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The ever-expanding community of Providence

Some faces of the Providence Community. From left, Providence Associate Shawn Shamsaie, Sister Paula Damiano and Providence Associate Tara Lane raise their hands in prayer.

These days I find myself thinking and speaking less about the Sisters of Providence and more about the Providence Community — our sisters, associates and ministry partners, volunteers and staff members, family members and benefactors, the global community and beyond, even the cosmos.

Why is this shift in thinking so important?

The very nature of religious life calls the vowed member to community. In fact, the Constitutions of the Sisters of Providence proclaim, “We are called into being by God to participate as a community in extending the providential designs of God to all creation.”

A large gathering of Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates gather in the summer.

A new vision

However, it was not so long ago that apostolic religious life was almost a semi-cloistered religious experience. Community was created within the confines of the convent. Venturing out was restricted. As one sister has related, “We did not even walk around the neighborhood, we walked around the school yard.”

Then came Vatican Council II and the resultant shift. Our vision of church moved from an I-Thou relationship with God to a notion of church as the people of God and a universal call of holiness. Suddenly, lay people were invited to be involved. Men and women religious were urged to return to their roots. To reclaim the charism of their founders.

Foundation in new skills

Among other things at that time, the Sisters of Providence launched the Cor Unum program (from the Latin meaning one heart). This program laid a foundation for the Sisters of Providence. We learned new skills for community building and corporate reflection that were transformative. Sister of Providence Marie Kevin Tighe, a corporate reflection guru, explained a new sense of community in a 2001 presentation:

“If we can move beyond being aware only of being an individual-in-a-group and have a genuine experience of the group as a community of persons with a new corporate identity, we have indeed reached a creative moment in our existence. We come to the realization that the community has a life of its own that is different from the life of any one member in it and more than just the sum of the lives of the members.”

Women from congregations with Providence in their name gather as part of Women of Providence in Collaboration in 2015. These sisters and associates gather for a moving prayer.

In her view, we come together to be and to do what no one of us could be or do alone. For Sisters of Providence that means expressing our foundress Saint Mother Theodore Guerin’s unique way of making God’s presence and providential care known and experienced in today’s world.

Though Sister Marie Kevin may have been talking expressly about the community of the Sisters of Providence, another movement in the life of the Congregation was taking place at this same time … this being the development of what we have come to know as Providence Spirituality. This would further expand our understanding of community.

In 1980, religious congregations of women with the name and charism of Providence formed the Women of Providence in Collaboration. Part of the mission of that group, which now numbers 13 communities, is “to share and promote the evolving theology and spirituality of Providence.”

Seeing the bigger picture

Woven into the many events provided and resources developed through that group was a new understanding of the cosmos. This has had profound impact on our concept of community. We now embrace an understanding of Providence — of God’s design and desire for all of us — which helps us know that we are united with all that exists. That everything is connected. That we need to develop deep bonds of affection with all of creation. And that this will result in a deeper sense of communion.

Our expanded vision of Providence Community is a reflection of that communion. It is a tremendous source of hope.

The creativity and energy unleashed in the mission of Providence is so much greater because of that communion.

Providence Associates Pearlette Springer and Lynda Parker enjoy each other’s company and the beauty of nature at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
  • Providence Associates, who now number 270+, make a commitment to live out the charism of Providence wherever they may be.
  • None of the four institutions sponsored by the Sisters of Providence has a full-time Sister of Providence on staff. Yet significant efforts are in place to mirror Providence values.
  • Staff members, interns, volunteers, help us carry out the day-to-day responsibilities necessary for building up the Providence community.
  • The ongoing support of our benefactors and friends is indispensable to the accomplishment of important ministries like the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, Providence Spirituality & Conference Center and the Providence Food Pantry.

Together we seek to nudge ourselves and the global community to greater love and inclusion. Together we hope to stop the destruction of our fragile planet. Together we will create a more just and hope-filled world.

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

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Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski was elected General Superior of the Sisters of Providence in 2016. She has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. Previously she ministered as a teacher, as communication and development director for the sisters and their ministries and as a member of elected leadership on the general council of the Sisters of Providence.

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