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A matter of hope: the future of religious life

We hear it often: the numbers of religious women and religious congregations are dwindling. Yet I do not find this reason for despair. In fact, it gives me hope.

How might that be, you ask? Well, I remember Mother Theodore and her companions — a mere six women, some of them frail and in poor health. They worked steadfastly amidst adverse circumstances to create a foundation in Indiana that would spread not only across the United States but to Asia as well.

How did they do it, people ask? I believe they made enormous impact by focusing their energies on the mission at hand. Their call more than 175 years ago was not unlike ours today: to do all that we can to discern and respond to the critical unmet needs of our day. That was their focus, their reason for giving up everything, even their homeland, to educate children and work among the sick poor of Indiana and beyond. And young women who heard that call within themselves asked to join their efforts to that of the fledgling Congregation.

Today

Today, we Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are certainly fewer in number than we were at the heyday of religious life in the 1960s. At the same time, we consider ourselves deeply blessed. Good, solid young women continue to join us in our efforts to be the face of Providence in whatever ways the world needs us today. They are women who, like Mother Theodore Guerin and her companions, are ready and willing to respond in sometimes difficult and challenging ways. They are ready to go to the margins of society, to be with the most vulnerable. We are also gifted with vibrant, caring Providence Associates, ministry partners, and others who join us in mission as well.

So what of the future, you ask? The future is “not about us,” I don’t believe. Perhaps religious women will collaborate with one another in ways that we haven’t done before. Perhaps religious life as we know it will be totally different.

What I do know is this:

I trust that the Providence of God will provide for the care of creation in whatever ways are appropriate for that time and space. I trust that there will be courageous women and men who will continue to answer the call of Providence to respond with integrity and passion to the most urgent needs in society. I invoke the wisdom of our dear Mother Theodore:

“…be assured that in leaving the past to the mercy of God and the future to [God’s] Providence you will derive from your offering very great peace and very great consolation.”

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

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Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp

Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. She currently serves on the Congregation leadership team. Previously she ministered as a teacher and administrator at the secondary and university levels.

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