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Sisters preserving memories through memory books

Pages from some of the memory books created by Sisters of Providence. See three complete memory books below.

It was … a time of innocence, a time of confidences Long ago … it must be … I have a photograph Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you  
— Paul Simon

About two years ago, Providence Associate Sheila Donis approached the Sisters of Providence HOME (Helping Ourselves Meaningfully Engage) team with an idea to create memory books for the Sisters of Providence.

Memory books are a way for individuals to recall and record their significant life events in a memoir format. They detail and preserve aspects of a person’s life history with photographs, artifacts and narratives. They highlight precious details of a unique life lived for present and future generations. In effect, the New Testament could be considered Jesus’ memory book, the written account of Jesus’ life and legacy as told by Jesus or experienced through his apostles and followers!

Benefits of memory books.

They facilitate life-affirming interaction, encourage deep reflection, and celebrate life events through story-telling and reminiscing. And they are effective in stimulating memories, especially for individuals living with dementia.

The Sisters of Providence welcomed Sheila’s idea, and currently oversee and fund an initiative to help our sisters create memory books. These memory books, dubbed Sketches, are designed to promote positive aging and well-being through a joyful, creative exchange of interpersonal connection and story sharing. Sheila and other volunteers facilitate the Sketches process.

When a sister expresses interest in making a Sketches book, she is paired with an interviewer. This person may be a friend, family member or Sketches volunteer. Together the sister and interviewer decide on and conduct the interview, choosing prepared questions from six broad categories: Childhood, Teen Years, Family Roots, Missions/Ministries, Coming Home/Retirement, Lessons/Legacies.

Pages from some of the memory books created by Sisters of Providence. See three complete memory books below.

The interviewer jots down responses during the interview, and later writes or types them out and sends them to a designated Sketches volunteer who formats them. The interviewer collects the sister’s photos and artifacts that are to be included in the album. Then together they enter into the “creative phase,” designing the finished product — a hardcover album keepsake.

Sheila reports that sisters who have been through the process say they want to share Sketches with their relatives. And some families of sisters who have passed away were grateful to take the book home and copy it for other family members.

Cathy Dearing, a Providence Associate, volunteered on the Sketches project. “Sketches allowed me the privilege to sit, meet and talk face-to-face with individual sisters about their lives. It wasn’t an interview, it was a telling of story — their story. I was so amazed at the detail sisters provided about their families, their childhood, when they received the call, all their ministries. I suppose what I liked best is watching the expressions on the sisters’ faces as they ‘relive’ their past experiences, reflect on them and how they saw Providence in each and every encounter,” she said.

Shared memories

The following anecdotes, shared with permission, are narratives from recently completed Sketches of the Sisters of Providence:

*Sister Laurine (formerly, “Dorothy”) Haley’s brother always called her “Dothie” because “… we don’t pronounce our R’s in Massachusetts!”

*Sister Kathleen Dede recalls family vacations to Paris, Illinois “… to visit Aunt Bertha and Uncle Albert. She made the best homemade ice cream!”

*Sister Teresa Costello’s parents, who lived in a small village in Ireland, rode their bicycles to church to get married.

*Sister Ann Stephen Stouffer shares “When my baby brother was born, I got to name him. I chose the name Stephen. I don’t know why.” What about her prayer life? “I like going to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and sitting and talking to God. Sometimes I rant and rave but mostly I try to listen.”

To date, more than 20 sisters have participated in the Sketches process. For more information about Sketches, contact Katie Harich, well-being coordinator at kharich@spsmw.org or 812-535-2860.

“Because stories are forgotten if left untold”

Click on a sisters’ name below to view their completed memory book or click below to download a pdf version.

Sister Ann Stephen Stouffer

Sister Patty McIntyre

Sister Teresa Costello

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

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Katie Harich

Katie Harich

Katie Harich was the well-being coordinator for the Sisters of Providence. She is a licensed wellness educator and certified professional life coach. Katie’s passion is working with people to maximize their “joy potential,” while aging with grace through meaningful engagement, humor and contemplative reflection.

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