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I unite with all my sisters and all who share the charism of Providence …

Last year on Spring Break I was at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice (WVC) at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods overseeing a group of students on a volunteer trip. I was wearing overalls every day, trudging through the rain, sorting clothes at the thrift store, cleaning Providence Food Pantry with Sister Joseph, planting seeds with Candace, and eating lunch with my sisters. My heart is full of longing for the smell of fresh soil, the feel of the dirt, and — most importantly — the loving embrace of my sisters, associates, and the White Violet community that I so miss.

With the new adventures of teaching and studying for my Ph.D. in Texas, I’ve barely written about the Sisters of Providence  [on my personal blog]. But that doesn’t mean I am not thinking about them.

Blog author Providence Associate Kaitlyn Willy hanging out with and building community with Sisters Dana Bato and Arrianne Whittaker.

Blog post author and Providence Associate Kaitlyn Willy, left, hanging out with and building community with Sisters Dina Bato and Arrianne Whittaker.

My Providence Community is one of my most important communities. And my life as a Providence Associate of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods is one of the most important parts of my identity.

My relationship with my sisters has been formative. They have changed me. From the younger sisters to our retired sisters (some of whom are almost centennials and still emailing me regularly), these women challenge me to be my best self and guide me to find God in new and beautiful ways.

My sisters and fellow associates help me find hope when it is most difficult, help me see beauty when the landscape seems barren, and help me experience joy when all I feel is sadness. There is no one in the world who can challenge me to grow (or, sometimes, simply tell me to grow up) quite the way that one young sister does or who can help me find clarity the way that other sisters do. My fellow associates, too, who have been a community to me for almost three years now, offer friendship and support.

These are the people who met me when I was healing from celiacs, in pain from a bad community experience, and still struggling to accept and love myself. Still, they kept me around (God knows why) and loved away the rough edges that made me so darn difficult. These are the women who taught me how to be who I am without apologizing, to be faithful to the Gospel even when it means being at odds with hierarchy, and to seek out peace in all things. I have learned so much about being a woman, a Christian, a Catholic, an environmental steward, and generally being a human from these people. They introduced me to some of my favorite authors, interests, and hobbies. These are my people. My family. My community.

Being away from the Woods makes maintaining this relationship tough sometimes. Facebook has truly been a blessing because it enables me to keep up with many fellow associates and sisters.

"You can tell a nun groupie by her sunglasses. #nunsrock," Kaitlyn says.

“You can tell a nun groupie by her sunglasses. #nunsrock,” Kaitlyn says.

The thing about Saint Mary-of-the-Woods is that it gets under your skin. Somehow, Saint Mother Theodore’s words combine with the smell of our organic gardens and the vibrant beauty of the Woods and they all just seep into you, enter your bloodstream, and alter your DNA. Most of my friends who were glad to welcome me back to Dallas have found me changed. I carry Mother Theodore, the Woods, my sisters, the WVC, and my fellow associates with me in my heart.

While I sometimes worry about something one of my sisters said to me when I was leaving, asking if I would still be a part of the community when I was no longer in Indiana, I find that I diligently seek out new ways to be part of my community every day. Some days it’s simply praying the reunion prayer, but I think that some days that is enough. I wear my cross proudly.

Every day, I pray the prayer of runion. I “unite with all my sisters and all who share the charism of Providence, wherever they may be” to praise God, serve the Church, and love the world through love, mercy, and justice. That is my calling and I don’t think it’s going to change any time soon.

Author’s note: I think that everyone in life needs a community like this. I’m not big on evangelizing—I think that the Gospel involves more actions than words. Every person who encounters me encounters the whole of the Providence Community — which I hope is a good thing. But, if anyone is interested in finding a community of faith that offers spiritual guidance as well as emotional support, I wholeheartedly recommend becoming a Providence Associate.

Who should become a Providence Associate? People (women or men) who identify as people of faith, who struggle with or love tradition, who identify as Catholic or not Catholic, who love the environment and want to find new ways to act as stewards of God’s creation, who believe that peace is the solution, who are seeking a community, who are looking for answers, who believe in love, mercy, and justice, and who want to be part of something greater to serve God and others. Get more information about the Providence Associates here.

(Read more from Kaitlyn on her blog at http://poperypensandpaperbacks.blogspot.com/)

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Aurelia VonTress

Aurelia (formerly Kaitlyn) has been a Providence Associate with the Sisters of Providence since 2013. A native of Missouri, Aurelia has a master’s degree in theology and is currently pursuing a doctorate in English with a concentration in environmental studies from the University of North Texas in Denton.

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2 Comments

  1. Jean B. on April 2, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Thank you Kaitlyn for your inspiration! Though you are many miles away, your words touched home here at the Woods.

  2. Fidlers Lutgart on April 10, 2015 at 2:54 am

    I’m a sister of Providence in Belgium
    Thank you! Unitet with you

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