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Reflections for Back to School Mass

Sister Dawn speaks during Mass with the Sisters of Providence and students from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College on Friday, August 18. Photo courtesy of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

(Note: Sister Dawn Tomaszewski offered a reflection from Mass on Friday, August 18, for Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College students. Here is the reflection in full)

On behalf of all Sisters of Providence, I add our welcome to that of Dr. King’s.

As the sponsors of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, we Sisters of Providence are more than a little interested in all of you. We have been praying for your arrival as new students for months now.  And you can count on our continued prayer for all of you as you/we begin the journey of another school year.

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Most people would agree that the purpose of going to college is ultimately to get a degree. And I think that most people think this getting a degree will drastically improve your chances of getting a job which, in turn, will enable you to provide for the necessities of your life — as well as some comforts. These are pretty basic but also very important aspirations about your college experience.

I believe the new students gathered here with us this morning aspire higher — as your Woods slogan says. In fact, I suspect that higher aspirations might have been a significant factor in your decision to come here. You want more than a degree.

And what I know about Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is that its faculty and staff are dedicated to helping you achieve both your degree and your higher aspirations.

Later in this liturgy, they (the faculty and staff) are going to promise to help you to think critically, engage in lifelong leadership and effect positive change.  They want you to develop both your intellectual capacities as well as cultivate your spiritual gifts. They want you to embrace the traditions of this place and become an active and vibrant part of this diverse community.

They are going to ask you to make these promises as well. I join them in hoping you will take them to heart.

But I want you to promise me just one thing — as this college journey begins for you allow yourself to fall in love.

Fall in love —

  • with God,
  • with this place,
  • with each other,
  • with learning,
  • with the journey to becoming who God intends you to be, who God desires you to be. Then all those aspirations will follow.

I think this is what Jesus is telling us in the Gospel proclaimed a few minutes ago — love is the foundation of our life’s journey.  And I am convinced that love is the only way we will bring an end to the hatred and violence we seem to be experiencing in our country and world right now.

And hear God say to you as is said to Ezekiel in that beautiful albeit somewhat crazy first reading about dead and dry bones rising: “I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land.” Let God settle you here. Let that journey of love—love of God, of neighbor, of self, start here — and now — in a new and purposeful way.

I wouldn’t be a true Sister of Providence if I didn’t offer some advice from Saint Mother Theodore Guerin about this journey. If you don’t know already, you will before too long, that the spirit of Mother Theodore, the foundress of the Sisters of Providence and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, still animates this place and those of us who call this home. We her daughters, join with our Providence Associates and other ministry partners, like the faculty and staff of SMWC, to carry on her legacy. In the case of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, her legacy might be summarized in the motto she chose for our first school — Virtus cum Scientia or Virtue and Knowledge United.  This would be Mother Theodore’s version of Aspire Higher. And please note that Virtue is stated first.

So, here are just a few Rules of the Road from Saint Mother Theodore for your journey, gleaned from the letters she wrote to the people of her life:

  1. “We can’t do all the good possible, but only that which we can do.” I might edit that to read, you can’t do all the studying possible (and necessary) the night before a test.  Look for balance in your life. Pace yourself. And search for the special gift that God has given you to do.
  2. “The way is not yet clear. Grope along slowly. Do not press matters; be patient, be trustful.” You are not going to have all the answers to your career choices or your life choices by the end of first semester. Trust that the way will become clear. Perhaps by Ring Day!
  3. “Rest assured … if you lean with all your weight upon Providence you will find yourself well supported.” The wonderful thing about a Provident God is that God sends us friends, mentors, guides to lean on. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help, to lean into each other for advice, for companionship.

And I offer you the companionship of the Sisters of Providence. I know I speak for all our sisters when I say we share more than the space of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods with you. We want to be an integral part of this learning and loving community.

So, seek us out.  Know you are welcome to join us for liturgy — we pray daily in this church at 11:30 a.m. and on Sunday at 11 a.m. Visit our Blessed Sacrament Chapel when you need a quiet space to pray or just to think.

We’d love to help you fall in love with Saint Mother Theodore so you, too, could live a life that blends virtue and knowledge. We’d love to help you fall in love with God — the God who breathes life and spirit into these Woods and certainly into our bones.

As Jesus said, the whole law and the prophets depend on loving God, loving neighbor as yourself. So, fall in love. Let that journey start here.

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Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

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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  1. Avatar Mary carroll blocher on August 19, 2017 at 11:19 am

    I loved your talk to the students. In a world often filled with hate, you are encouraging love- the love of God, of virtue and knowledge. We need creative and critical thinkers. We need the dreamers and the realists. Thank you for a wonderful reflection.

    • Avatar Cathy Campbell SP (SMWC'65) on August 19, 2017 at 2:20 pm

      Thanks for giving the new arrivals at SMW much to munch on as they begin their journey, Dawn. I hope they will print your talk out and put it in their bible or the textbook for a challenging course they are taking. That way, maybe they will come upon this wisdom in moments when it might help them most. Thanks for being the voice of Providence to these newbies!

  2. Avatar Jane Fischer on August 23, 2017 at 11:13 am

    Thank you so much! I needed the inspiration you always provide. It’s been a long time since I started a new school year. Finally made it to SMWC!

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