(From left) Anette (Laker) Conlon, Theresa (Reidy) Stinson, Sister Ann Casper, Kristine (Mattingly) Schroeder, Nancy (Pogue) Kitchin and Barb (Daeger) Tillman in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

I am not sure when the need to visit Saint Mary-of-the-Woods first surfaced. I do know it was triggered by many factors, the first being my high school education at St. Agnes Academy in Indianapolis. Other reasons were the fact that three of my great aunts were Sisters of Providence and my newly found spiritual advisor, Connie Schnapf, is a Providence Associate.

The four years spent under Providence tutelage at St. Agnes proved beneficial, not only to my academic success in college and later life, but also to my spiritual and social wellbeing. To this day, I remain close friends with Theresa (Reidy) Stinson, Nancy (Pogue) Kitchin, Barb (Daeger) Tillman, and Joni (Schoettle) Grande, while occasionally seeing others from our class as well. Theresa became the unofficial “eighth” child in our family, having adopted us after the loss of her mother as an eighth grader. While her sister Kathy raised her well, Theresa often spent vacations and weekends at our home. Her presence has been a blessing to our family.

Arriving at Ball State University in 1971, I was pleased to discover that three of my high school friends were also matriculating there. In our sophomore year, two of them, Nancy and Barb, moved into my dorm. Having them there, sharing the same values and sense of fun, led to an enjoyable and rewarding college experience.

After we all married men we had met on campus and moved to different cities, we decided to establish a routine of camping in the summer and meeting at one of our houses in the fall. Age has eliminated the camping, but not the twice yearly get-togethers.

Besides celebrating the birth of our collective 10 children, we have shared in numerous showers, weddings, and even funerals. As we age, people often comment about our continued closeness 41 years after our college graduation. The answer, I believe, lies in the values we were taught years ago: Faith in God, commitment to those we love, and a genuineness of spirit.

Discovering three of my ancestors was another impetus for visiting the Woods. As a child, I heard mom talk about her three aunts, who were Sisters of Providence: Sister Mary Veronica Bockhold, Sister Mary Rosina Hagedorn, and Sister Mary Jerome Bockhold. Since one had died before I was born, one when I was 10, and one when I was 17, I was not mature enough to appreciate learning about these distant relatives. But time and age make us appreciate aspects of life not cherished as youth.

Knowing that mom was also aging, I pushed her to tell me their names and history. When her information was minimal, I decided it was time to launch my own investigation, which led to my third serendipitous reason to travel to the Woods – Connie Schnapf.

God does work in covert ways. After my retirement from teaching in 2016, my daughter urged me to find a spiritual advisor. A few months later and with more prodding from God, I met Connie. After one initial visit, I discovered her close link to St. Mary’s. That was it! I knew I needed to come.

My daughter, Laura, provided the opportunity when, as a Mother’s Day gift, she arranged an overnight at the Hermitage. We had a wonderful next day exploring the grounds, attending mass and meeting my former high school principal, Sister Ann Casper. What a joy it was to spend lunch visiting her, so much so that I quickly emailed some of my high school friends and suggested an August trip. They all agreed.

Again, Sister Ann proved to be a wonderful host, sharing lunch with us and taking us on an informative tour of the campus. As we drove away from the Woods that summer afternoon, it was apparent that our lives had been touched by Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, a woman who had sacrificed all and put her trust in Providence.

Because of her great faith, we have also been blessed.