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Providence Associates seem to share the same major desire

They come from the heartland, the South, East and West, from big cities and small towns. Some are retired, many still work. Among them are a college president and a former Chicago police officer. Some are practicing Roman Catholics, some are not, but the 24 women and men who make up the Providence Associates Class of 2013 share at least one major desire: to grow and live in a committed relationship with the Sisters of Providence.

On Nov. 9, in a ceremony in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, 18 of the 2013 Associates made it official by pledging publicly “to make a commitment that will honor Divine Providence and further God’s loving plans through works of love, mercy, and justice in service among God’s people.”

Their first commitment of faithfulness “to the spirit of the Congregation” was the result of more than a year of study, prayer and reflection. Each Associate was guided by her or his companion, a Sister of Providence or Providence Associate.

The new group brings to 193 the number of Providence Associates in the United States and Taiwan, a response that few people imagined possible when the PAs were created just seven years ago. To make communication easier and to foster even closer connections, 12 Providence Circle meeting groups have been formed in the past year; 10 of them are geographical, two are virtual and online.

At the Rite of Commitment and Renewal ceremony, the new Associates (listed at the end of this article) were joined by 31 women and men who renewed for another year their commitment to an active and deep relationship with the Sisters. And, as Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, shared in her greeting to the near-capacity gathering, another 28 people just began their journey in October by becoming Candidate-Associates.

Providence Associates are women and men of diverse faith traditions, at least 18 years old, who seek a formal relationship with the Sisters of Providence. Associates are not vowed members of the Congregation as the sisters are, but they wish to deepen their spiritual life and they see themselves as being called to respond to the Providence vision through their own way of life.

There are no canonical, financial or legal obligations to one another on the part of the Associates or the Congregation.

Every element of the Nov. 9 commitment ceremony affirmed the special role Provident Associates play in the Sisters of Providence community and in the Associates’ own personal lives. The songs were about answering when God beckons and serving with joy: “Sing a New Church,” “May You Cling to Wisdom,” “The Summons,” and “We Are Called.”

Sisters of Providence General Superior Denise Wilkinson reflected on the Scripture readings from 1 Corinthians (12:4-11) and John (15:9-17) as well as the musical setting of Psalm 117. With her customary wit and intelligence, she reminded the assembly how difficult it can be to love one another, let alone love “as Jesus loved us.”

“To love with compassion, inclusiveness, healing actions … to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, lay down our life, not only for our friends but our enemies,” she said.

Yet despite the “seemingly impossible challenges,” the reward for following Christ’s commandment to love one another is to be able to “abide in God’s love” and to make “an enduring difference” in the world with acts of love, justice and mercy, said Wilkinson.

As with previous classes, each person’s path to becoming a Providence Associate of 2013 is as unique as the individual and her or his life story. Pat Bowen found her way through employment with the Sisters of Providence.

For the past 13 years, “I have come to know and love many of the sisters,” said Bowen, a native of Yale, Ill., “Each year I thought about joining the Associates, but something always stopped me. This year, events happened that let me know it was time to apply to join.”

A Presbyterian, Bowen is married and has three children.  She acknowledges that “many of the rituals are different in the Catholic Church” from those she knew as a Protestant child and practices today, but “the main focus – on Jesus Christ as my Savior – is the same.” She said she is “honored” to become an Associate and share her love for God with the sisters and other Associates: “I have come to learn that Providence, for the sisters, is what God’s will is for me.”

On a somber note, two of the 2013 Associates, Dottie King and Lee Crislip, could not receive cross pin symbol from the companions who had so ably and lovingly guided them through their study and discernment process. King’s companion, Sister Jeanne Knoerle, died June 10, and Crislip’s companion, Sister Catherine Livers, died Oct. 20. Sister Lisa Stallings pinned on King’s cross and Providence Associates assistant director Debbie Dillow pinned on Crislip’s.

There was a joyous coda, however, as Tomaszewski told the gathering in her opening remarks: between them, Sister Jeanne and Sister Catherine had served as companions for 11 Providence Associates.

Crislip, from Indianapolis, said her relationship with the Sisters of Providence “has evolved and grown from my very first visit as a non-Catholic teenager to my frequent visits now as an adult convert. The more that I search for the meaning of Providence, the more that I begin to see.”

