Volunteers find friendship, inspiration, joy
The three spend a week at a time at least twice a year volunteering at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Deanna Ruston of Evansville, Indiana, explains that as she was nearing retirement several years ago from her job with the Catholic diocese of Evansville, she wanted to do something that kept her spirituality connected. So she sought out association with the Sisters of Providence, a group whose spiritual depth and knowledge she had admired for many years.
When she moved toward becoming an associate, another Providence Associate, Connie Schnapf, who was also in her diocese, contacted her. She told her that she and Ann Kevin Thesing of New Albany, Indiana, had volunteered at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods several times a year since 2007. She asked if Deanna would like to join them.
The three women come for a week at a time. They’ve volunteered in a variety of ways, from cleaning statues to planting flowers, to volunteering at the former St. Ann’s Clinic or Woods Day Care. They visit and help the sisters in health care and sort clothes at Helping Hands thrift store. They’ve worked the phone switchboard, driven sisters to the doctor, worked in reception areas, re-glued shells in St. Anne Shell Chapel, volunteered at the West Terre Haute Providence Food Pantry.
Soaking up the sisters
Providence Associate Ann Kevin Thesing says volunteering at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods feeds her.
“It inspires me. It fills me up. It centers me,” she says.
Ann Kevin tried out several jobs in her first years volunteering. She decided to focus on visiting with and helping out the sisters in health care.
“I’ve found I can do those things other places. But I can only be with the sisters here at the Woods,” she said.
During her volunteer time she might take a sister in a wheelchair for a walk outside. She might help another sister take out her recycling or help another pick up the pencil that fell under her bed. And always she is being present to them.
“It’s a chance to soak up the sisters. It inspires me to watch how they live with faith and trust no matter what. You see astounding things in health care,” Ann Kevin said. “It has just been an enormous gift to me.”
“The best thing about volunteering up here is relationship. I think that’s what calls myself and Deanna and Ann back here constantly. Because these sisters, they teach us all so very much. And that helps us and reaffirms us to go out and to be our best selves. We see their loving care lived out. We are accepted as we are. And that in itself is a lesson for me to go back with,” she said.
A deep bond
Another blessing of the women’s volunteer time is the deep bond they have formed. The three are all quick to admit they are introverts. When they first met, they barely spoke to one another.
Now they spend their evenings during their volunteer time talking and reflecting together. They help each other process the day. They have formed community.
“But mostly we just laugh. There is a lot of laughing,” says Connie of their time together.
“If you got us all three together you would have a wonderful time. I think we have been given a very deep blessing. This whole Providence relationship is just a blessing,” she said.
Partners in the mission
“I really consider them as partners with us in this mission,” says Sister Rebecca Keller, volunteer coordinator for the Sisters of Providence. She helps plan the three women’s volunteer time.
“By giving service and being part of the mission of service, they can understand more of who we are in our mission and move that mission forward.”
Sister Becky said that she hears from lots of sisters that it uplifts and inspires them to see other people who care about the mission and want it to continue.
“Why do we keep coming back?” Deanna says. “We love it. All three of us, we love being a part of the Woods. The sisters make us a part of the Woods. I think that is a real gift they have that they make us want to come back, because they give themselves.
“What I take home with me brings inner peace and contentment. I don’t see it as work. I see it as faith-filled joy,” Deanna said.
(Originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of HOPE magazine.)