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A Reflection for the Installation of New Leadership

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

I add my personal thanks to what has already been said in welcoming you to this liturgy today. Your presence here with us as we accept this ministry of leadership reminds me of a reassuring truth—we are not alone in the service of the Mission of Providence.

And that is what I like best about the Gospel passage chosen for today’s liturgy. The followers of Jesus, forlorn after a night of fishing that netted them nothing; still reeling from the death of their beloved leader AND trying to grapple with the possibility of resurrection, come to recognize Jesus in the stranger on the shore.

He invites them to cast their nets again, to trust that his promises of abundance will be fulfilled and then to come and be nourished from that abundance and by his presence. They are not alone. The Lord is with them, and empowered by the Christ they accept the mission to feed my lambs, feed my sheep.

It seems like ages ago that we were gathered for the Sister of Providence General Chapter that resulted in our election. But more important than the election was our choice as a congregation to: “Embrace our Emerging Future.” (We always come up with great lines like that.)

We created a statement that listed ways that we will do this—where we as a Providence community—sisters, associates, ministry partners and staff members—should focus our energy, where the God of Providence might be sending us forth at this time in our history.

What I like best about the statement is that—wrapped around the list of the “to do”s’—is the quote of Saint Mother Theodore that you find on the front of your program:

Grant, O my God, that all who dwell in this house may love thee much, may love one another, and may never forget why they came here.

This really is the heart of the matter; this speaks to the soul of the community—that we love God much, love one another and never forget why we have become followers of that same Christ recognized by the disciples on the seashore.

Or as was proclaimed today from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “be of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing…so that you will have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.”

At the recent national meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, one of the speakers told us: “Your ministry of leadership is to ‘Tend the Soul of the Community.’”

And though the five of us were chosen for elected leadership, we know that all of us need to take seriously the call to tend the soul of the world community.

Our vision, as believers in a Provident God, must be big enough, daring enough to embrace the needs of our world.  The world needs us for this.

The world needs all of us—not just the sisters or associates sitting here in this church or watching via Live Stream—the world needs you, our brothers, our sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends, all our companions on the journey.

The world needs us to nudge each other toward even greater love and inclusion.  Sister Catherine Bertrand, who was with us as the facilitator for our General Chapter, talked about this as the movement from I to We, until we are one— one heart. She used the Latin—cor unum, a phrase well known in our community. This is the desire of a Provident God—cor unum, one heart.

Do not think for one moment that I think this is an easy proposition—to move from the individualism that we have come to know and love in order to arrive at communion.

Writer and social activist Parker Palmer defines community as “That place where the person you least want to live with always lives.” And his corollary, “And when that person moves away, someone else arises immediately to take his or her place.”

The world needs all of us—not just the sisters or associates sitting here in this church or watching via Live Stream—the world needs you, our brothers, our sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends, all our companions on the journey.
The solution, says Palmer, is to cultivate a capacity for connectedness—to resist the forces of disconnection and to realize that our community must expand to embrace strangers, even enemies, as well as friends. Like the disciples in the Gospel reading, we must come to see the Christ in the stranger.

Communion is nurtured by connection and from the recognition that everything, in its original form, is related. We share a oneness with all. The bond uniting us as individuals and groups is already there within us. We just need to become aware.

This awareness comes through focus and intentionality.  What we focus on is what grows. Some people call this contemplation—allowing ourselves time enough, quiet enough, to be in communion, to bring to mind all the ways we impoverish Earth and its people, to bring into our hearts all the people afflicted by violence or by racism.

That awareness also comes from those moments when we are the presence of love to one another. Communion happens through the works of love, mercy and justice in which so many of you participate right here on this campus or in a daycare for seniors in a crowded neighborhood of Taipei, Taiwan, or in a center for family services in a crowded neighborhood of Chicago.

Communion is felt when the graduates walk across the stage in one of our schools or when people leave our food pantry or one of our spirituality programs and feel nourished.  It happens every time an Associate makes his or her commitment, every time the needs of the sick are attended to in one of our health care facilities, every time we pray the reunion.

Communion is also about sitting around a campfire in the north woods of Wisconsin with my family. Communion emanates from the sister who, after hearing from us that we need to drastically reduce the congregation budget, says to us quietly, yet firmly: “We can do this.” Or the sister who walks up to me during a break at the General Chapter and says, “It’s really all about love, Dawn.”

I know you could bring to mind your own moments of communion. Your presence here today surely feels like communion to me.

So let me return to where I began—the gospel reading.  When Jesus questions Simon Peter, he doesn’t ask Peter what are his strategic plans or goals for the next five years. He says, “Do you love me?”

How each of us answers this question is the heart of the matter. This is what will shape the soul of the world community. This is where communion will be found—wherever we are united as one heart—cor unum. The world needs us for this.

So, let us pray this gift for each other; let us use the words of Saint Mother Theodore found on the front of the program;  words she wrote in her diary on July 20, 1853, the day the cross was put on the top of the new motherhouse.

Together we pray:

“Grant, O my God, that all who dwell in this house may love Thee much, may love one another, and may never forget why they came here.”

Amen. Amen.

 

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Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski was elected General Superior of the Sisters of Providence in 2016. She has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. Previously she ministered as a teacher, as communication and development director for the sisters and their ministries and as a member of elected leadership on the general council of the Sisters of Providence.

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