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Teaching, healing and loving as a Sister of Providence

Sister Eileen Rose Bonner, center, visits with Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates at a gathering in 2014 at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

(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.

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Sister Eileen Rose Bonner

Sister Eileen Rose Bonner

Sister Eileen Rose Bonner has been a Sister of Providence since 1950. During that time she taught in schools in Illinois and Indiana. She has a master's degree in education and a principal's license in elementary education. Sister Eileen Rose has also ministered as a hospital chaplain and is certified in healing touch. She currently lives and volunteers in Louisville, Kentucky.

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  1. Avatar Marsha speth on January 29, 2017 at 8:05 am

    Thank you, Eileen, for giving us a glimpse of the beautiful ways you are Providence to all who know you!

  2. Avatar Ann Mooney on January 29, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Reading Sister Eileen Rose’s blog brought back great memories. It’s no surprise to me what goodness she has done and is still doing with her life as a Sister of Providence.
    I was privileged to have her as a principal when I taught at Immaculate Heart in Indianapolis. At that time, I was a Sister of Providence myself; however, God had different plans for me. Sister Eileen Rose has always amazed me with her boundless energy and willingness to help others. Keep up God’s work, Sister Eileen Rose! You, as well as all of the Sisters of Providence, are making a profound impact in the world today with your numerous missions. My bond with Sister Eileen Rose and the community of the Sisters of Providence has still remained deep and constant. Sending love to you and to all the Sisters of Providence!

  3. Avatar Carol Nolan, S.P. on January 29, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Eileen, this is so wonderful and so true! Only love transforms, and people need to be held. I read a story a while back about a mother whose toddler was having a tantrum. She just couldn’t control him, so she picked him up and started rubbing his back. He calmed down right away.
    I think of all the people in the world who need to have their backs rubbed. Your story is a beautiful example of this. Thank you so much for sharing. Much love, Carol

  4. Avatar Greg Carter on January 29, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    Sister Eileen Rose taught me in the 7th and 8th grades. Her energy and dedication made a significant impression on all of us. I have been a lawyer for 45 years and I still remember her constant directive “if you don’t know, know where to find out.” It has served me well. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to benefit from her gifts.

  5. Avatar Donna Butler on January 29, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    What a wonderful story! Thank you for being so attentive and persevering. In this troubled time of so many broken relationships, how much we need to hear good news and experience positive role models.

  6. Avatar Paula Modaff, S.P. on January 29, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Eileen, you always have been an inspiration for me. Yes, only love transforms. Thank you.

  7. Avatar Mary Ryan on January 29, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story with us.


  8. Avatar Rita Clare Gerardot on January 31, 2017 at 8:33 am

    Eileen Rose, thanks for sharing your inspiring ministry story! Your influence for good will live on in the lives of many, including mine.
    Rita Clare Gerardot, SP

  9. Avatar Jennifer Nowalk on January 31, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    Sister Eileen, I am comforted and encouraged by your sharing your story! There must be so many more! At a time when many of us feel very fretful about the world, reading this is a comfort and reminder God does not change. God is faithful!


    Jenny Nowalk, PA

    • Avatar Carolyn Kessler, SP on February 1, 2017 at 3:20 pm

      Eileen, thank you so much for sharing your beautiful and Providential story. It is truly an inspiring one for the countless lives you have touched, including your Sisters. I am sure our Saint Mother Theodore sends her blessings.

  10. Avatar Mary Leahy sp on February 4, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    Dear Eileen, What a yellow brick road of joy you have left in the lives of others! Thank you for so generously sharing your gifts. That strong Irish spirit is still going on , and those Irish eyes still smiling! Blessings on you! Love, Mary

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