A Providence Associate’s look at Chapter
Growing in relationship with all who share the charism of Providence
Editor’s note: The Sisters of Providence General Chapter 2016 was an historic moment. It was the first General Chapter in which Providence Associates were invited to participate in a portion of the Chapter. Providence Associates participated as non-voting members for the first two days. Providence Associate Kaitlyn Willy was among them.
I imagine seldom in my life will I be grateful to not have money for a trip to France. This summer, however, was a prime example of how Providence can work in our lives not only through the blessings we are given, but the blessings we are not.
Back in September last year, I found out that I had been accepted to attend the International Conference on Ecopoetics in Perpignan, France. It wasn’t until a month later that I realized I would miss the Sisters of Providence General Chapter if I attended the conference. Over Thanksgiving, I talked with Sister Dawn Tomaszewski (my companion as a Providence Associate) and other sisters about the possibility of missing Chapter. While they were supportive, I was aware that I would be missing something important. So, when funding fell through and I had to cancel the trip to France, I was comforted because there was a silver lining: I could attend Chapter.
Although being at Chapter did not feel entirely new to me (I have been blessed to attend part of the Annual Meeting for two years), there is something about being at Chapter that made me feel more like a “member” of the SP community. Here the Sisters of Providence were, celebrating and grieving the transitions that come every five years in our community, and finally, I could be a part of it.
I remember distinctly the last Chapter because it was right after I first became familiar with the Sisters of Providence. I remember my friends in formation who I had only just met at the Come and See weekend that spring telling me about their experience. I remember being in awe at the idea, having no real experience to compare it to at the time. And now, five years later, here I was — present.
And what a wonderful thing to be present for! I loved the conversations that took place. The conversations about mission and identity and the future were important, but I found that the conversations in which we celebrated the past were equally formative. Something I often say about my relationship with the Sisters of Providence is that I cannot stray too far from who I am when I am with them. They keep me grounded, keep me real. The conversations at Chapter, both about the future and the past, were not only relevant to the identity of the Congregation. They spoke to who each of the attendees were as individuals as well as to who we are all together as community. Our identities are tied together as we grow together to build community and strengthen the mission of Providence through love, mercy, and justice.
The second day of Chapter was special to me in particular because I was able to be a part of important decisions for the first time. I appreciate that associates were allowed to participate in selecting a focus for our social justice work. I’m sure that for people outside of our community, it could be hard to understand the joy in being present at so important an event while knowing that we don’t have the opportunity to vote. But for me and my fellow associates, that wasn’t a problem. As we discussed the different topics both at the tables and in the larger discussion, I felt that my sisters, as well as my fellow associates and the members of the justice commission, were listening to what I had to say. The sisters at my table listened to my thoughts. They asked me questions, and considered my responses in their vote. I feel this inclusion of Providence Associates in the first two days of the Chapter meeting was truly a broadening of collaboration in discerning the future of our community, a future that impacts each of us and how we live our lives.
You may notice that I say “our” community. Several sisters have commented in the past that they love how I say “our” or “my” in reference to the community, the sisters, and the mission of the Sisters of Providence. As a Providence Associate, I am part of that mission and community. That identity is truly connected with who I am and where I am going with my research and my life. My experiences with the Sisters of Providence throughout these last five years have only affirmed my belief that I am welcomed as a part of this community — not an outsider or a guest, but as someone whose participation and experience in this community are a key part in the mission of Providence. And if I have learned anything from these five years in formation as an associate and in discernment, it is that everyone who drives through the gates becomes a part of this community and therefore inherits a part of the mission of Providence. Whether we’re at the Woods daily or scattered across the world, living life as a sister or associate or as a friend of the SPs or an alumna of the College, we are each called to this mission to be Providence in the world.
(Originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of HOPE magazine.)