tears of each sister. However, I look forward to being with my sisters at LGU meetings, area meetings and, especially, the annual meeting.”
Sister Doreen also said reciting the Reunion Prayer two or three times a day is a helpful connection.
Sister Janet mentioned prayer, too.
“Since I have to structure my prayer life myself, I probably work harder at it than I would in an environment where it was structured for me. I do have more time for spiritual reading since I live alone, but I miss communal prayer,” she noted.
Throughout their history, sisters have traveled from the motherhouse to fulfill their calling. Sister Helen made reference to that point.
“I wanted to be part of the Sisters of Providence because of our mission and our history. I see my life and work here in South Louisiana as a part of the life and work of the Sisters of Providence.”
Another factor in lessening a distance is that they enjoy a different community in their local parishes, ministering to the people they help, and befriending sisters in other nearby congregations.
“One can feel a deep sense of being in ‘common-unity’ with others when living ‘alone’ and one can feel very lonely when living in a community setting. I feel very much connected to the SP community even though I am so far away,” Sister Doreen said.
About the author: Dave Cox has been serving in communications and telling the stories of Sisters of Providence both near and far since 1999.
(This article originally appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of HOPE magazine.)