Home » Blog » Faithfulness and God’s mission: a Foundation Day reflection

Faithfulness and God’s mission: a Foundation Day reflection

Blog post author Dr. Dottie King, left, with the former and current SP general superiors and the friends who funded the Saint Mother Theodore statue in Ruillé, France.

My journey with the Sisters of Providence and with Saint Mother Theodore Guerin began with my tenure at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. I was hired as a faculty member in 2002 and it didn’t take very long for me to know that I was working at a very special place with a deep and meaningful legacy.

From then until now I have endeavored to understand more fully the faithful and sacrificial life of the foundress of the college and the charism of the Sisters of Providence. I am especially intrigued to understand how their strong faith and determination created the fabric of our college and impacts it even today. It has become my mission to insure that Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and her students carry this legacy into the future to insure a living, breathing and active reality of the Sisters of Providence that will go on. My current position as president of the college affords me the privilege and opportunity to make decisions to move this mission forward.

My choice to become a Providence Associate is one intertwined in my relationships with so many Sisters of Providence with whom I share a personal relationship, my own faith journey and my ability to relate with Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. I identify with Mother Theodore on many levels. Like hers, my father died while I was very young and his death left a void in my life and the lives of my mother and sister. Like me, she was an educator and she was the foundress and first leader of the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Academy which eventually became Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She relied on the scriptures, especially in times of trouble and this is true of me too. I find special comfort in Psalms and Ephesians. These, and many other realities, link our lives together. In her writings I find a real person and am inspired by her dogged determination to serve her God and to do so through loving those around her in real and tangible ways.

Strength from a saint’s words

Dr. Dottie King speaks at Mass in her role as Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College president during the celebration of the 175th anniversary of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods founding in 2015.

I find strength in the passages written by Mother Theodore that are oft quoted and perhaps even more so in the lesser-known stories of her day-to-day life. She walked the grounds of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and cared so much for the fledgling school, its students and the teachers. I believe that her prayers are still with us and perhaps with me in a special way because I now watch over the school that she created. She was a woman ahead of her time when it came to educational philosophy. In a day where rulers and punishment were common in the classroom, she valued rewards. She also gifted us with an ongoing educational commitment to innovation. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is made up of historic buildings and a serene campus, but don’t let that make you think we are traditional in our offerings! The Academy boasted the curriculum common to its time but also some extraordinary programs in science. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College was the first women’s college to offer a program in journalism; we led the way to offering higher education courses for teachers; we were the second college in the country to offer a distance education program and our programs in music therapy, art therapy and equine therapy have led the way in the United States and beyond. These are but a few examples that highlight the ingenuity of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. We seem to have a special affinity for programs centered around healing and, in addition to being an educator, Mother Theodore was a healer. Remember, the miracles attributed to her that resulted in her canonization were healing miracles!

Dr. Dottie King, third from right, with the then-leadership team of the Sisters of Providence and former Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College President Sister Barbara Doherty, fourth from left, during a dedication at the college’s sports complex.

I would like to share with you a very personal experience that I had while visiting the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Providence in France for the first time. It was such a special and private moment that I have spoken about it with only a few trusted people in my life. We celebrated a Mass upon our arrival at the church in Ruillé and that was a very special occasion. Afterward, we were touring the building and we were guided into a small chapel which is called the Chapel of the Holy Family. I cannot describe fully how I felt upon entering this room. It is a room to the side of the main sanctuary with thick walls and no windows. My heart began beating quickly as we entered the room and I immediately felt God’s presence very close to me. We were told that Saint Mother Theodore Guerin spent the entire night prior to her journey to the United States praying in this chapel.

