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Reflections for Foundation Day 2019

The following are the reflections offered by Sisters of Providence General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, Dr. Dottie King, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College President, Mandy Lynch, administrator and CEO of Providence Health Care, and Dr. Margie Crooks, president of Providence Cristo Rey High School, for the Congregation’s 2019 Foundation Day, which took place on Tuesday, Oct. 22:

From Sister Dawn Tomaszewski:

For the better part of a month now, I have been carrying around a page from the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. It is the page that contains the story, written by our Mission Advancement folks, inviting the larger Terre Haute community to join us in celebrating the Feast Day of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. It also describes our foundation – established 179 years ago today.

And I quote: “Mother Theodore came to the United States from France in 1840 to establish a Congregation of women religious. After a journey of more than three months, she and her five sister companions arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to a dense forest and primitive conditions.

Providence Health Care Administrator and CEO Mandy Lynch (from left), Providence Cristo Rey High School President Dr. Margie Crooks, Sister Dawn Tomaszewski and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College President Dr. Dottie King during the 2019 Foundation Day Mass.

“From those origins, a vibrant Congregation was given life.”

What a wonderful line – a vibrant Congregation was given life. And quite a challenge to live up to through all these 179 years – to be a vibrant community – come what may.

What has sustained us? Providence, of course. The kind of dependence on God spoken of in those powerful words of Luke’s Gospel: “do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear … instead, strive for the reign of God, and these things will be given to you as well.”

We also know that the story of our foundresses has sustained us. Their faith in God’s promise to provide a future full of hope has strengthened our own path. The newspaper article says it this way: “The Congregation is sustained to this day through Mother Theodore’s foresight, legacy and energy, which continues to motivate the generation of sisters who have followed in her footsteps.”

We know it is not only sisters who have followed in her footsteps, in their footsteps, but also those companions along the way who have joined in this mission of Providence. Today, our Providence Associates and our many partners in ministry have become important instruments of God’s Providence in the life of this community. Together we seek to have a vital presence in educational settings, or working for justice, preserving the environment, providing health care for the sick, sharing our spirituality or assisting those in need.

So, I have invited three of these companions – representatives of three of our sponsored institutions to share briefly with us on this Foundation Day how Mother Theodore’s legacy motivates them. How do they think the institutions they lead are following in her footsteps and in the footsteps of those early sisters and other sisters who came after them.

I’ve asked Dr. Dottie King, the president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, to speak first because we consider the college our eldest daughter. Dottie likes that designation.

She will be followed by Mandy Lynch, administrator and CEO of Providence Health Care, Inc., also located on this campus. Affectionately known as the Infirmary from the very early days of this community, Providence Health Care was incorporated as a sponsored institution in 2002.

Finally, Dr. Margie Crooks will share her reflections. She is the president of Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis, our youngest daughter. Providence Cristo Rey was founded in 2005.

From Dr. Dottie King:

When Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and her companions made their journey to America, they came to create new educational opportunities for young women in rural Indiana, where none existed. Within a year of their arrival, the new academy opened and was soon noted for its excellence. I might note that it opened on July 4, 1841, 29 years before July 4 became a national holiday! Before the days when a formal education philosophy was the norm, Mother Theodore had one! In advising the teachers, she stated, “You just try to invent a means of correcting your children, but remember that the most powerful are rewards; a kind word, an approving glance, a little gesture is sometimes sufficient.” She further admonishes, “God confides these young girls to us so that we may form them to virtue. Speak to them respectfully, and they will respect both you and themselves.”

These words from Mother Theodore reflect her love of students and her care for them, beyond their education. They compel us at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College to care for our students deeply and to include virtue with the knowledge that we impart. In the current days of fierce competition for students, it is more important than ever to distinguish ourselves by the values that we build with intentionality into our curriculum and all that we do!

