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This Memorial Day: Take time to Remember

“My friends lie here … Pilgrims from other lands … heroines of unknown sacrifices … obscure apostle unaware of the magnitude of their influence.”

Sister Eugenia Logan, (RIP), was the historian of the Congregation from 1959 to 1976 and, during her tenure, wrote the second volume of the SP history.

This quote, penned by Sister of Providence Community Historian Sister Eugenia Logan, (RIP), in reference to those buried in the SP cemetery, came to mind as I tried to collect my thoughts about celebrating Memorial Day.

Like many people and places throughout the country, the Sisters of Providence will place a flag on the gravesite of those sisters/chaplains who served our country in some branch of military service and/or as nurses during a time of conflict.

Sister St. Felix Buchanan, a Civil War sister-nurse, is pictured (at right) in this photograph. Sister St. Felix, born July 13, 1830, was a relative of President James Buchanan. She entered the Congregation in 1852 and died in 1879.

Eleven Sisters of Providence ministered as nurses during the Civil War: Sisters St. Felix Buchanan, Helena Burns, Frances Ann Carney, Athanasius Fogarty, Eugenia Gorman, Sophie Glenn, Mary Francis Guthneck, Henrietta MacKenzie, Mary Louise Malone, Mary Rose O’Donaghue and Matilda Swinley.

Four sisters served in some capacity before they entered the Congregation: Sisters Francis de Lourdes Reilly, RIP, Ruth Sondhaus, RIP, Catherine Hartman, RIP, and Patricia Linehan.

Sister Patricia “Pat” Linehan

Two offered assistance during the Vietnam War as Sisters of Providence – Sister Josephine Bryan through Catholic Relief Services, and Sister Merry Marcotte, RIP, through the Red Cross.

I am grateful for the visible sign of their service to help me remember their “unknown sacrifices” and the “magnitude of their influence.” In fact, the precursor to the current Memorial Day holiday was actually called Decoration Day. To honor the deceased , soldiers would decorate graves of their fallen comrades with flowers, flags and wreaths. The holiday did not legally become Memorial Day until 1967.

Sister Josephine Bryan

Most days we do need signs, symbols and practices to help us remember … lest we forget what is really important. Memory is a powerful tool of connection and communion.

… This past weekend, for example, during my 45th class reunion from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, I participated in a brief memorial service honoring all those alums from the celebrating classes who had died during the past five years. How powerful to have two alumnae from the Class of 1949 stand before us and with their halting 90-year-old voices alternate reading the names of the 22 friends of theirs who had died. At that moment, I felt like they were my friends, too.

… I think of the story my Uncle Romey shared with me one day while I was cutting his hair. A quiet man, I often searched for ways to connect with him and so asked him about his time as a U.S. Army pilot/bombardier during World War II. He told me about his favorite mission. He and his squadron were sent low into the Netherlands to drop boxes of food in the village squares because the Dutch people there had been cut off from supplies and were starving. Years later, as a plant manager for a manufacturing firm in Chicago, my uncle conducted a tour for a representative of a Dutch company. Out of curiosity, Romey mentioned the World War II mission to his visitor in the hopes of discovering if in fact the aid had been helpful. The man was overcome and quickly told my uncle that he and his family were in the square that day and were the recipients of his bravery. They had been surviving on tulip bulbs. My uncle, my hero.

The Military (City) Hospital in Indianapolis in the years after the Civil War.

… And finally, back to those Civil War sisters. It was Mother Mary Cecilia Bailly, successor to Mother Theodore as General Superior, who accepted the plea that the sisters should take care of the soldiers in the hospital in Indianapolis. “The sisters took charge on May 17 [1861], giving comfort to Union and Confederate soldiers.” It is not lost on me that they gave comfort to Union AND Confederate soldiers.

Most days we do need signs, symbols and practices to help us remember … lest we forget what is really important. Memory is a powerful tool of connection and communion.

This Memorial Day, I hope you will remember some hero or heroine of your own, an obscure apostle, perhaps. May they continue to rest in peace. May the magnitude of their influences bring us peace.

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Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

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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  1. Avatar Donna Butler on May 27, 2019 at 10:33 am

    Thanks, Dawn for a wonderful and informative article sharing both our SP history and your uncle’s great story.

  2. Avatar Donna Butler on May 27, 2019 at 10:39 am

    Dawn, thank you for a wonderful writing sharing both our SP history and your uncle’s wonderful story.

  3. Avatar Mary Tomlinson SP on May 27, 2019 at 11:28 am

    Thanks, Dawn for a beautiful reflection about our sisters who served. Perfect words for Memorial Day. Thanks you.

  4. Avatar Karen Oddi on May 27, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    I truly appreciate your gift of a lovely reflection on this Memorial Day as I call to mind the WW II service of my uncle and my brother-in-law.

    Who remembers the little paper poppies we wore on this day quite a few years ago?

  5. Avatar Kathy Schram on May 28, 2019 at 7:59 am

    Beautiful tribute. Always love hearing the Uncle Romey story.

  6. Avatar Karen Goehl on May 29, 2019 at 6:43 am

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful Memorial Day reflection. I so enjoyed reading about all of the Sisters and your Uncle Romey. The work, spirit, and love of others continues to inspire us.

  7. Avatar Diann Neu on June 3, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks for the powerful memories, Dawn. You are a great story teller and writer!

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