Get to know Providence Associate Gerri Baum
Gerri Baum of Chicago first got to know the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods when she attended Providence High School in Chicago. With her journalism and later counseling degrees, she spent a career as an advertising copywriter, technical writer and editor, and then as a counselor in hospitals, a community mental health facility and at a local agency for women and children.
Gerri married her late husband Dick in 1966. They have two grown children, Joe and Mary, and one granddaughter. Gerri has volunteered as a religious education teacher and on the liturgy committee in her parishes since the 1960s. She and her husband volunteered as a team couple in marriage encounter, were members of a charismatic prayer group and hosted Cursillo retreat reunions in their home. Gerri has also volunteered as a field advocate for the Archdiocese of Chicago Marriage Tribunal which led to organizing a divorce and beyond program for divorced Catholics in the area.
Below, she shares more about herself and her experience as a Providence Associate.
What are you passionate about and why?
I am passionate about “God is love.” I used to be surprised when blessings occurred, now I am comforted, recognizing the presence of God in many ways, such as answers to prayers, coincidences and dreams.
List three things that someone who wants to get to know you should understand about you.
- I like people.
- I am empathetic.
- I believe that encouraging people is very important.
What is something interesting about you that not everybody knows?
When I was a college sophomore, I had a vision of a tangle of string anchored at one end. I interpreted it as a vision of my life’s journey. If I was to find/know God, I would have to accept life with all its twists and turns so, in the end, I would be in sync with God’s plan for me. I have no idea where the vision or interpretation came from. It was 1962 and post-Vatican II spirituality was not all that popular or available.
What are your favorite ways to spend your time?
Now that I am widowed, I do enjoy days when I’m able to help my children and longtime friends when needed. Read “needing company for breakfast, lunch or supper.” I live in an apartment so I can no longer garden. However, living in the Chicago area provides me many opportunities for culture and entertainment with family and friends. I keep in contact with friends from grammar school, high school and college and friends from all the places we’ve ever lived. I really enjoy reading and am blessed with more time to do so now.
What drew you to the Providence Associate relationship?
I used to accompany my husband Dick to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College when his midlife crisis resulted in enrolling in the masters of arts in pastoral theology program there. One of his classmates was a Providence Associate who talked to me about the program. I talked with Sister Cordelia (friend/former teacher) and she encouraged me to look into it. I was not absolutely certain this was for me even as I proceeded through formation. I think it was because I had never been in this position before, committing myself to a community of professed sisters. I decided to take a step in faith and became an associate. Although I agreed with everything in the formation material, I really didn’t know what to expect after making my first commitment.
Tell about your experience as a Providence Associate.
The Congregation had changed quite a bit since I graduated from high school. I remember the sisters at Providence High School were sponsoring an event at the school for Caesar Chavez in the ‘60s until Cardinal Cody shut it down. I really was not aware of the commitment of the Congregation to justice, mercy and peace until I began my candidacy as a Providence Associate. I am in awe of the extent of issues the sisters and associates are involved in, their courage and strength to persevere in difficult situations and their devotion to Saint Mother Theodore. As a Providence Associate, I am a member of the Illinois Women Religious against Human Trafficking and usually attend the monthly meetings of the Chicago Providence Circle.
In what ways is the relationship life giving?
I learn of, and so can support, initiatives of the Church, the Community, the Associate Advisory Board and local events. It is very gratifying to be able to do good as an associate, be it for the local community or the world.
Who was your companion in becoming a Providence Associate? Tell us about that process.
My companion was Sister Barbara Sheehan. She worked near the Loop and we had an apartment in Lincoln Park so meeting was convenient. We’d usually meet for lunch or dinner, discuss the material and then enjoyed the rest of the meal getting acquainted. Eventually she and Dick became friends, based on mutual acquaintances at The Woods. Dick and I volunteered as bartenders for her annual fundraiser. Sister Barbara and her leadership at the Urban CPE Consortium generated in her students self-awareness which enabled them to love and care for others. She is an exceptional person. It was a blessing having her for my companion and now my friend.
What does being a Providence Associate mean to you?
Mostly, being an associate keeps me connected to the past and the future. The Sisters of Providence were my teachers, academically and by example. With teaching no longer the name-of-the-game it once was, sisters are now employed in areas that focus on leadership in areas benefiting the common good and loving by example. Who wouldn’t want to be associated with the faith, courage and intelligence to go forward into the ever-changing world?
What are your hopes for the Providence community into the future?
My hope for the Providence community is that its efforts are rewarded in each person’s life as we continue to bless the world in whatever way we can, verifying that God is love.