Go Forth, Dr. Whittaker and Sisters Phung and Huong in service to others!
’Tis the season of graduations! And though the Sisters of Providence are not the proud parents of students graduating at this time of year, we are always bursting with pride at the accomplishments of our Sister of Providence graduates as well as those we have had the privilege to sponsor.
Just last weekend, we filled two rows of bleachers at Marian University’s graduate commencement ceremonies as Sister Arrianne Whittaker became Doctor Sister Arrianne, SP, DO. We DID NOT hoot and howl (we were instructed not to) as Arrianne received her doctoral hood from her father, Dr. Michael Whittaker, M.D. However, no one clapped louder or strained harder to capture the moment on our cell phone cameras than we did when given the opportunity.
Becoming a doctor has been a life-long dream of Arrianne’s. Her doctor father and nurse mother probably had something to do with that. Integrating that dream with a call to religious life has been both challenging and life-changing for all involved. Perhaps as significant as her diploma was the award she received at graduation from the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Marian University – The Franciscan Spirit Award – recognizing professionalism and upholding the founding values of Marian, including dignity of the individual, peace and justice, reconciliation and responsible stewardship.
In the process, Arrianne has certainly learned to lean on Providence in deeper ways as well as on the support of her family and the Providence community.
One of my favorite moments of the graduation ceremony happened when the commencement speaker asked those family and friends who had supported the graduates to stand and be recognized. Across the arena, I could see Arrianne’s family pop right up just about the time we Sisters of Providence took to our feet. In so many ways, we felt like we were graduating, too!
At the party for Arrianne afterwards, Sister Patty Wallace snatched Arrianne’s graduation tam and wanted her picture taken with it on. As one of her housemates during these years of intense study (Sister Susan Dinnin is the other), Patty wanted a little credit for having survived medical school!
A similar kind of celebration took place just this past weekend as Sisters Phung Nguyen Hien Tran and Huong Mai, Dominican Sisters of Tam Hiep, Vietnam, both graduated summa cum laude with Bachelor of Science degrees from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. What an accomplishment for any student, but especially for these sisters who began their study of English just one year before coming to this country.
For the past four years, Phung and Huong have lived with the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods while attending classes across campus at the college. Not unlike the scene at Marian University with Arrianne, the Sisters of Providence, especially those who had served as tutors for Phung and Huong during their time here, crowded around them to offer joyful congratulations. True to their own goodness, Phung and Huong hosted a post-graduation party to thank the Sisters of Providence for sponsoring them.
Phung and Huong are among the eight Dominican sisters the Congregation has sponsored and who have graduated since 1998. The history of that sponsorship is Providence in itself. In 1995, Marie Rose Dai, OP, a 1959 graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, was awarded the Mother Theodore Guerin Medallion in recognition of her work in embodying the spirit and virtue of Saint Mother Theodore in her own life, and, in her case, her ministry as the general superior of the Dominicans of Tam Hiep. During that visit to accept the award, she asked the Congregation to support her sisters in receiving an SMWC education to help prepare them for ministry.
That sponsorship is made possible through a trust established at SMWC by the family of one of our sisters who admired the value we affixed to the advanced education of our sisters. Money from that trust has been used to support sisters who attend Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
Arrianne’s education was financed through the Sisters of Providence Education Fund, established by the Congregation in 1980s with the help of benefactors and friends to ensure the ongoing educational preparation of Sisters of Providence.
Arrianne also received a primary care scholarship through the Indiana Commission of Higher Education. She will begin to “pay that back” during her three-year residency at the St. Vincent Hospital Family Medicine Program in Indianapolis, which starts on June 17.
Phung and Huong will return to their homeland later this summer after spending a month in Dallas in one of the Dominican ministries that have been established in Vietnamese communities in the United States. They will arrive in Vietnam just about the time the next two Dominican sisters will travel to the states to begin their college career at SMWC.
Meanwhile, Sister of Providence Teresa Kang will be completing her canonical year in August and will be on her way to Catholic Theological Union in Chicago for master’s degree studies to prepare her for a return to ministry in Taiwan.
We are not unlike families who seek to prepare the next generation for their life’s work, to help them fulfill their calling and live happy and meaningful lives. Education has always been at the heart of the mission of the Sisters of Providence – whether it be education of ourselves or others. In any case, it is education for the service of the mission of Providence.
Go forth, Dr. Whittaker and Sisters Phung and Huong in service to others! Providence goes with you.