Much to learn from two women religious founders
Editor’s note: Providence Associate Maria Price was recently awarded a Tower Award from Presentation Academy in Louisville, Kentucky. Presentation is Louisville’s original Catholic high school, founded in 1831 by Mother Catherine Spalding and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Maria, a 1987 graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, serves as executive director at St. John Center, a homeless shelter in Louisville. She was recognized for being a woman leader in the area of service and advocacy. The reflection below is from Maria’s acceptance speech.
I am in Louisville today because of an event that took place 175 years ago. In the year 1840, right around this time of year, Mother Catherine Spalding welcomed Mother Theodore Guerin, a Sister of Providence who had just come to the States from France to found schools in Indiana and Southern Illinois. The hospitality of Mother Catherine and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCN) was noted in Saint Mother Theodore’s journals — The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth generously shared their wisdom about American culture and experience of teaching on the frontier.
The Sisters of Providence went on to found Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, which I attended and where Sister Adeline Fehrbach, SCN, was on faculty. Sister Adeline told me about a job opening as Retreat Director and Campus Minister at a school in Louisville, some place called Presentation Academy. That job put me on a trajectory I could have never imagined.
The Tower Awards have given me a fresh opportunity to reflect upon the inspiration I continue to receive from Mother Catherine Spalding and Mother Theodore Guerin. I believe they have a lot to teach all of us today, 175 years after their meeting, but I’ll identify just four things.
First, when I think of the two of them together, I can’t help but notice that Mother Catherine welcomed the stranger. In fact, an immigrant — who barely spoke a word of English.
Secondly, as is so often the case when women are in leadership, Mother Catherine shared her resources and knowledge. She didn’t cling to power, but rather shared access to power.
Third, Catherine and Theodore didn’t act alone, but instead, inspired many others to join them in their efforts. Indeed, Mother Catherine is one of Louisville’s most influential citizens and, Pres students, her legacy is a portion of your inheritance. You are backed by a tradition of servant-leadership.
Finally, their ministries were filled with humble activities. They rolled up their sleeves, and they dedicated their lives to the people whom others overlooked. Of all the hospitals and schools and ministries they founded, their writings and influence are focused on people, not institutions.
When I look back on my journey, I see that I’ve moved closer and closer to people who are further and further on the fringes of society. Whether organizing for LGBT equality, advocating for low-wage workers, or serving homeless men, it’s the people, not the causes, that motivate me. Nothing about my life’s work seems worthy of a Tower Award, as my days are filled with humble activities and I’ve been blessed to get to do work that feeds my soul. It is pure gift. And I have so much still to learn, especially from the homeless men with whom I work.
I learn again and again that the busy-ness of the day is not as important as the accompaniment I can share with the men. How better to see and know God than to look in the eyes of another, offer our presence, allow our hearts to be broken open, and allow our lives to be changed?
As we leave tonight, and reflect upon the journeys ahead of us, may we be open to opportunities to welcome the stranger – and have gratitude for those who welcome us.
May we roll up our sleeves and bring our A game in all that we do.
And may we commit ourselves to collective action that improves our community and the lives of others, and brings about a greater justice.