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Providence Associates, Sisters of Providence: 10 years in relationship

Ten years ago, on Nov. 17, 2007, the Sisters of Providence formally welcomed its first group of 54 Providence Associates to the Congregation. In the past 10 years, 268 women and men have followed their call to become Providence Associates. They “further the charism of the Sisters of Providence by co-creating a hope-filled world, building relationships, cultivating community, and living lives that challenge them to embody the face of Providence as they seek to be love, mercy, and justice in the world.” (Providence Associate Vision Statement, 2016).

Some of the many Providence Associates who gathered to celebrate 10 years in relationship with the Sisters of Providence Nov. 18, 2017, gather for a photo.

The sisters and associates celebrated 10 years in relationship with special festivities Nov. 17-19, 2017.

It all began in 2005, under the direction of the first Providence Associate Director Sister Mary Alice Zander (RIP). An advisory group of five sisters and five people who had been connected with the Sisters of Providence through the years gathered. They shaped a process of relationship building whereby women and men of diverse faith traditions could seek a formal relationship with the Sisters of Providence. Providence Associates would:

  • share in the unique spirit (charism) of the Sisters of Providence
  • deepen their understanding and experience of Providence Spirituality
  • come together for prayer and mutual support and further the mission
  • and spirit of Providence through their lives and work.

Many of the early Providence Associates (PA) already had deep connections with the Sisters of Providence prior to becoming associates.

Millie Brady (PA ’07) had been a Sister of Providence for 15 years and felt that the associate relationship was gift. “I always had a deep hunger for a closer relationship with the Spirit of God as well as the spirit of living out God’s purpose as exemplified in the lives of the Sisters of Providence. Since I had been a Sister of Providence for 15 years, my heart and my spirit is still being fed by the spirituality of the sisters.” Millie is also grateful that men can be associates. Her husband Phil joined the journey and together they have benefited from the same spiritual direction, which has enriched their companionship.

For Alice Shelton (PA ’07), “It felt like a natural way to formalize a lifelong relationship that began when I was a very young child. Family connections to the Woods abound and continue to be part of my relationship with the Congregation.” Sisters of Providence were her childhood babysitters, first professional “boss” and colleagues at work. She says, “Associates and sisters share a common belief in the movement of God’s Providence in our daily lives. We rely on prayer, quiet, action and play in our daily lives. It seems that we are able to walk along together in a way that continues to be an open journey toward something that we are creating while at the same time, receiving. [We] share a commitment to walking the Gospel story and allowing ourselves to be a visible and active part of a world that genuinely needs our love.”

Sheila Donis (PA ’10) also had a lifelong relationship with the Sisters of Providence. “The sisters were wonderful teachers and friends throughout my life — beginning with kindergarten until now. Because of their wonderful teaching, I was able to have a 38-year career as a school and parish administrator, ending as a school superintendent. My relationship as a Providence Associate confirms my gratitude with many opportunities to ‘give back.’” Sheila says, “Our common vision is based on a reverence for the Earth, a desire to serve the poor and care for the elderly.”

Lorraine Kirker (PA ’10) describes her relationship with the Sisters of Providence as “an unbroken thread since first grade at St. Polycarp in Somerville, Massachusetts. I can’t imagine ever not being connected to the Sisters of Providence.” The bonds that unite us were made clear to Lorraine in a recent conversation with Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, SP, who noted that a person doesn’t learn the charism of a religious community when they join it, but rather they bring that charism with them as part of who they are. Thus, for Lorraine, all of us have “found the place, the community and the path to bringing forth what is already in us to become our best possible selves.”

Mel Wolff (PA ’09) described her decision to become a Providence Associate as based on a “need for that special connection — to make a public commitment that I wanted to share in the meaning, message, and mission of the Sisters of Providence and their (our) charism. This relationship would also help to nourish the longing I had felt since I was very young to be part of the Providence community.” Mel said, “We share the vision of a world in which love, mercy, and justice are the foundation for relationships, care of others, and decision-making for all people.”

Yvonne Conniff (PA ’09) became an associate “to awaken my inner spirituality and deepen my relationship with God.” For Yvonne, the bond that unites Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates is that of “striving to live out a life which includes works of love, mercy, and justice in service among God’s people.”

Sheila Galvin (PA ’13) has known the Sisters of Providence since her days attending Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Sheila believes that what unites the Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates is that “we are forward-thinking individuals and a community that seek to identify current needs in the world around us and who are courageous in our willingness to move beyond our comfort zones” to address those needs.

Jane Fischer (PA ’14) promised to devote her time after retirement to doing works of Providence through a life of love, mercy and justice. She summed up the bonds that unite us in this way: “The common vision that we share is love for Providence, for each other, and for life — all life.”

Frank Esposito (PA ’16) and his wife Valerie first met the Sisters of Providence during the founding years of Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis. “Through that experience I came to understand how submitting our gifts to our Provident God can help create hope and positive change, even when circumstances would seem near impossible. My wife Valerie and I decided to become Providence Associates based on our personal relationships with the sisters who inspired us by their work and their lives. We wanted to deepen our understanding of Providence in our own lives, our prayer life, and explore ways to help support the mission and work of the Sisters of Providence,” Frank said.

Together, through the last ten years, the Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates have explored and celebrated the bond that unites us: a deep and profound experience of God as Providence. A God who calls each one in the circumstances of his/her individual life, to be the transformative presence of Providence in a world that desperately needs to experience love, mercy, and justice. And together, we will be the creative energy of Providence for many years to come!

Become a Providence Associate!

(Originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp

Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. She currently serves on the Congregation leadership team. Previously she ministered as a teacher and administrator at the secondary and university levels.

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