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Sister Dorothy Gartland: neighborhood ministry making a difference

Fifteen of the best years of my life as a Sister of Providence were spent working as program director/supervisor of the after school homework program at Providence Family Services (PFS). I’ve had a wonderful life and maybe I’m a bit nostalgic, but truly Providence Family Services was and is an important part of our West Humboldt Park neighborhood here in Chicago.

Sister Dorothy volunteers helping students with homework after school at Providence Family Services in Chicago.

Sister Dorothy volunteers helping students with homework after school at Providence Family Services in Chicago.

Sister Patty Fillenwarth’s dream of a center to serve the people in the neighborhood began 20 years ago. The first year offered bilingual counseling. English as a Second Language (ESL) classes began the next fall. The following school year the after school homework program began.

When I took over the homework program the next year, a wonderful new world opened for me. Not only did it bring me into the lives of the women working the Center as counselors and the teachers of ESL, but it also brought me closer into the lives to of the children in the after school program, their parents and the tutors.

Located next to the grade school building at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish, PFS welcomes the children who come daily to be helped with their homework. (Most come from homes where Spanish is the language spoken).

In the early years, in addition to college students, many Sisters of Providence volunteered weekly to help the children. Without a doubt their dedication and professionalism was an important part of our work. They were truly following Mother Theodore’s advice to “love the children first and then teach them.” The after school homework program couldn’t have gotten off to such a good start without them. They are still remembered by “former students” of PFS.

Students in the after school homework club at Providence Family Services in Chicago celebrate "Sister Dorothy Day" in 2012 when Sister Dorothy retired from her ministry coordinating the program.

Students in the after school homework club at Providence Family Services in Chicago celebrate “Sister Dorothy Day” in 2012 when Sister Dorothy retired from her ministry coordinating the program.

The group of volunteers who helped me most in my personal growth was the young college and high school students, mostly from DePaul and Dominican Universities, who helped with the program. It was the first time I had worked with people of this age group, and I was very happy for the experience. One of the big lessons that was reinforced in me was to never judge by appearances. On occasion, a young person would present him/herself adorned in an unusual way. I came to see over and over that how a person dresses, how many hair colorings, body piercings, mohawks or tattoos one has does not really reveal who a person is. Over and over again, as I worked with the young people, I saw young men and women who came to help our children achieve their potential. They came to give their time and talent, and they gladly served as mentors and tutors — no matter how they looked.

Over and over again throughout my time with PFS, I had the joy of welcoming back as “tutors” high school and college students who had returned to help as they had been helped. Of the other tutors, more than one college student expressed regret that there hadn’t been such a program in place when they were struggling throughout grade school.

Providence Family Services’ 20 years is a tribute to the leadership of Sister Patty Fillenwarth, who envisioned and brought it into being. She has always been visible and supportive in all aspects of PFS. She has been and continues to be a caring and joyful person engaged in running the Center. Sister Patty is without a doubt the heart of Providence Family Services. Working with her has been a joy and a blessing. I thank her for the opportunity I had to work with children, parents and volunteers of the after school program. The program continues to grow under the directorship of Sister Virginia Jung, OSB. Each year groups of children come and are helped by young dedicated college students who continue to inspire me with how joyfully they serve those in need of the mentoring.

Thank you, Providence Family Services, you continue to bring me joy.

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Sister Dorothy Gartland

Sister Dorothy Gartland has been a Sister of Providence for more than 70 years. She spent many years as a teacher and school administrator before helping to co-found 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago in 1974. She is retired from 15 years as the director of the after school homework program at Providence Family Services (PFS) in Chicago. She currently lives and volunteers at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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5 Comments

  1. Anne Therese on December 18, 2014 at 7:18 am

    Cool, Sr. Dorothy!- Very, very cool! Congratulations to you, Sr. Patty and all others who share the charism of Providence and in doing so make the world a kinder place.

  2. Marsha Speth, SP on December 18, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Thank you, Dorothy! What a wonderful presence you and all who have assisted you with the people in this particular neighborhood. I am especially grateful for all the women in initial formation as Sisters of Providence you have received and mentored there. You give witness of Providence lived in service, prayer and community!

  3. Carol Nolan, SP on December 18, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Dorothy, you sure change lives wherever you go and whatever you do. I know you have inspired the same students who inspired you. You have been a wonderful support to Patty!

  4. Mary Fran Keusal, SP on December 18, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    What a wonderful article, Dorothy! The ministry of Maternity BVM made an impression on me way back in 1983 and has had a special place in my heart ever since. What you said about not judging people by “externals” is so true. What one sees on the outside is no indication of intentions to do good or to be a good neighbor. Three cheers for you and for Patty – for PFS – and for all who have served this neighborhood ministry. Hundreds of people are so much better because of these services! Many thanks!

  5. Paula Modaff, S.P. on December 19, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    For years my admiration and gratitude for this marvelous ministry only continue to grow. I am confident that Providence will provide for someone to carry on the work of love, mercy, and justice in the Humboldt area. Well done, good and faithful sisters and volunteers!

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