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Foundation day: a community effort

“Step down, sisters. We have arrived!” Many of us who are familiar with those words cherish the image of our Mother Theodore and her companions, Sisters Basilide, Olympiade, St. Liguori, Mary Xavier, and St. Vincent Ferrer, arriving at Saint Mary’s Woods (later named Saint Mary-of-the-Woods) exhausted but exhilarated on Oct. 22, 1840. Women of courage and determination who were on the threshold of building schools, clinics, orphanages and the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence in the United States.

I’ve often wondered how the sisters prepared for this endeavor. I vividly remember preparing to join the Congregation 20 years ago. Divesting of property, books, furniture. Trying to determine what I needed from what I wanted was excruciating in one way and liberating in another. In the end, I realized that the most important “things” I brought to the Congregation were my spirituality and my life- experience.

Perhaps this was a similar state of mind for the sisters preparing for what might happen in the new mission. At least clothes were not an issue. What they brought were the material necessities for the new mission and most importantly the personal talents and gifts that they would share with each other and, in a real way, with all of us.

Mother Theodore was recognized for her leadership skills, her kindness, her compassion and her deep reliance on the Providence of God. Sister Olympiade was chosen for the mission expressly by the Bishop of Le Mans because Mother Marie, the superior in Ruille, did not think Sister Olympiade had a religious vocation. She was an accomplished cook, seamstress and nurse. Sister St. Ligouri (aka Mary Ligouri) was 22 years old and already exhibited a solid spiritual grounding and leadership skills. She was so competent that Sister St. Ligouri was seen as Mother Theodore’s successor; and probably would have been had she not succumbed to tuberculosis. Sister Basilide learned English very quickly, which was in contrast to Mother Theodore’s difficulty with the language. She was a beloved teacher at the Academy for many years. Sister St. Vincent Ferrer had experience as a teacher and principal. Her personality is described as “…quiet and demure…” by Sister Mary Borromeo Brown in her book “History of the Sisters of Providence.” Surely her calm attitude was a balance to the exuberant Sister Basilide. Sister Mary Xavier was a gifted seamstress and gave years of service to the Congregation until her death in 1897. She outlived her sister companions and related the stories of the beginning years to newer members. And where would the sisters have been without the help and support of the Thralls family who generously offered their small home as the first dwelling of the sisters?

Each sister brought unique and much needed skills and gifts to the fledgling community. The same is true today; except that our tent is much bigger. Now we have a Providence community that welcomes sisters and associates, friends and donors, volunteers and alumni to share their gifts and talents following in the footsteps of our sister founders. Whether you are donating books for the book sale or are a docent who shares the story of our Woods, or whether you are sharing the values of love, mercy and justice with your co-workers, your presence enhances the Providence mission.

Let us all embrace the legacy of the sisters and friends of the sisters who joined together to build the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Join us for a special Foundation Day Mass at 11 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 22 in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Not able to be there in person? No problem! You can join us via Facebook Live.

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Sister Sue Paweski

Sister Sue has been a Sister of Providence since 1998. She currently ministers as co-director of the Providence Associate relationship with the Sisters of Providence. Prior to that she taught fine arts at St. Genevieve Catholic School in Chicago.

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3 Comments

  1. S. Rita Clare Gerardot on October 20, 2018 at 9:50 am

    Sue, great Foundation story! Thanks for introducing many to our courageous early founders, as well as the many faithfilled Associates who are currently journeying with us.

    Rita Clare

  2. Suster Connie SP on October 20, 2018 at 10:43 pm

    Wonderful reflection Sue. Thanks so very much for writing it.

  3. Denise Wilkinson on October 23, 2018 at 8:51 am

    Sue – I just read this – on the day after. I appreciated it – perhaps even more – having celebrated Foundation Day yesterday. You reminded me of the “community effort” it took and takes to bring love, mercy and justice to our fractured universe. Thanks!

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