Reflections from the 2018 Golden/Silver Jubilee Celebration
Note: The following is the reflection offered at the June 30, 2018, Mass by General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, in celebration of the 2018 Silver and Golden Jubilarians.
“Come down, Sisters, we have arrived.”
These now iconic words, captured by our foundress Saint Mother Theodore Guerin in retelling our sisters’ arrival here at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods 178 years ago, seem a fitting way to mark this celebration of our golden and silver jubilarians.
Jubilarians, today you have arrived at a graced moment in your own journey. And though I doubt that you actually have been inside a stage coach as it filled up with water as Mother Theodore was, I do imagine there have been times in the past 50 or 25 years where the challenge to stay the course was just that – a challenge.
I join your loved ones gathered with us today to give thanks for your arrival 50 or 25 years ago to begin the journey called religious life. We are grateful for your faithfulness amid the challenges, enabling you to receive that future with hope promised in Providence.
As Sister Nancy Nolan already mentioned in her welcome, 1968, the year our golden jubilarians entered religious life, could not have been more tumultuous. The image on the cover of the worship program – depicting God in the chaos and the whirlwind as well as in beauty is perfect for 1968 when the church and the world seemed upside down.
This was the backdrop for the 20 women who entered the Sisters of Providence at that time, among them our jubilarians Sisters Marianne Ridgell and Jodi O’Neill and various of their former band members who are here with us today. There were seven women who entered the Youngstown Ohio Ursuline community that same year with our now Providence Sister Jan Craven. A question to our golden jubilarians have grappled with this year has been, “Why did we remain as Sisters of Providence?”
For the two silver jubilarians, 1993 by comparison was a less tumultuous time in the world, but the choice to enter religious life in 1993 was no longer something many Catholic women were doing.
Why would Pat Linehan, after a 25-year career as a Navy Nurse, seek religious life? Why would Kathleen Bernadette Smith, an accomplished musician and a pastoral presence in her own African American community, seek life in a predominately white Providence community?
It would be easy for me to say that the answer to these questions is PROVIDENCE and, of course, it is. But today, I would like to suggest that the reason why our golden jubilarians have remained; the reason why our silver jubilarians came – is obedience – obedience to the living, loving God who calls us.
It is the kind of obedience captured in that reading from Jeremiah:
“When you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me,” says our Provident God.
It is the kind of obedience that put our Saint Mother Theodore in that stagecoach on her way to an unknown future in the midst of a forest.
It is the kind of obedience that led the laborers of our Gospel story into the vineyard.
It is the kind of obedience that all of us Sisters, Providence Associates, former band members, family and friends are called to: to trust in the invitation from a magnanimous householder of the Gospel. It doesn’t matter to our faithful and generous God when we show up, only that we show up, and that we respond to the invitation to work in the vineyard wherever that vineyard might be.
As Sisters of Providence, we have been reflecting together on the vow of obedience during this past year and in a few minutes our jubilarians will renew the vows of poverty, chastity AND obedience.
For Sisters of Providence, obedience is our solemn promise to God and, I daresay, to each other, to listen deeply to that magnanimous householder and to seek to respond not only individually but also as a Congregation to where God’s Holy Spirit leads all for the sake of the vineyard, for the sake of reign of God a reign of love and justice. The world needs us for this.
Today we do rejoice in where that Spirit has led Jan, Jody, Marianne, Pat and Kate. We’re grateful for the way their lives and ministries have been the presence of Providence in schools and parishes, in formation houses, senior care centers and clinics, on campuses and canvases. We thank our Provident God that you came and that you have remained.
AND we are counting on your continued obedience to listen to what the world needs now, what our Earth and the people of this Earth need now; to listen and respond to the critical needs of these times.
Obedience in this day may mean to speak publicly about the ills of our society, to cast down the mighty from their thrones and lift up the lowly, to give the hungry good things and send the rich away empty-handed. To stand, as our Pope Francis suggests over and over again, with those on the margins. And if we are going to stand on the margins, we may have to move, to leave behind all that has become familiar and comfortable for the sake of the reign of God.
This kind of obedience is not meant for vowed religious alone. Although, please God, let us give witness to this with our lives. Christian obedience is modeled after Jesus who gave himself over completely to the action of God in his life; he surrendered himself completely to God’s will. And God’s will is that we all of us love. As Mother Theodore has written, “Love all in God and for God, and all will be well.”
And is this not what Mother Theodore meant when she reflected on her harrowing ride in the stagecoach, “I may say, however, that I was not at all alarmed. When one has nothing more to lose, the heart is inaccessible to fear.”
To lose all in God and for God and know that all will be well that is obedience to the Providence of God.
And that is my prayer for each of us this day, especially for you our jubilarians as you continue on your way. Your faithfulness reminds us that our Provident God is with us in the chaos, the beauty, the whirlwind, the energy of our obedience. We really have nothing to fear.
So, the next time the householder shows up in our lives, the next time the promptings of the Spirit invite us into a vineyard or onto a stagecoach, may we be found with hearts inaccessible to fear. May we be able to say with confidence, “Here we are, O God, we have arrived.”
It is my privilege, on behalf of the jubilarians, to invite all Sisters of Providence and our jubilarians to stand and renew their vows of poverty, chastity AND obedience.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit …
“Almighty and eternal God wishing to consecrate myself to Your service under the special protection of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, of all my full and deliberate will, I take FOREVER the VOWS of POVERTY, CHASTITY and OBEDIENCE, according to the Constitutions approved by the Holy See for this Congregation of the Sisters of Providence.
Grant me, O my God, the grace to be faithful to them until death. Amen.