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Three countries of heritage: France, Taiwan and U.S.

In 1847, the community totaled 38 sisters: 14 from France; 11 from the USA; eight from Germany; four from Ireland and one from Holland. In December of that year, Mother Theodore penned, “Besides the admirable union that exists between persons of different nationalities, of dispositions so opposite, some well-informed, others without education, there is also among the Sisters a great spirit of faith, of piety, and a confidence in God which goes as far, I believe, as it can go.”

On day three prior to the Oct. 25 public opening of the shrine, I’d like to focus on just three countries that have played a significant role in the 174 years since our foundation in 1840: France, United States and China. From France to America to China, the call to mission is basic to our history.

Sisters Martine and Henri Dominique in the Sisters of Providence Archives looking through Saint Mother Theodore’s journals and letters.

Of course, France sent us our foundress, Mother Theodore Guerin, and her five sister companions. It doesn’t get any better than that! Along with the women came the French language and the refinements of French culture, necessarily adapted or put aside all together to contend with the pioneer reality that welcomed them!

But the influence was too deep in their bones to be totally ignored. And so we see the legacy of Mother Theodore in certain devotions, such as her love of the Eucharist and of Mary, the mother of God; in the ministry of education as schools were established from the earliest days; the practice of calling the sisters “home” to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for rest and retreat and the French custom of saying the prayer of reunion.

Sisters of Providence from the Ruille community in France, General Superior Sister Martine Meuwissen and former General Superior Sister Henri Dominique Besson arrived Monday, Oct. 13, and will be here celebrating these days with us.

The influence of the American postulants on the French community would have been pretty immediate, as they began to teach them the English language, and no doubt the techniques about clearing the land and farming skills learned from their brothers and fathers and hearth-cooking learned from their mothers.

The independent spirit of the Americans was something Mother Theodore noticed immediately when the American postulants were aghast that a woman hired to help with the laundry was not invited to take her meal with the sisters but was expected to eat later.

Mother Marie Gratia Luking led the Sisters of Providence mission to Kaifeng, China, in 1920.
Mother Marie Gratia Luking led the Sisters of Providence mission to Kaifeng, China, in 1920.

It would be many years after Mother Theodore’s death that the Chinese culture would begin to influence the Congregation. The China mission was established in 1920 by Mother Marie Gratia Luking and bears many similarities to the original foundation: five sister companions accompanied her; they went to China to proclaim the good news to those who had never heard of Jesus and to establish a school for young girls; they suffered culture shock and severe hardships as they struggled to learn the language and customs of an eastern culture. Our presence in China and later Taiwan, has offered the Congregation rich experiences and insights and broadened our understandings of global realities. Two sisters from the Missionary Sisters of Providence in Taiwan, General Superior Theresa Wang and councilor Sister Rose Chen, are also here to celebrate with us. Sister Marie Gratia founded their congregation.

I invite you to share your own list of contributions to our heritage from each of these countries (and others as well), since length allows me only to scratch the surface.

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Sister Ann Casper

Sister Ann Casper, SP, retired as the executive director for Mission Advancement for the Sisters of Providence in 2018 and currently serves as minister of Providence Community Cemetery at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Sister Ann has ministered in various scholastic and administrative positions in Indiana and North Carolina. She also was a member of the Sisters of Providence leadership team, serving as General Secretary.

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1 Comment

  1. Peg Benson on October 22, 2014 at 9:50 am

    The French appreciation for architecture, art, history, literature, music and theatre is apparent everywhere at St. Mary-of-the-Woods. This is part of the je ne c’est quoi that infuses The Woods and envelops anyone who enters this sacred space.

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