Sisters of Providence facing time of transition
The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, have just completed a planning process aimed at improving the financial outlook of the Congregation.
Last April, the sisters applied for, and received, funds through the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO), based in Washington, D.C., to conduct a study of their buildings and land holdings at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
In July, the sisters began working with Hoffman Planning, Design and Construction, a planning firm based in Appleton, Wisconsin. The firm presented its final report to the Congregation’s planning committee in February, and a summary report was shared with the sisters and Providence Associates in March.
The major recommendation of that report is for the sisters to transition out of Owens Hall and to repurpose the former Woods Day Care as an administration building.
Built as a novitiate in 1959, Owens Hall has served more recently as both a residence for sisters and as the primary location for the administrative offices of the Congregation. The move will relocate approximately 37 residents from Owens Hall to other buildings on campus while also moving offices to the new administration building.
Hoffman’s analysis found that the continued care and upkeep of Owens Hall is cost prohibitive. Moving out will create significant cost savings and result in greater utilization of other spaces on campus.
In addition, the report called for the creation of a financial model that calls for significant reduction in expenses to ensure financial sustainability and the investigation of new revenue streams – such as possible different uses of land and buildings as well as continued fund development.
The Sisters of Providence currently have more than 300 sisters. However, the median age is 78. While the sisters continue to receive new members into their community, they have witnessed a decrease in annual wage earners, as well as increased costs for the care of elder sisters. Like many organizations, they have experienced negative effects on investments due to the economic downturn.
These factors have forced the sisters to look for ways to extend the life of the Congregation’s retirement trust. The financial model suggested through the planning study has as its goal the extension of the trust to the year 2044 and beyond.
According to Sister Ann Margaret O’Hara, general treasurer, reduction in expenses built into the model will enable the sisters to take less out of their retirement trust.
Established in the late 1970s through the sale of a number of high schools which the community owned and operated, the trust provides an annual benefit to sisters aged 70 and over.
Since 1988, the Congregation has received funds through the annual collection, sponsored by NRRO, and taken up in parishes nationwide during December. The funds received are added to the retirement trust.
Besides funds from this annual collection, NRRO also provides special assistance which includes planning grants, like the one the Congregation received to undertake the study, as well as implementation funds, and assistance through small subsidies or grants.
Sister Ann Margaret said the sisters will be applying for an NRRO implementation grant on April 1, and expect to receive a response later in the month. This grant, if received, will be used to renovate the former Woods Day Care building for office space. Construction could begin as early as May with moves completed by the end of 2015.
The Sisters of Providence have also been the recipients of several small assistance grants, which they used to offer a spirituality workshop on aging and to engage a NRRO consultant on the topic.
General Superior Sister Denise Wilkinson said the sisters have been very understanding and patient throughout the whole planning process, especially as they learned of the closing of Owens Hall.
“Our leadership team has been profoundly touched by the sisters’ trust and their willingness to change lifestyles,” Sister Denise said. “If we cooperate with Providence, then Providence will not fail. This transition is for the sake of continuing our mission.”
About the Sisters of Providence
The Sisters of Providence, a congregation of 214 women religious, with 300 Providence Associates, collaborate with others to create a more just and hope-filled world through prayer, education, service and advocacy. The Sisters of Providence have their motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, located just northwest of downtown Terre Haute, Ind., which is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840. Today, Sisters of Providence minister in 13 states, the District of Columbia and Asia, through works of love, mercy and justice. More information about the Sisters of Providence and their ministries can be found at SistersofProvidence.org.