A shared Reflection for Foundation Day
(Note: The following is a four-part reflection offered on Foundation Day, which took place on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016):
Part 1 – General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski
Happy Foundation Day!
How good it is for all of us to gather wherever we are to remember what happened here 176 years ago today. Robert Bellah, in his book “Habits of the Heart,” reminds us that any real community is a community that does not forget its past. That we will not survive if we do not pass down the wisdom of previous generations.
For 176 years, Sisters of Providence, our friends, our ministry partners, and, more recently, our Associates, have been remembering the arrival of six courageous women who trusted that God would give them a future full of hope.
Bellah also says that being a community or memory, while tying us to the past, also turns us toward the future as communities of hope.
To help us all focus on our shared future, I have invited three representatives of our Providence Community to share how our Foundation Story gives each of them hope for the future.
First, we will hear from Sister Rita Clare Gerardot, a Sister of Providence for 72 years; then from Postulant Emily TeKolste, who officially has been with us for a little more than six weeks; and from Father Dan Hopcus, who will share his reflections from the viewpoint of one of our first Providence Associates.
So, Rita Clare and Emily if you will come forth …
Thank you Rita Clare, Emily, Dan … for sharing your hopes.
And as this day moves on, I invite each of us to take some time to do our own reflection on what part of the Foundation Story gives us hope for the future. Perhaps in the days ahead we can share those hopes with one another, so that together, we will strengthen the heart and soul of our Providence Community. And in doing so, may we fulfill Mother Theodore’s hope for all of us – that we love God much, love one another and never forget why we came here. And in that remembering may we find hope, hope enough to share.
The world needs us for this.
Part 2 – Sister Rita Clare Gerardot
In the first reading from Jeremiah, we heard these words: “For surely I know the plans I have for you. Plans for your welfare to give you a future with hope.”
Mother Theodore, as we know, did not have plans to leave France. She did not volunteer for the Indiana mission, primarily because of her poor health. However, when Mother Mary told her the mission to Indiana would not go forward unless she was willing to lead the group, she put aside her fears and needs to lead her three companions (three novices and two professed sisters) to the wilderness of Indiana. She knew that God’s plan, expressed through her superior, was for her welfare leading to a future with hope.
Despite many hardships throughout this perilous journey, the sisters arrived in this wilderness to find neither a home nor school, both of which they had been promised. However, one building was under construction. This was to have been their convent. Mother Theodore decided that it would become the Academy. Her commitment to mission and ministry took precedence over their having comfortable living accommodations. Imagine starting a school within a year of their arrival! Also, consider Mother Theodore’s extraordinary bravery in making a second trip to France to secure funds after all the hardships during the first journey. Mother Theodore modeled for us, her daughters of the 21st Century, our desire to be mission and ministry driven despite fewer members and financial concerns.
We, her daughters, during these 176 years, have accepted the challenges of our times. Seventy-two years ago, I left my home and large, loving family to enter this community. I believe it was the strong relationships formed during the six months of postulancy with my band members that helped me come to love the life God had chosen for me. I believe similar relationships formed over these many years with so many Sisters of Providence, colleagues, students, parishioners and friends have given me hope and happiness as a Sister of Providence and a strong belief that God will continue to provide for our future.
When we consider how blessed we have been to have had strong, faith-filled leadership through all these 176 years, talented young women joining us, devoted Providence Associates increasing year, dedicated staff giving invaluable assistance to our ministries, generous donors supporting our efforts – this certainly increases my trust in Providence.
I like this stanza from a poem Sister Thomas Jeanne Doriot wrote many years ago: “Mother Theodore, you look on us amazed, as women will at daughters growing generations after them. We are all this century knows of any value in your venturing into a wilderness where Christ was waiting for you, waiting in the poor, the frightened, the wealthy, the self-assured, the hungry, the homeless, the peaceful and the violent.”
It’s only fitting, I think, that Mother Theodore have the last word. She tells us, “Trust in the Providence of God that so far has never failed us.”
Part 3 – Postulant Emily TeKolste
As I began pondering the question, “What in the Foundation Story gives you hope for the future,” one word kept coming up: Unknown.
An unknown land. Unknown people. An unknown language. Unknown postulants.
An unknown future.
And from that unknown, our foundresses created abundantly. They opened schools and orphanages. They recruited and trained new members. They worked hard in the fields and at house chores. They navigated a small but growing religious community.
They provided a foundation that allowed the Sisters of Providence of the future to thrive.
As Sister Mary Theodosia Mug, quoted in the Positio, says, “Mother Theodore’s great faith is shown by the fact that she undertook apparently impossible things – with success – always leaning on Divine Providence, which never failed her.” Like Martin Luther King Jr., she recognized that you don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step.
Six French sisters arrived in this space 176 years ago today. As of today, 5,255 women have signed in as members of this Community. The journey of our original sisters certainly wasn’t easy. The thousands of sisters who followed in their footsteps faced their own obstacles. Yet, we thrive still today.
As I begin my life in this Community, I don’t know what it will look like even two years from now. But I rest assured that Providence will guide the steps we take together into the unknown future.
As Pope Francis said during the beatification mass for Pope Paul VI, “God is not afraid of new things!”
(Note: Postulant Emily TeKolste has her own blog site. Read some more of her reflections!)
Part 4 – Father Dan Hopcus, pastoral leader for the Congregation
Almost 15 years ago, I came here from Southern California. I felt a special closeness to the Sisters of Providence. It was an honor to be accepted.
Becoming a Providence Associate gave it an added dimension. Rather than being a presider, it allowed me to belong to the Community in a special way.
The ministry is now a more shared ministry. It is an opportunity to share more in the legacy of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. It is an opportunity to continue the mission of Saint Mother Theodore and to share this mission with others.
This is what gives me hope for the future – to share with others the opportunity to minister and prayer together, to continue to show love, mercy, justice and compassion to the world we live in.
We are all able to do it together.