The new Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Academy boasted all of the studies that were expected and common in 1841. Needlepoint, French, art, and music were included along with subjects that were not common for young women to study in the day. Mathematics and a strong science curriculum were among the subjects that Mother Theodore insisted be included. She was pushing women forward with the innovative curriculum. Through the years at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, innovation and forward-thinking have remained a defining characteristic. We were the first women’s college to add journalism as a major. Our addition of both art and music therapy programs were ahead of their time. I keep this idea with me as we move the College into a new future. When we add majors, we often ask ourselves about the impact that they will have on our students and our world. We strive to include imagination with practicality.

Above all, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin was committed to serving her God. All that she did was a reflection of this commitment. That is the most important attribute that I long to emulate. In the end, it is what matters the most!

From Mandy Lynch:

When looking at the life of Mother Theodore, it is evident that she possessed a multitude of characteristics worth admiring. Her life’s journey is inspiring. She was a woman of such courage even in the midst of adversities. She possessed resiliency when her life took detours beyond her control. She faced her illness with fortitude. She braved the unknown of a new land. She had the persistence to seek the resources needed to do her work and she had the tenacity to see forth the mission she was called to do. All of these were encompassed by her commitment to prayer and her trust in Providence.

The characteristic that most motivates me in Saint Mother Theodore is her foresight to meet the needs of others in whatever way she could. In the 179 years that have followed, this legacy has carried on with the Sisters of Providence who have come after her, working and creating missions to help others. The sisters continue to find the needs in their communities and work to meet them through passion, persistence, prayer, and Providence.

Providence Health Care was established because the sisters had a vision and saw the need for quality healthcare. They then developed a plan and constructed a facility to meet that need. What makes Providence Health Care so special are the charism of the sisters that permeates the physical space and the relationships between staff and residents. There is a vibrant spirit here that envelops each day and each care interaction. The focus on holistic care and compassionate connections exist because on this campus, healthcare is more than a transactional exchange: It is a ministry.

Time moves so fast and things change so quickly; today, the changing landscape of healthcare shows that we need higher quality, person-centered care for elders and those experiencing cognitive brain changes. Through the foresight of the sisters and the work of the HOME Team, together, we are recognizing a need and working to meet it; so the ministry of healthcare carries on. I am honored and humbled that I can be an integral part of this mission of the Sisters of Providence.

I am confident this legacy of Saint Mother Theodore will continue many years after we are gone. I love her quote, “But our hope is in the Providence of God, which protected us until the present, and which will provide, somehow, for our future needs.”

While I am motivated by Saint Mother Theodore, I am even more motivated by the many sisters I have met personally, who are so passionately carrying out their mission and ministries to help those in need. This conviction to meet the needs of others that the sisters offer is a motivator that extends beyond me to the lives of the staff in healthcare and the residents we serve. And that is the persisting legacy of Saint Mother Theodore.

Foundation Day 2019 at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

From Dr. Margie Crooks:

As we gather together as a faith community, I want to wish all the sisters, Providence Associates and friends of the sisters a Happy Foundation Day. May our Provident God, who has begun so many good works through Saint Mother Theodore, continue to inspire our work in joyfully spreading the Gospel message of love, mercy and justice in today’s world.

As the President of one of the sisters’ sponsored institutes, there is so much that I can about the influence of Mother Theodore and the sisters in the ministry we do. However, I will highlight just a few.

Last year, on the Feast of Saint Mother Theodore, our leadership team gathered together for a prayerful reflection that included reading some excerpts from the life of Saint Mother Theodore.

I can guarantee that there is not a single staff member who does not know Mother Theodore’s philosophy of “Love the children first, and then teach them.” We have a large picture of Mother Theodore on one of our main hallways, with these words etched on the wall under it.

These are not just words. Our faculty and staff know that the best way to serve and guide our students is through love. When we were reading from Mother’s life – we were struck with the trauma she faced: Losing two brothers and her father – having to take over the household responsibilities at a young age …

This is not that different from the majority of our students … trauma faced at an early age – adult responsibilities thrust on them before they are ready for them … We can provide the best academic experience for our kids and we do, but if they do not know that they are loved, that we care, that we truly want them to become all that God has created them to be – then we are just another thing that they have to do.

