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A life of joy serving on the streets

Jan. 23 is a special day for many Sisters of Providence. It was the date many of us received our “habits,” our veil and convent dress. Jan. 23 was also the date many of us took and renewed our vows.

Sister Betty Smigla puts her feet to the street helping a client at Taller de Jose in Chicago.

What about in the current day? Where will you find Sister Betty Smigla on Jan. 23, 2017?

I will be taking Mr. Jose to immigration. There he will take an oath to the United States to be a good citizen. Yes, he passed the immigration test, had all the necessary papers needed and was approved for this important day in his life. I was his interpreter in taking his Constitution test. I usually study and review the 100 possible Constitution questions in Spanish before serving as an interpreter for a test. This helps me to be calm and able to assure the client that all is well. Mr. Jose told me he didn’t sleep all night prior to the test, he was so very anxious.

Serving as an interpreter and being able to reassure another is only one of the privileges of my ministry serving as an Advocate at Taller de Jose in the Spanish area of Little Village in Chicago. I love my work. I would not, however, have imagined myself doing this when I was young.

God’s humor

At age 13 I remember saying, “Dad I’m changing my mind about the high school I will attend. I want to go to St. Columbkille, a business orientated school, so I do not have to study a foreign language.” Of course my dad’s response was, “What did your mother say??” That decision, made to avoid learning another language, led me to a Sister of Providence school and ultimately to the Sisters of Providence.

Fast forward a few years. There I was, a young sister. I was given the mission to serve in Peru, South America. And so I went to study a foreign language after all! Learning Spanish also allowed me to live out my teen-age desire to help orphans. After a summer at Covenant House in New York working with runaway youth, they sponsored me to go to their mission in Guatemala — to work with orphans. This left me with a happy and fulfilled heart.

Now at 39+ (really 76) I serve as an advocate for people who have difficulty speaking and doing paperwork in English. I help them find their way around the Chicago court system, hospitals, jobs. I help with rent issues, counseling and more. We are able to connect our clients with many agencies to find help. I sometimes accompany people to these appointments as they are oftentimes anxious.

I love being on the street with the people. I am not afraid of any situation I’m faced with out on the street — teaching 8th grade and being principal for so many years trained me well!

Most people we serve want to give the agency some money, but they have little themselves and are sometimes homeless. I just tell them when they win the lottery to come back and buy 100 bus tickets — and I’ll know when they win as I’ll see them on the news! So many times that is how we end our sessions — “I won’t forget the lottery” and my response, “And I won’t forget you!!”

What blessings to celebrate in my work every day. To think, what began at age 13 with not wanting to study a language has brought me here, listening and speaking in the Spanish language most of my day.

Really, doesn’t God have a sense of HUMOR? Doesn’t God work through us in mysterious ways???

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Sister Betty Smigla

Sister Betty Smigla

Sister Betty Smigla (formerly Sister Ann Martin) has been a Sister of Providence for more than 60 years. In her ministries she has served as a missionary teacher in the village of Juliaca, Peru; she’s worked with street kids in New York, orphans in Guatemala and as a teacher and principal in Chicago. Today she serves as an advocate for Spanish-speaking residents of Little Village in Chicago who are in need of social services.

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  1. Tracey Horan Tracey Horan on January 23, 2017 at 7:04 am

    Betty, your ministry is a beautiful testament to the way Providence works in our lives!! It was such a joy to accompany you my postulant year and get a real feel for what it means to accompany those marginalized by our systems. Gracias por su fidelidad! Adelante, Hermana!!!

  2. Avatar Donna Butler on January 23, 2017 at 7:53 am

    Thank you for your wonderful dedication and being Providence to so many on the margins.
    and yes, God does have a great sense of humor!!

  3. Avatar Marsha speth on January 23, 2017 at 8:45 am

    And you are a great mirror of the God you speak of, Betty.
    Thank you!

  4. Avatar Rita Clare Gerardot, SP on January 23, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    Betty, yes God does have a sense of humor and so do you! I’m sure this gets you through many a tough and disheartening day for surely you do have some of those with all the many people you are helping.
    God’s Providence shines through you!
    Rita Clare Gerardot, SP

  5. Avatar Lorraine Witkows Romanow on January 25, 2017 at 8:09 pm


    Congratulations on 60 years a siste of Providence.

    Idont know if you remember me. I also went to St. Columbkille, and lived on Wood street.

    havent seen you in many years. I Always look for news about you in the provdence magazines.
    keep p he good work, we are all very proud of you

  6. Avatar Susan Paweski, SP on January 27, 2017 at 8:39 am

    Yea, Betty! Always love hearing your stories and adventures. Congratulations on your 60th year! Onward and upward!

  7. Avatar Peggy Kanavy on June 22, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    Betty, then Sister Ann Martin was my first grade teacher at St Clements in Maryland. Her kindness as my teacher helped me get through the rest of my schooling in Pennsylvania. The other sisters that taught me were mostly a cruel lot. I never forgot her kindness and upbeat attitude. I truly believe I am a better person as a result of her example. I am sixty now and have thought of her often over these many years. Thank you and God bless you.

  8. Avatar justine filas on December 31, 2022 at 11:44 pm

    Hi Betty,
    This is your cousin Justine. I feel that I have been divinely guided to you! It was a joy to be able to see all of your achievements that you have accumulated through the years!
    Sister Laverne, and Brother John have passed away, but Priscilla and i are still kicking. Its so nice to know that your in a good place, and that so many people have been blessed because you were there.
    You touched a lot of people s hearts! Many people are blessed because you were there for them, and I was blessed because you are my cousin! Lots of Love Justine

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