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Providence: together as one creation

Nolan_Nancy-webQuantum theory tells us we live in a participative universe that knows nothing of itself, independent of its relationships. Providence Spirituality calls us to participate in collaborative efforts to save our fragile Earth and to further the designs of Providence through works of love, mercy and justice.

How I came to see Providence in this light is a story in collaboration itself.

When I entered the Sisters of Providence in the mid-1950s, I don’t recall the word collaboration being used. We focused on training to be good religious and good teachers. We concentrated on getting undergraduate and graduate degrees. We came home to the Woods every summer to study and to learn new methods in education.

Yet the seeds of collaboration had already been planted. They were growing silently and blossoming without my knowing it.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII had called on the superiors of men and women religious communities to adapt to a changing world. He asked that superiors come together toward this goal.

And so the Conference of Major Superiors of Women [which later became the Leadership Conference of Women Religious] was formed in the United States.

Efforts to work together continued during the 1960s. Then Vatican II called us to walk with the people of God and watch for the “signs of the times.”

By the early 1970s, religious were coming together in new ways. The justice lobbying group NETWORK formed in Washington, D.C. The 8th Day Center for Justice was created in Chicago. Sisters joined with some bishops and lay people to be a part of “Call to Action.”

Sisters of Providence leadership encouraged us to experience different cultures. I took an opportunity in 1983-84 to live with our Sisters of Providence in Taiwan. I ministered in Taipei at the Bishops’ Conference of Asia. I worked in the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialog. This experience of a new culture and the possibility of collaboration with other religions greatly changed my view of the world. Possibilities only expand when hearts and minds are open to listen and work together.

Many forms of collaboration exist for us today. One effort that has particularly influenced my life and understanding of Providence is our membership in Women of Providence of Collaboration.

In 1978, Sister Michelle Holland, a Sister of Providence from Spokane, Wash., wrote to all the congregations in the U.S. and Canada with Providence in their names. She asked if there was interest in coming together to seek out and define a contemporary theology and spirituality of providence. The interest was tremendous. In 1980, the first gathering took place with 80 sisters in attendance.

We began with the basics. Providence is not an exclusively Christian concept or even a religious one. The term was first used in the 5th Century BC in Stoic philosophy. It referred to “a cosmic harmony in the universe insured by some non-personal divinity.” We learned that in Catholic teaching Providence as a concept has always contained certain elements. Providence has to do with:

  • the design, the governance and sustenance of the universe;
  • with God’s foresight;
  • with God’s loving care; and
  • with the free will of
  • human beings.

Our studies led us to process philosophy and theology. We looked at a new cosmology and quantum theory. If Providence has to do with the design and governance of the universe, then surely new learnings had something to tell us about the face of God called Providence.

I’ve changed my concept of God over the years from these learnings and experiences. They have deepened my understanding of my relationship with God and the universe. The interconnection of all and the importance of relationships underlie the principles of collaboration.

Coming together has the power to change us. We form new relationships, share ideas and resources, make new friends. Along the way we are often called to change our minds and our ways of doing things.

The Sisters of Providence collaboration efforts continue to evolve. Gone are the days of just working with other women religious. We have for years worked collaboratively in our ministries in schools, parishes and within the Congregation. We have invited friends and benefactors to join us on committees and projects. Our Providence Associates become ever more deeply involved in our mission. Civic and ecumenical groups also provide collaborative efforts to many.

Together Providence Spirituality calls us to continue collaborating for the good of all creation. Together we will further the designs of Providence.

About the author: Sister Nancy Nolan has been a Sister of Providence for 59 years. She holds master’s degrees in Education and in Pastoral Studies. She has served in a variety of administrative areas, including general superior of the Sisters of Providence for 10 years and president of Mother Guerin/Guerin Prep High School for nine years. Collaboration has been a way of life in her ministries for many years.

(Originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Sister Nancy Nolan

Sister Nancy, formerly Sister Jean Paula, has been a Sister of Providence since 1955. She was the Congregation’s General Superior from 1986 to 1996.

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