Yes, our staff is truly motivated by Mother’s philosophy – not only is she often quoted, her philosophy is carried on daily in the way we teach, mentor, and love our students.

The staff are not the only ones who have embraced the philosophy and charism of Mother Theodore and the sisters, our students also can speak to and embody the Gospel message of love, mercy and justice in today’s world.

As part of our Saint Mother Theodore celebration week at the beginning of October, we did numerous activities with our students. One of them was a chapel reflection time on these virtues of love, justice and mercy.

The teachers picked out three short reflections from our students for me to share:

“The Sisters of Providence practice love, mercy, justice. It is these virtues that have not only impacted the education that I have received at Providence Cristo Rey, but have served as a foundation for my faith. The compassion towards the students shown by the faculty and staff at Providence demonstrates the virtue of love. Through my classes, specifically Theology, I am able to learn about the merciful love of Christ and how Christians can promote justice and charity through acts of love, mercy, and justice. It is also through my classes that I am inspired to go out into the world and continue to serve God and others. In brief, my faith has only grown through my education at Providence, and I hope to carry out the virtues practiced at PCR and the Sisters of Providence in my future academic and career endeavors.” – Leairra Carter, Class of 2020.

“Love, Mercy, and Justice, impacted my education in so many ways. There is so much love at Providence Cristo Rey, the teachers and staff truly care for the students as if they were their own children. I have experienced this so many times; there were times where I was in my head about something and it wasn’t only my friends who brought me back up, but it was also the staff around me. They made sure I was myself before I did. The patience the people (staff) has at PCRHS is amazing. They try to know the struggles of our teenage lives and understand every decision we make. Even if the decision is poor, there is the mercy they show here at Providence. PCRHS treats every student the same and gives everyone what they earn, or what they are due.” – Derryck Strode, Class of 2020.

“Love, Mercy, and Justice have helped me with my learning here at the school. The love of the teachers here continues the love of Saint Mother Theodore at the school and has helped me learn because if I have trouble with work the teachers are willing to help me even after school hours. They show us mercy here by giving us second chances when we don’t understand things and giving us extra credit work to do, so we can get our grade up. Justice has an impact here because of the strict rules, so that we can do the right thing when we go out into the world on our own.” – Jaren Freeman, Class of 2020.

At Providence Cristo Rey High School, we are blessed to share in your charism. Your influence and Mother Theodore’s influence are having an amazing impact on our students and staff. Because of you, our students are truly motivated students striving to reach their highest potential and become faith-filled, socially responsible women and men, who will take the lead in creating a more just society and a more hopeful future for themselves and others.

Thank you and may our Provident God be praised. Saint Mother Theodore … pray for us.

Sister Dawn continues:

Will you join me in thanking Dottie, Mandy and Margie not only for the words that they have just shared, but also for the important work they carry on in the name of Providence.

And, as we often do, I thought I would give Mother Theodore the last word this morning. Near the very end of her first journal, we find these often repeated words: “It is astonishing that this remote solitude has been chosen for a novitiate and especially for an academy. All appearances are against it. … If we cannot do any good here, you know our agreement, we will return to our country.”

Well, the fact that we are still here 179 years later is certainly testimony to the Providence of God. It is also testimony to all those sisters in the U.S. as well as in China and Taiwan AND to the many other Dotties, Mandys and Margies in our larger community of Providence who have not let appearances keep them from doing good, doing lots of good.

Today, let us celebrate the good that has been done; let us resolve to continue to work together in order to live up to our press as a vibrant community – all for the sake of God’s Mission of Providence. Perhaps the very last line of Mother Theodore’s journal can help sustain us in that effort. “Oh! The Daughters of Providence must fear nothing as to their future.”

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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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1 Comment

  1. Mary E Heins on November 6, 2019 at 8:37 am

    How appropriate and encouraging the words of these women and students!! Thanks, Sr. Dawn, for including these voices with yours in your tribute to Providence and Mother Theodore. It’s important to hear each voice and thus be reminded of the many people working and praying to be Providence in our world in 2019, evidence of God’s presence.

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