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A ‘Golden Jubilee’ Reflection

Sisters (front row, from left) Editha Ben, Jean Kenny, (second row) Barbara McClelland and Marianne Mader, (third row) Delan Ma and Danielle Sullivan (fourth row) Paula Damiano and Celeste Tsai (fifth row) and Mary Montgomery accompanied by Sister Dawn Tomaszewski (back) and Father Daniel Hopcus in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

When in doubt – we Sisters of Providence and now most of our Providence Associates – quote our foundress, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

And so it was at our General Chapter last summer that we lifted up a quote of hers to help focus us for the future. It was something she wrote in her diary on July 20, 1853, the day the cross was put on the top of the new Motherhouse.

“Grant, oh my God that all who dwell in this house will love thee much; will love one another and may never forget why they came here.”

It seems to me that this has been the journey for our jubilarians for the past 50 years – loving God, loving others. Jubilarians, we are so pleased to be with you to thank you for that.

And we thank all of those who have brought you to this day – your parents, your family and friends, the Sisters of Providence and other mentors who may have influenced your coming, those Joyce Brophys of your community life and others like her (or him) who helped you along the way.

This jubilee day also seems an especially good time to reflect together on the last phrase of that Mother Theodore Guerin quote – when Mother Theodore asks us NOT to forget why we/you came here.

So (Sisters) Editha, Paula, Jean, Barb, Delan, Marianne, Mary, Danielle and Celeste – Why did you come to religious life lo those many years ago?

I’d like to help you remember!

And, interestingly enough, the solemnity we celebrate – the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist – offered me – and I hope all of us – some helpful insights for that remembering.

I must admit that at first blush, I was a little perplexed about how to connect John the Baptist’s birth and your Golden Jubilee. However, with some significant help from the Holy Spirit, plus the Scripture given to us and also the insights of Pope Francis, the connection became very clear to me.

In the Gospel, we hear Zechariah name his son John. Some nine months earlier, Zechariah had been struck dumb because of his disbelief in the prophecy about his son given to him by the angel Gabriel. So, when he instructs those in the temple at the time of the child’s circumcision to name his son John, a sign of his acceptance of what God has promised, Zechariah was able to speak again. And we know that he eventually uttered these words about his son:

“And you my child shall be called the Prophet of the Most High because you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.”

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Now here are the words of Pope Francis to women religious at the outset of the year of Consecrated life:

“I am counting on you ‘to wake up the world,’ since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy. … This is the priority that is needed right now: To be prophets who witness to how Jesus lived on this earth … a religious must never abandon prophecy.”

And how are religious to be prophetic? Pope Francis says:

“… with the eloquence of your lives, lives which radiate the joy and beauty of living the Gospel and following Christ to the full. … by learning from Jesus the meaning and practice of love. (You) will be able to love because (you) have his own heart.”

How have you followed Christ to the full these past 50 years?

Certainly, in 1967 when you entered, the world was in turmoil – not too dissimilar from our current state of affairs. Whether here in the United States or in Asia as in the case of three of our jubilarians, violence and the fear of violence was omnipresent – the war in Vietnam, the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, race riots in the U.S., the threat of nuclear annihilation everywhere.

The church experienced its own kind of turmoil –Vatican Council had ended in 1965 – but the changed called for had just begun – sweeping liturgical reforms, ecumenical efforts towards dialogue with other religions, and the universal call to holiness that turned everything upside down.

And within the Congregation, the total renewal of consecrated life, of religious life as we had known it, was under way. At the time when people began wondering about the relevance of religious life, 36 of you came. Nine of you have remained to give witness with your lives that there is meaning in serving God as a vowed religious. I’m not sure you see that as prophetic – perhaps not in the same dramatic way we often characterize John the Baptist. But in Francis’ words:

“The consecrated life will not flourish as a result of brilliant vocation programs, but because the young people we meet find us attractive, because they see us as men and women who are happy … that our total self-giving in service to the Church, to families and young people, to the elderly and the poor, brings us life-long personal fulfillment.”

I think that’s what we are celebrating: Your life-long personal fulfillment – that has taken each of you from the comforts of your homes in Taiwan, California, Indiana and Illinois, Massachusetts, the Philippines and flung you into classrooms, into parishes, onto college campuses, and into positions of leadership – made you librarians and treasurers and principals and directors – directors of religious education, of hostels, of formation and vocations, of archives, of places where miracles happen. Each of you and all of you sharing in the common journey to honor Divine Providence, to be God’s loving care through your works of love, mercy and justice and through the eloquence of your lives.

You done good!

But as the local jubilarians may have told you about my message to them – God isn’t finished with you yet, and this community of Providence continues to need you – in the words of Isaiah in our first reading – to be a light of nations.

Again, Pope Francis offers advice. He would like those in the Consecrated Life to be “experts in communion.”

“In a polarized society, where different cultures experience difficulty in living alongside one another, where the powerless encounter oppression, where inequality abounds, we are called to offer a concrete model of community which, by acknowledging the dignity of each person and sharing our respective gifts, makes it possible to live as brothers and sisters.”

He asks us to be

“… a credible sign of the presence of the Spirit who inspires in human hearts a passion for all to be one.”

Experts in communion – to move from I to we to One. This is the desire of a Provident God – cor unum, one heart. What a noble, prophetic work this is for the next phase of your Providence journey.

So, let me return to where we began – with our Mother Theodore and her prayer about loving God, loving one another and remembering why we came.

Editha, Paula, Jean, Barb, Delan, Marianne, Mary, Danielle and Celeste –

  • May you continue to love God much; may you also know the love our Provident God has for you.
  • May you persist in loving one another and all others; may you also lean on the love and appreciate of all your sisters;
  • And, above all, never forget the energy of love that is present here in this place as your sisters, associates, family and friends gather with you to celebrate your 50 years of loving God and loving others.

And I’ll let Pope Francis have the last word:

“Go, wake up the world!”

Are you ready to join us in waking up the world? Become a Sister of Providence or a Providence Associate!

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Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski was elected General Superior of the Sisters of Providence in 2016. She has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. Previously she ministered as a teacher, as communication and development director for the sisters and their ministries and as a member of elected leadership on the general council of the Sisters of Providence.

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2 Comments

  1. Jean Kenny, S.P. on June 28, 2017 at 7:19 am

    Thanks Dawn for an outstanding homily and such a personal message to all of us. It was such a celebratory mass and festive reception.
    I’m so happy and proud to be a Sister of Providence.

    Blessings,
    Jean Kenny, S.P.

  2. Sandra Hartlieb on June 28, 2017 at 8:35 am

    Hello Sr. Dawn – and all the lovely Jubilarians! Thanks for posting this reflection. I was truly moved by the wonderful liturgy. Sr. Dawn, you are very gifted at drawing together Mother Theodore’s words of wisdom, the scripture readings, and the remarkable life stories of these wonderful women!

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