Reflections for the local Golden Jubilee celebration
“Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and the Savior Jesus Christ.”
Grace to you and peace, Sisters Jan, Pat and Jody from this local Providence Community who gathers in joy on this jubilee day to mark the special way that you have opened yourselves to the grace of God and used your gifts – spiritual and otherwise – to be faithful to the call to be about God’s mission of Providence.
Your lives do give testimony to those words of Saint Paul’s proclaimed as our first reading. “God is faithful; by God you were called …” On this day, we celebrate both God’s faithfulness to you and your faithfulness to God.
And though I find the words of Saint Paul a fitting blessing for today, I must admit that I was very drawn to the words of Saint Mother Theodore you selected – especially the part about the little boiled squirrels. I almost asked our food service folks to see if they could rustle some up and serve them JUST to YOU as part of our dinner celebration today.
What a folksy, loving portrait of our Saint Mother Theodore you have offered us, filled with care for all the people of her life – Sister Mary Liguori, who is the sick sister they had hoped to visit, as well as those left behind – Father Corbe, the children of the academy, the bakery woman’s daughter, even the hogs in the pen. Truly, there are some important life lessons in all that she says, but I would like to focus on that first line, which seems to me a powerful reflection for these particular jubilarians:
“Voyages, which are an image of life, are generally accompanied by a crowd of unavoidable contradictions.” (Oct. 28, 1846)
As I reflected on your lives, Jan, Pat and Jody, I couldn’t help but think that your voyages – your individual voyages as well as those you have shared by virtue of your membership in this community – have certainly been crowded by unavoidable contradictions.
Each of you set forth on a path you thought was marked out by Providence.
Jan, your journey led you in 1968 to join the Ursuline Community of Youngstown, Ohio. You loved those sisters who had helped educate you, and you set out to be an educator yourself. As Providence would have it, a confluence of circumstances brought you to a new life as a Sister of Providence. No doubt this seemed a contradiction at the time but one that has blessed us and so many through your ministry as a pastoral associate, in provincial leadership and in formation work and now here at Providence Spirituality & Conference Center and the Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore. And I think your Ursulines are at least cousins of those wonderful Ursuline sisters who took care of Mother Theodore for seven weeks in New Orleans following her return from her begging trip to France. We can be doubly grateful to the Ursuline family for giving us you as well as taking care of her.
Mary Joanne O’Neil – Jody – after attending Providence Aspirancy for high school, your sights were set on entering the community right after graduation. As Providence would have it, you were asked to delay your entrance because of health concerns, concerns that were later identified as unfounded. This was a decision made for you – contradictory to your heart’s desire. And yet, here you are 50 years later, following the desires of your heart as an artist in residence here at the Woods. Even that path has been a little circuitous, given that after spending the first years of your community life as an art teacher, you were led for the next 25 years to be in relationship with young people as a campus minister and diocesan director of campus ministry. Oh, where the voyages of our lives can lead when we are faithful to God’s call.
And Pat, the voyage image is pretty literal when applied to you. You also attended high school here at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Known then as Providence Juniorate, you did enter the Congregation after graduation, but you wanted to be a nurse, and, back in 1956 when you first entered, Sisters of Providence ministered as teachers. You left us two years later to follow what became for you a lifetime of service as a member of the Navy Nurse Corps, including a stint during the Vietnam War on the U.S. Naval hospital ship, Repose. As Providence would have it, by the time you returned to the Sisters of Providence 25 years ago, you were able to begin a totally new path as a freelance photographer, artist and designer – honoring Divine Providence through your creative gifts.
Like the foundress of this community, you jubilarians leaned on Providence through all those seeming contradictions, putting on your heavy underwear when called for, as Theodore advises; taking advantages of the delays, those very contradictions, to find a new route and a way home. Through it all, God has been faithful and given you grace in Christ Jesus. This God has called you into communion with this community, with each of us in Christ Jesus.
And through it all, what God asked of you, what God asks all of us in Christ Jesus is answered in that phrase of Peter’s found in today’s Gospel, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” To which Jesus, in a series of replies, says, “Feed my lambs. … Tend my sheep. … Feed my sheep. … Follow me.”
A very special way that Jan, Pat and Jody have been tending to the people of their lives is through the gift of creativity. As people made in the image of God, all of us have been called to be co-creators. But let me be bold enough to say that these three sisters of ours have special gift. I’ll call it their Artist’s Eye – the ability to see something personally and turn it into something that can be shared by others. We might also call this seeing (and/or thinking) outside the box. No matter what we call it, we have benefitted from it – their gift, their creativity – whether on canvas or photo paper, through writing or designs on cards. Whether it has been a new idea or an old one expressed in a new way, we have been blessed in their giving.
So, let’s return to Mother Theodore and her own flare for the creative. Can you not perfectly picture her dilemma through her graphic choice of words, “I am writing with an iron stick they call a pen, and am obliged to plunge it to the bottom of the bottle to get the ink, at the peril of my fingers – a great pity, it is not?”
And does she not use that image to great advantage to tell her sisters the depth of her love for them? Imagine if she had been by the Sea of Tiberius and Jesus asked her, “Do you love me?”
So, let us imagine her with us still and hear her say to us and especially to our jubilarians, “You understand at least, my dearly loved Sisters, that I do not have to get down deep in my heart before finding the tender love that fills it for you all. …”
Let us fill our world with her kind of love. The world needs us for this.