Her journey to the Nov. 9 commitment ceremony is strong evidence of an extraordinary influence. “I am proof that the sacredness of the space and the mission of the Sisters reaches everyone that touches them,” Crislip said.

King, who is the president of St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, is also the mother of six children, and she and her husband have six grandchildren. In 14 years on the campus of the college, King said, “my personal and professional life has been impacted by the Sisters of Providence.”

Her choice to enter into a formal relationship with the Sisters “reflects my reality. I find myself in relationships with many Sisters and these relationships are mentoring, encouraging and defining. “ King’s hope, she said, is to use her Associate relationship “to enhance the role of the Sisters’ charism at the college and to continue my own faith journey.”

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College has served as a gateway for many Providence Associates, either during their own student days or a relative’s. For Mickie Lane-Fredericks, a retired educator who moved from Vincennes to Terre Haute, it was her daughter’s years at the college that opened the door to a new life.

Lane-Fredericks was raised in the Methodist Church but converted to Catholicism 20 years ago. Her daughter followed her into the church. She volunteered with Educational Family Services, a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Providence,  became an adjunct in the Education Department at the college, visits the Sisters of Providence and attends Mass. Long divorced, Lane-Fredericks said her 70th birthday brought the realization, “It’s time to go into the Providence Associates.”

“It’s such a welcoming, enriching place,” she said of the campus and motherhouse. “Just knowing the sisters and going out there every week gives peace to my soul. That’s it.”

Like Lane-Fredericks, new Associate Judy Coulup-Hund came from Vincennes, but was raised in a large Catholic family for whom the Sisters of Providence were a significant presence. “I have always felt like a child of Mother Theodore,” said Coulup-Hund, who now lives in Fishers, Ind.

Earlier this year, in an email interview with the late Dave Cox, Coulup-Hund was asked about her path to the Providence Associates. (Cox was the director of Media Relations for the Sisters of Providence and, himself, a Providence Associate. He died Oct. 10 at age 61 after a brief illness.)

“What do you want to gain through your relationship with the Sisters of Providence?” Cox asked.

Coulup-Hund’s reply speaks volumes.

“Nothing, really,” she wrote. “I have gained so much from them my entire life and I can’t imagine that will change, whether I become a PA or not … My goal was for the SPs to gain from me, not for me to gain from them. I love that it is turning out that we are both gaining from each other, but that was not my original intent.”

Asked what advice she would give to someone considering a Providence Associate relationship with the Sisters, Coulup-Hund replied:

“Do it and do it now. The SPs are so caring and their spirituality is so transparent that it rubs off on anyone near them. Their sense of the world, peace and justice, is so alive and needs to be shared continually and more globally. They are more than worthy of my love and support, and I get it in return tenfold through my association.”

To learn more about Providence Associates, visit ProvidenceAssociates.org.  To find out about becoming a Providence Associate, contact assistant director Debbie Dillow at ddillow@spsmw.org or 317-994-6821.

The Providence Associates of 2013 are Rev. William Seth Adams of Langley, Wash.; Marsha Bialaszewski of Brazil, Ind.; Pat Bowen of Yale, Ill.; April Bradley of Cathedral City, Calif.; Judy Coulop-Hund of Fishers, Ind.; Lee Crislip of Indianapolis; Mary Pat Dailey-Cross of Wilmette, Ill.; Michelle Davis of Terre Haute, Ind.; Rev. Amy Donohue-Adams of Langley, Wash.; Sheila Galvin of Louisville, Ky.; Felisa Javier-Holt, Dottie King and Mickie Lane-Fredericks, all of Terre Haute; Jude Magers of Carmel, Ind.; Robert Nowalk of Culver, Ind. (not on list); Jennifer Odle of Charlottesville, Ind.; Karen Sagraves of Terre Haute; Donna Snelling of Shelbyville, Ind.;  Tina Soules of Terre Haute; Paula Thompson of Fayetteville, W. Va.; Betty Tate-Thorne of Chicago; Joan Townsend of Fishers, Ind.; Li-Chih (Maria) Wang Fan of Arlington, Texas; and Kaitlyn Willy of Indianapolis.

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Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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