Teaching, healing and loving as a Sister of Providence
(In the week leading up to World Day for Consecrated Life on Feb. 2, several Sisters of Providence will be sharing their stories. Stay tuned to the blog to hear their tales of living as women religious.)
I sit here at 6:30 a.m. staring at a blank screen. “Would you please write about your life as a Sister of Providence in about 500 words?” I am ready to take a trip down memory lane. In the top drawer of my desk is a picture of my first class as a teacher. It’s a good place to begin.
I was 20 years old. The ink was hardly dry on my vow card and I was so excited and bursting with pride and happiness. I was a Sister of Providence! Then reality set in. I also had a job! We called it a “mission.” I didn’t have to go looking for that job. It came to me. My job — my “mission” was to teach sixth grade, 58 sixth-graders to be exact.
I threw all of my young enthusiasm into the task. We reviewed what we had learned and went on to the “more advanced” work of fractions, decimals, parts of speech, diagramming sentences. We also explored the world via history and geography.
Religious training was the thread that ran through our curriculum. Prayer and the importance of the Sacraments in our lives was a constant.
The school was still standing in June, and so was I. My sixth graders moved on to go expand their knowledge and pursue their young ambitions.
My teaching experience took me to different schools in different cities and towns where I met and fell in love with more children. Teaching double grades and constantly working on meeting the individual needs continued to challenge me.
Through all of these years I also learned to laugh, to cry, to take pride in the accomplishments of “my kids.” Perhaps you know or have read about some of them. Each one followed his/her dream. Many have become fantastic parents — and grandparents. They’ve become a missionary to Korea and China, doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, an athletic director of a prestigious university, a CEO of a worldwide company.
Then it came time for me to dust the chalk off my hands, put myself confidently in the hands of Providence and change the focus of my “mission.” I became a hospital chaplain. Like teaching, I loved this work and cherish the coworkers and patients whose lives and stories I cherish.
We all make promises, and I really take those promises seriously. With this thought in mind, I would like to stay true to that promise. While working at the hospital, I met a gentleman who was quick to tell me that while he HAD been Catholic it meant absolutely nothing to him now. In his life there was no room for either God or religion. This man was also terminally ill. I’ll call him Mr. O.
The God who had seen me through those 58 sixth graders would surely not let me or my new friend down as he neared death. As his illness progressed, so did his hospitalizations. Every time I saw his name on the census list I went to offer my support.
One particular day his son was at his bedside and Mr. O was sleeping when I entered. His son told me that his Dad wanted to see me and that he wanted to receive Holy Communion!!! I returned later and found him awake and sitting on the side of his bed. We talked briefly and prayed. As I was preparing to leave he took hold of my hand and motioned for me to sit. He looked at me and simply said, “Would you hold me?” I did this until I felt his body relax.
The next day his doctor told me Mr. O wanted to see me before being discharged home with Hospice care. He thanked me for coming and told me that when I came the day before he was in the throes of hell. When I held him that black cloud of despair left him and he experienced God’s love, mercy and forgiveness in an unspeakable way. As he held my hand, he looked at me and said, “Would you tell my story to as many people as you can? There really is a God and he loves us so much.” I continue to fulfill that promise today.
Do I sound like Mother Teresa or maybe Martha Stewart? Well, I am not! And I did not do these things all by myself. I had the support of the most wonderful, self-giving women on earth that I feel honored to call MY SISTERS OF PROVIDENCE! I thank all of them for loving and helping me these many years.