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Providence Associates reflect on the year of integration

Editor’s note: All Providence Associates begin their first year as candidate Providence Associates meeting with a Sister of Providence or Providence Associate companion and working through reflective pieces known as the Spiritual Integration Units. Here, Providence Associates through the years reflect on this year of integration. This reflection was originally published in 2017 in the 10-year history booklet for the Providence Associates.

Universal stories are hard to come by when it comes to Providence Associates. Yet ask them about their year of integration, and you’ll hear a flood of accolades. “A treasured time,” reports Alice Shelton. “A true blessing,” writes Cynthia MacWhorter. “A special gift,” Connie Schnapf agrees. “I think the excitement of learning and sharing went both ways and that was so very affirming.”

Blog post author Providence Associate Lori Strawn, right, with her companion and former English Professor Sister Rosemary Nudd during Lori’s year of integration in 2011.

“I think the amount of time required to study, pray and discern was most beneficial,” Ezra Kyle Meadors said. “It’s not like you can say ‘I want to be an associate’ and you are made one on the spot. It took a lot of hard work, and it was all rewarding.”

A companion for the journey

Much of this is due to the associates’ companions. Most Providence Associates feel, as Marilyn Rausch does, that their companion was chosen not by themselves or the director, but by Providence. “Sister Mary Beth Klingel was/is my companion,” writes Kathy Fleming. “I remember telling then-Director Sister Mary Alice Zander I wanted someone I didn’t know very well who would inspire me. I stopped her in the hall one day and said, ‘Can Mary Beth be my companion?’ She took me by the hand and said, ‘Come to my office.’ She showed me her list of our group and she had written Mary Beth by my name. I knew it was God’s Providence.”

For Jeannie Smith,“[Sister Ruth Eileen Dwyer, (RIP)] has had a profound influence on me. We took up our relationship as if there had not been a gap of 45 years at all!” Alice Shelton talks about Sister Margaret Quinlan with great emotion. “She served me instant coffee and some sweet treat and we talked — or rather, I talked and she listened. I cried and she listened. I questioned and she listened.”

“I really grew close to Sister Barbara Doherty as we went through the integration units,” Judy Barad says. “We became good friends.” Dottie King remembers Sister Jeanne Knoerle (RIP) with fondness. “I am so glad that she and I were able to spend the extra time together.” Sister Mary Ann Phelan guided Lynn Reese and Mary Loretta Reese through their year of integration. “We, all working together, found our way along this new path one step at a time.”

Providence Associate Judy Barad (left) and her companion, Sister Barbara Doherty, after Judy’s year of integration in 2012.

Friends and mentors

Helen Flavin’s companion was Sister Jane Iannaccone. “I realized I had a friend as well as a mentor in my sister companion.” Rev. Rebecca Zelensky reports that she “will be eternally grateful for every conversation and meeting I had with my companion, Sister Ann Sullivan.” Annmarie Portela knew her companion, Sister Ellen Cunningham, from her days as a student at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. “Throughout the years, she continues to be a mentor, an inspiration and a good friend.”

“Joining Sister Eileen Bonner and Sister Brigid Bonner in their home for prayer and reflection on the Spiritual Integration Units, then cookies and tea, was a special time,” reports Maria Price. “We hit it off immediately, and I treasure the memory of our time together. They welcomed me immediately and unconditionally. I love them.” And Monica Hayden calls Sister Ann Sullivan “instrumental in my desire to go deeply into this relationship. Through her I learned what the sisters are all about, and how their beliefs so speak to my own.”

“My most special memories were monthly lunches with Sister Dorothy [Rasche],” Tara Lane says. “I developed an understanding of ‘community,’ a feeling of inclusiveness and the power of presence with God, Saint Mother Theodore and each other. It was a mystical time.” Sabrina Falls retains special memories of meeting with Sister Paula Modaff and “talking of great matters of faith, doubt, struggle and hope; laughing and sharing about our personal journeys in life and with God.”

The path of integration

Of course, the integration year isn’t always easy. “While some of the conversations that [my sister companion] Dawn [Tomaszewski] and I had challenged me, I could not have asked for a more generous and gentle companion on the journey,” Kaitlyn Willy says. “In November 2013, when I finally made my commitment, I was beyond ready.”

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, left, joins with Providence Associates in blessing her associate companion Kaitlyn Willy as she renews her commitment as an associate in 2016.

Mary Carroll Blocher found the year of integration energizing. Li-Chih (Maria) Fan did too, often speaking to her companion, Sister Barbara Bluntzer, for two hours over the phone. “She is an environmental advocate, a good listener, mentor, and she always encourages me with positive feedback,” Maria wrote during her integration year.

Ruth Saalweachter’s journey to commitment took two years, “due to family responsibilities and temporary health issues …. Sister Ruth [Johnson] is a special person, and it was truly Providence that she has been my companion.” Jane Fischer calls Sister Peggy Nau, her companion, “a true blessing …. When it’s time for me to separate from the distractions of the current moment in order to hear what’s important, to listen, to wait for words and direction, I often hear Peggy saying: ‘Listen’! And, oh! What I have heard!”

The Spiritual Integration Units provided much inspiration to associates, as well. “I could write a book about how they have challenged and changed me,” writes Ronda Hoggatt. “I was challenged most by the chapter on charism,” Cathy Keller reports. “It was a time of self-reflection and growth, as I learned to know more about ME.”

Wisdom for the future

Sandy Scroggins speaks lovingly of what she learned: “The insight that God is present to us always and how lovingly God interacts with us as we try to figure out what this life is all about. It’s like a beautiful dance.” Sue Weber only wishes she could have had more time with the units. “[They] were so well done that they encourage deep reflection, animated conversation and new thinking.”

Providence Associate Mel Marino Wolff, front, leads a group of associates in a lively song parody in 2016.

The units on prayer and charism were particularly meaningful to Diane Weidenbenner. “I see the sisters’ charism lived out in the various ministries in which they serve. The [charism] unit also helped me to identify and discover new ways that I can use my own gifts and talents in service of the Gospel.” For Mel Marino Wolff, reading the Practices of the Sisters of Providence was a stand-out moment. “Humor, education and the arts are especially close to my heart and already a part of my own life’s mission.”

The year also brought understanding of core issues to associates. As Jeannie Smith explains, “I was always so grateful to Sister Mary Alice Zander [the founding director of the Providence Associate relationship] in that she made the point that we, adult women and men with years of experience and a developed spirituality, were not in ‘formation,’ but rather were in ‘integration’ and that the relationship was mutual.” Ruth Saalweachter claims, “The wow moment for me was when I finally felt as though I was beginning to understand what Providence means and how it can guide my life.”

Lasting effects

As for the lasting effects of the year of integration, Rev. Rebecca Zelensky writes, “In Kentucky and Illinois, I had many women clergy I counted as friends as well as colleagues. I had only a few here in Terre Haute … until I started my year of integration. Now, I feel incredibly loved and supported in my ministry and in my personal life by many of the Sisters of Providence who have welcomed me with the opening arms of God’s spirit.” And Jane Fischer adds, “For the most part, I am a very social, talkative person, but I am pleasantly surprised at the peace and quiet that has come from truly trusting in Providence.”

Ready to start your year of integration as a Providence Associate? Apply to become an associate today!

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Lori Strawn

Providence Associate Lori Strawn is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Witchita, Kansas. A 1987 graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Lori formerly served on the advisory board for the Providence Associates.

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