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Clothed in simplicity

This used clothing rack at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods represents simplicity and sharing, two things that never go out of fashion.

This used clothing rack at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods represents simplicity and sharing, two things that never go out of fashion.

My name is Amy, and I sometimes wear hand-me-down clothes from nuns. There I’ve said it.

Yesterday I walked past the free clothing rack at work, and I took a look.

This metal rack of clothing is now tucked along my daily path in the basement of Owens Hall where I work in the communications office for the Sisters of Providence. It was moved here recently to make room upstairs in Owens Hall for the temporary location of the SP Gift Shop while the new shrine for Saint Mother Theodore Guerin is being constructed in Providence Center.

I’ve begun to reflect of this rack of clothes as I pass it every day.

Not every workplace has a rack of clothes where people can place items they no longer use and pick up items they will use. I work in a special place. This rack illustrates something I love about the Sisters of Providence.

This exchange of clothing represents sharing, simple living, re-using resources and living sustainability.

It also represents continuity with the past.

Yesterday as I was looking, this realization struck me. After Vatican II, Congregations of religious sisters were asked to take a new look at themselves. They were asked to adapt to the conditions of the time. Their habit, or clothing, was to “be suited to the circumstances of time and place and to the needs of the ministry involved.” Sisters were to look back at their roots and the spirit of their founders.

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods took this directive to heart. They studied, reflected and came to some life-changing conclusions and realizations. The Sisters of Providence were founded to be an apostolic order. That means they were sent to live and serve among the people according to need.

Their experience showed that wearing a big black draping garment from head to foot inhibited connecting with the people they served and thus their ability to serve those people as fully.

The sisters also realized that the big black garb they were wearing was the common dress of the day. It was just the common dress of women in France in the early 1800s, at the time and place of the Congregation’s original founding.

Logic, prayer and discernment eventually led the Sisters of Providence to decide on a “habit” of the simple dress of the common people of their current day. Instead of setting them apart on a pedestal, their updated clothing would allow a deepening relationship and thus a deepening service to the people who needed them.

And standing here at this clothing rack, it all suddenly makes sense. THIS is how it happened.

In 1806 in France a group of women got together and formed a religious community to meet the needs of their time and place. They vowed a life of simplicity and service to others. And they started living that life and sharing their clothes. Have more than you need? Pass it on to the next sister. Need a new size? Give what you have to someone it would fit. I bet to make this even more efficient, they streamlined the design of the clothing they wore so they were all basically the same.

And so it continued for 150-plus years. Sharing, wearing, passing it on.

Then comes the late 1960s. A group of sisters in the United States looks down at what they are wearing and ask, why are we wearing this? Oh, yeah, it’s because we’ve been passing these clothes around for years and years and years.

And here in 2014 that spirit of simplicity and sharing goes on through this clothing rack. Let’s just hope this 1970s blazer I’m looking at isn’t still being passed around 100 years from now.

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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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