I felt the need to be in the room alone and after a few minutes, I asked Sister Denise Wilkinson, who was with us, if that was possible. Without questioning me, she gently moved the other visitors toward the door and closed it behind her leaving me alone there. At first, I just sat in the sparsely-filled space in a chair that faced a small altar. The altar had a picture of the Holy Family and a lit candle sitting atop. As I tried to quiet my mind, my thoughts were filled with questions about what Mother Theodore must have felt and the prayers she must have said on that night. After several minutes, I attained silence within myself and I experienced thoughts that I believe to be from God. This is what I heard, “You think from 1840 until now is a long time, but it is no time for me. This mission never belonged to her, it belonged to me. She was successful because she was faithful and so must you be.”

Seeing anew

From then until now, my journey at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College has changed. I see the Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, our missions and our campus in a new way. We are part of a grand design and see only a part, our part, each day. My time with the college and the sisters will be brief, relative to the full mission, and my role is to use all of my gifts and talents for the glory of God. On the days that are most difficult, I remember that before me were talented and dedicated leaders who experienced challenging circumstances and they persevered. They were innovative and resilient.

Besides Saint Mother Theodore, I am most familiar with the presidency of Sister Jeanne Knoerle. I was blessed to have her as a friend, mentor and sister companion on my path toward becoming a Providence Associate. I learned so much from her! Surprisingly, it is not the triumphs of Mother Theodore and Sister Jeanne (and the other Sisters of Providence) that inspire me the most, but rather, it is their firm commitment and forward motion in the midst of challenge and opposition that resonate with me. When Mother Theodore arrived and assessed the resources awaiting her in these Woods for building a novitiate and an academy, she uttered “All appearances are against it.” And yet her next steps were forward ones.

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Dr. Dottie King

Dottie L. King is the 16th president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She has been a Providence Associate with the Sisters of Providence since 2013. Dottie holds a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics and a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction/educational leadership from Indiana State University. She has delivered numerous presentations and published research on factors that encourage women to persist in their study of mathematics.

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  1. Donna Butler on October 22, 2017 at 7:00 am

    Thank you for such a beautiful and personal reflection! I am sure those who have gone before you who inspire you are accompanying you every step of the way. Thank you for your dedication.

  2. Marsha Speth, SP on October 22, 2017 at 8:07 am

    Thank you, Dottie, for sharing your experience of the mission we are invited daily to be part of! Thank you, too, for your faithfulness and perseverance. Indeed Providence seems to have brought you here for this time!

  3. Theresa Tighe on October 22, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I am saving it to read from time to time. God put Mother Theodore’s writings in my hands and they helped me through a depression and simultaneously caring for my mother in her last illness and in her death.

    All worked out. And I have grown closer to God through St. Mother Guerin, the Sisters of Providence and the peace of the Woods since. I will become an associate on Nov. 18.

    It is hard to share those deep experiences. I had one in the shrine at her chapel. They are real. I will pray for you and your work at the college.

    Thanks for opening yourself.

  4. Mary Griffin on October 23, 2017 at 9:23 am

    Mother Theodore spoke these words to you in the chapel where she prayed the evening before leaving for America. She now speaks to each SP, PA and all of our companions on the journey, ““You think from 1840 until now is a long time, but it is no time for me. This mission never belonged to her, it belonged to me. She was successful because she was faithful and so must you be.” Thank you for sharing this experience.

  5. Carol Reuss on October 24, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    Dottie’s ties to the Woods and her rise to leadership at the College are as Providential as Mother Theodore’s having come to primitive Indiana in 1840. One of my unfullfilled wishes has been to meet her to assure her of my approval for her ability to lead, to take risks even when critics urge no-change in a changing world. What a model for all of us. Thanks, Dottie. == Carol Reuss, ’54

  6. Carol Reuss on October 24, 2017 at 8:09 pm

    Dottie’s ties to the Woods and her rise to leadership at the College are as Providential as Mother Theodore’s having come to primitive Indiana in 1840. One of my unfulfilled wishes has been to meet her to assure her of my approval of her ability to lead — to take risks even when critics urge no-change in a changing world. What a model for all of us. Thanks, Dottie, and best wishes to you and your colleagues and your family. — Carol Reuss ‘ 54

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