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Asked to move for the sake of the mission

The sisters new convent home in Northlake, Illinois.

Most readers have probably been in a situation where they’ve decided to move “for the sake of” … a job, an expanding family, needing a smaller home.

What does it mean to be asked to move “for the sake of the mission” or more specifically, “for the sake of the Sisters of Providence mission?” Well, the nine sisters living at Mother Theodore Guerin Convent in River Grove, Illinois, learned its meaning first-hand recently. Within months of being asked to move, they left their 40-bedroom convent in River Grove, where many of them had lived for double digit years, and resettled to a 15-bedroom convent, with three guest rooms — St. John Vianney in Northlake.

General Officers Sisters Dawn Tomaszewski and Jeanne Hagelskamp explained to the sisters that the mission referenced was that of Guerin College Prep High School, a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Providence. The Greater Chicago International Academy (GCIA), which works with schools to provide housing for international students, was looking for options other than a hotel they had been using. The convent, adjacent to the school, was viewed as an opportunity to answer GCIA’s need and to help Guerin attract more Asian students and increase enrollment.

Lots of emotion

Sisters share a meal at the new convent. From left to right, Sisters Betty Smigla, Carol Meyers, Joan Mary Schaefer, Lois Ann Stoiber, Patty Geis, Jo Paolinelli, Maureen Sheahan, Andre Panepinto and Arlene Knarzer. (Sisters Joan Mary and Andre were visiting for the day)

I asked the sisters, “What were some of your feelings when this move was announced to you?” The range of emotions expressed included sadness, disbelief, surprise, shock, and being “super upset, that at the age of 81, I was asked to pull up roots.” Several expressed sadness that their “home of hospitality” was closing, for they had often welcomed sisters who were visiting relatives in the city or those who needed to be picked up/dropped off at O’Hare airport. One sister who had just recently moved from another convent replied, “Again? I just moved!” Practicality set in for another, “The decision made sense. I thought the convent would be more useful and cost-effective serving a larger group; it would make a fine student dorm.”

My next question was “What did moving ‘for the sake of the mission’ mean to you?” One sister said it meant that she was being asked to live her vow of obedience for the sake of a greater good and to practice it in an active way. Another sister realized the seriousness of the request, the difficulty of finding another convent and the need to downsize from so much space to very little by comparison. “I made up my mind to just accept what could not be changed.” “Our moving would help the school and further Guerin’s mission, which is our mission” said another. “It is for the sake of the mission that I responded to the initial call to religious life and I continue to commit myself to this call whatever it asks of me, letting go of my own personal preferences.”

The sisters new convent home in Northlake, Illinois.

My last question was, “Now that you are moved in, what is your attitude going forward?” One sister was quick to reply, “We are still moving in! It will take a lot of energy, collaboration, experimentation and patience.” Other responses were very similar: “Now I have time to discern and to pray for peace and acceptance of what is and what will be.” “I’m resolved to carry on the mission of Providence wherever God calls me to minister and live.” “The move will be what I and we make it. Things could work out and they will.” “I’m done with negative emotions. They do not run my life.” “I will help it work with the help of Providence.” Another sister is “taking it all in and is appreciative of the diverse area, friendly people, and a few spare bedrooms to accommodate visitors.” And she’s happy that “the new place is also close to the airport.”

Change is hard

One thing should be evident about the move. The sisters involved in the move — Sisters Editha Ben, Patricia Geis, Arlene Knarzer, Carol Meyers, Josephine Paolinelli, Maureen Sheahan, Betty Smigla and Lois Ann Stoiber — are pretty much like everyone else in similar situations.

A room in the new convent.

Change is hard, no matter who you are, when or why it comes. One’s emotions are all over the place. The stages of death and dying sometimes come into play: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

The distinct advantages the sisters had in this situation, however, is the support of other community members, belief in God’s Providence which has never failed us and, yes, our strong desire to further the mission to which we have committed our very lives.


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

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Sister Ann Casper

Sister Ann Casper

Sister Ann Casper, SP, retired as the executive director for Mission Advancement for the Sisters of Providence in 2018 and currently serves as minister of Providence Community Cemetery at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Sister Ann has ministered in various scholastic and administrative positions in Indiana and North Carolina. She also was a member of the Sisters of Providence leadership team, serving as General Secretary.

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