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Vatican visitation finds love

Blog post author and General Superior Sister Denise Wilkinson, right, shares a moment of joy with Sister Joni Luna on the day of Sister Joni's first vows as a Sister of Providence.

Blog post author and General Superior Sister Denise Wilkinson, right, offers love and support to Sister Joni Luna on the day of Sister Joni’s first vows as a Sister of Providence.

They saw that we genuinely love one another.

After a years’ long and sometimes painful investigation, that is what stands out for me from the results of the apostolic visitation on our community of women religious by the Vatican.

By way of explanation, let me walk you through the background.

Historical Review:

(This did start in 2008 after all.)

In December 2008, the Vatican Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life announced an Apostolic Visitation of women’s apostolic congregations in the United States. The reason for this visitation was to “look at the quality of the life of religious women in the United States.”

Many of you may remember that this rather vague purpose created some level of anxiety, confusion and anger among women religious and people who loved sisters and our way of life.

In 2010, the Sisters of Providence received three US women religious who conducted several interviews. They talked with Sisters of Providence, some members of our staff, Providence Associates, lay advisors and our ministry partners. When the sister visitors left, we received no verbal or written feedback from them. Friendly goodbyes were said; but our Congregation knew only that the material gathered from the interviews would be joined with the outcome of interviews with many religious congregations.

Love and home: Sister Janice Ostrowski shows her love for Sister Margaret Wilson in her excited greeting to see her again when Sister Janice was recently home at the Woods for a gathering.

Love and home: Sister Janice Ostrowski shows her love for Sister Margaret Wilson in her excited greeting to see her again when Sister Janice was recently home at the Woods for a gathering.


(Are you still with me?)

In December 2014, at a Vatican press conference, the completion of the final report was announced. The visitation process was ended.

In April 2016, I, as general superior of the Sisters of Providence, received a letter from the Institute of Congregations of Apostolic Life and Societies of Apostolic reporting the learnings from the visitors about the Sisters of Providence.

The Good Part:

(In case you’re asking yourself “what’s the point?)

The Sisters of Providence feel very positive and affirmed by the observations made in the letter summarizing our visit.

Let me quote some of the most heartening excerpts:

  • The Sisters of Providence have published the powerful and prolific writings of Saint Mother Theodore which reveal her practical and mystical spirituality, her trust in Providence and her keen observations of both the natural world and the nature of persons. Her daughters and friends respect and deeply love her… [they] believe that they can lean on her heritage of going forward without all the answers, without knowing absolutely a predictable future.
  • During the on-site visit, the visitors were impressed with the sisters … strong sense of mission, especially to the education of women and to the care of the poor.
  • According to vocation/formation personnel, the congregation is optimistic about future membership….

The Best ‘til Last

(What every Sister of Providence already knows is at the heart of who we are!)

  •  The on-site visitors noted that the sisters genuinely love each other and have a sense of the motherhouse as ‘home.”

This feels like a strong testament to me. We genuinely love one another. We already knew it, of course, but it is nice that outside observers can see we are living out the Gospel mandate of love. Love, community, mission, service, justice, prayer, mercy.

Being mission driven, we take our love for one another and share it outward.

We Sisters of Providence hope you know of our genuine love and regard for all of you whose lives we touch and whose lives touch ours.

In our genuine love for each other and all creation, we will continue to “break boundaries and create hope.”

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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  1. Avatar Marsha Speth on July 27, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Thank you for reminding us that even in the challenging events of life there is grace!

  2. Avatar Donna Butler on July 27, 2016 at 10:06 am

    Thank you for sharing these findings that give you and all of us hope and joy in these challenging times.

    I remember a child saying to one of our sisters. “I want to be a Sister.” When she was asked why, the reply was “Because you love one another.”

    I also remember one of the Sisters involved in the interviews say “Mother Theodore is alive and walking among you!”

  3. Avatar Lorraine Kirker PA on July 27, 2016 at 11:08 am

    it is that loved shared outward, and the genuine joy that accompanies it, which made such a lasting impressions on me as a child and which continues to wrap me in its warm embrace. God bless you, S. Denise, and all of my beloved Sisters.

  4. Avatar Paula Modaff, S.P. on July 27, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    You’ve created another winner, Denise. So glad that our love for one another provided the material for your creation. The sisters’ joy in being with each other is what attracted me to our congregation. Our Mother Theadore indeed lives among us.

  5. Avatar Thomas Golden on July 27, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    As a product of an SP school (All Saints, Hammond — incidentally, this past May the 50th anniversary of my graduation as the last class from All Saints Grade School! — I can attest to the love and respect and sense of community among the Sisters, even seen from the perspective of a grade school student. This Vatican visitation was launched in 2008, and I can remember the Springfield Dominicans who operate Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights (I have taught there for 29 years) were wondering what had prompted this and where it would go. I suspect that what the visitation discovered about SPs is also what it saw in the Springfield Dominicans and countless other communities visited: there is love, respect, community, prayer. That’s the best witness anyone could have. And it doesn’t matter what people WEAR when they are showing love, respect, community, and prayer. Continued prayers and blessings on the SPs!

  6. Avatar Jeanie Heller on July 29, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Denise – I am so glad that you finally got the results – something all of us knew. As a student at SMWC in the late 1960s, I witnessed first hand how wonderful the SPs are. They have affected my life in such a positive way.

    I know that there was a lot of stress over this – for many years – and, thank goodness, Pope Francis understands how wonderful the sisters of so many orders are.

    Thank you for your 10 years of leadership…..and I know that Dawn and her group will continue to take the SPs forward in an amazing way, following the lead of St Mother Theodore Guerin. We are all so blessed by the SPs love.

    Jeanie Heller

  7. Avatar Doug Sloan on August 11, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    Sister Denise,

    Such Good News! Congratulations for the acknowledgement of the character and mission of the Sisters of Providence. Rejoicing for what was said and what was not said and not done.

    Please help me understand one sentence in the article; Historical Review, third paragraph: “In 2010, the Sisters of Providence received three US women religious conducted several interviews.” It seems there might be a missing word or phrase.

    Doug Sloan

    • Amy Miranda Amy Miranda on September 13, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      Thanks Doug. The word who was left out. I just fixed the error.

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