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Sisters and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College: planting seeds of hope in a new generation

Sisters Barbara Bluntzer and Mary Montgomery speak to a classroom of students at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College as part of a new class that helps connect students to the Sisters of Providence, their history and their values.

In 1961, when I arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College as an 18-year-old frosh, I immediately felt the energy of Providence all around me. Providence sisters in traditional habits administered the college. They taught many of the classes. Some of them even lived in the dorms with us as resident advisors. We learned quickly who Mother Theodore Guerin was. We heard quotes from her journal and letters and learned about the meaning of God’s Providence that provided a strong foundation for these sisters and their lay and priestly faculty colleagues.

We imbibed the strength of those who witnessed the charism of Providence to us. We relied on what we learned from them as members of the Woods community during our years on campus and in more recent years as alumnae of the college as it has evolved into a coeducational center of learning with new majors and programs. We sometimes found ourselves quoting Mother Theodore. “Lean with all your weight on Providence and you will be well supported.”

Preserving Providence

Within the past decade, the number of sisters directly involved with the college became fewer and fewer. Leaders of the college wondered how to preserve the energy of Providence within the student community.

As Woods administrators reviewed course evaluations while revitalizing the general studies curriculum, they came upon a direction. In feedback they heard from the students that they wanted to learn more about the history of the Sisters of Providence and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. They asked for more interaction with Sisters of Providence on campus. They also desired to learn more about the spirituality of Providence and the sisters’ emphasis on sustainability, social justice, eco-justice and women’s issues.

Bring in the sisters

In fall 2018, the college launched Woods Core 100, an 8-week campus program or 16-week online course, required of all students. Elaine Yaw, associate professor of media art, coordinates the team of eight who teach the class. In addition, a volunteer Sister of Providence companion is embedded with each group of students. The course takes students on tours of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, the Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, the Shell Chapel, the Grotto and arrival rock and the Log Cabin Chapel. They also visit the Sisters of Providence archives and see the original daguerreotype of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

To learn more about Providence spirituality, students read and discuss a variety of texts including sections from Love Mercy and Justice: A Book of Practices of the Sisters of Providence. They also read and explore the Sisters of Providence website (SistersofProvidence.org) about Saint Mother Theodore, how the sisters serve and view the Congregation video there.

To explore the meaning of ministry, students participate in a service project such as making mats from plastic bags to support an effort by a church in Terre Haute who provides them to the homeless. Another group this year shared s’mores with those in Providence Health Care. Others beautified areas on campus guided by White Violet Center personnel.

Students say

Students process their experiences in short reflection papers. Autumn Wilson wrote: “As a non-religious person, it was interesting to read the perspectives of the Sisters of Providence … I agree with the sisters’ views that our actions can make a difference. And it makes sense to me that the belief in a benevolent and loving Providence would create hope in their spirits.”

Her classmate Kaylie Meehan wrote: “I think it’s amazing that the Sisters of Providence find it in themselves to not only notice God’s presence in everything, but also to share that with everyone around them … I think it’s so cool that the sisters rely so heavily on God’s love in their everyday lives. I hope to someday be able to rely on God’s love for my needs like the sisters do.”

Elaine says she expects the course to continue to grow. She is looking forward to seeing the final projects created by the students. The project asks students and faculty working with them to create a time capsule to be opened in 20 years. The artifacts are to relate to the themes of spirituality, sustainability, social justice and women’s issues integral to the Woods Core program. The students, faculty and sisters will put these objects in the capsule at the final session. The capsules will be sealed and stored until being opened in 2038.

(Originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Sister Cathy Campbell

Sister Cathy Campbell

Sister Cathy Campbell, SP, is a freelance writer and editor. She holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in Spirituality from Catholic Theological Union/Chicago. Sister Cathy also ministers as a retreat facilitator for the Providence Spirituality and Conference Center with special interests in scripture and the mystics.

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