Toward the future: young sisters look forward
When Saint Mother Theodore Guerin traveled from France to Indiana in 1840 she had just five companions with which to open the Academy (now Saint Mary of the Woods College) and other schools. They accomplished much, relying on generous people around them to assist.
In recent history, Catholic sisters have been a part of the fabric of society, teaching in schools, serving in hospitals and social service agencies, working to serve the sick and poor.
As fewer women enter religious life in the United States, the near future will likely bring a return to a smaller Congregation.
Three of our newest Sisters of Providence recently shared their thoughts about the future. Sisters Arrianne Whittaker and Dina Bato are temporarily professed and Sister Joni Luna is a novice in her second year of formation.
Dreams and hopes for the future
Each values staying focused on the Congregation’s mission.
“My greatest wish for the Sisters of Providence is, as Mother Theodore put it, ‘that we may never forget why we came here.’ I know as the future becomes the present many of our images of our lives today will necessarily change and evolve, but I feel strongly that if we always keep our focus on the mission, on our call as a community, we will not falter,” Sister Arrianne said.
Sister Dina said, “I hope that our Congregation would continue to grow in cultural and spiritual diversity and acceptance, as every person, no matter what background, has tremendous potential to impact the common good. Also that we would open ourselves to more forms of collaboration with our ministry partners and associates.”
Sister Joni hopes that by relying on the wisdom of those sisters that have come before her, she and her sisters will “walk humbly on this Providence journey that so many amazing, faith-filled, dedicated women have paved out for us, to benefit and be inspired form the seeds they have sown.”
Two of the three mentioned the need for younger members to become involved in leadership when membership numbers are fewer.
“I have seen a markedly astonishing level of prophecy coming from our younger members. It is these women who I see leading us into the future, with their questions and probing thoughts they challenge us to grow and evolve into even more of what God is calling us to be,” Sister Arrianne said.
“I desire to live simply, to be faithful to my commitment and share my gifts, talents, faith, love, hopes and dreams with others in promoting the mission of Providence,” Sister Joni said.
Benefits of smaller size
More personalized formation is a benefit of fewer sisters entering at a time.
“I get one-on-one attention in my sessions. My program is focused on refining my gifts and sorting out and mending the rough edges,” Sister Joni said.
“I think too the younger members, maybe because we are so scattered in our entrances, are more intentional about forming relationships with one another,” Sister Arrianne said.
Sister Dina sees a benefit to entering older and in smaller numbers in the varied lived experiences and different perspectives of the newer sisters that enable them to collectively take action.
Relying on Providence can help deal with uncertainties. Sister Arrianne said, “I don’t know what Providence has in store for us. But the secret which we don’t acknowledge nearly enough is, we never have! … This life has always been about transformation and adaptation to a new experience, so we will ever be called to continue that legacy of ‘trusting in the Providence that so far has never failed us.’ And we take each step together.”
Sister Joni said, “We trust in Providence, Saint Mother Theodore and in the sisters that have walked before us. It is our sisters’ hard work, their faith, trust and labors that encourages me to do the same. The Congregation members also continue the mission of Providence wherever we may be and with all those who share in the mission of Providence. This includes our associates, benefactors, friends and families. The Sisters of Providence also continue to invite new members to come and seek innovative ways of inviting the public to the Woods, for example, to the Mother Theodore Shrine, for retreats, to White Violet Center and Earth Day celebrations and opportunities for prayer.”
“The Congregation members support each other through difficult challenges and situations. No one works through the difficulties alone. Through several sisters, I see a passion for mission, ministry, prayer, and community, which is contagious,” Sister Dina said.
(Originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of HOPE magazine.)