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Come O Wisdom: a reflection on our senior jubilarians

Note: This reflection was given on Dec. 17, 2019 at the Mass celebrating our senior jubilarian sisters for the year who were celebrating 60, 70 and 75 years as Sisters of Providence. See details on the celebrants here and photos from the day here.

“I am the woman who was praying to the Most High. For this child (Samuel) I prayed; and God granted me my petition which I asked. Therefore I have lent him to the Most High God; as long as he lives he is lent to the Everlasting One.”

Some of the senior jubilarians of 2019 participate in the Mass

I have come to love this passage from the first Book of Samuel as I prepared reflections for (the Dec. 17, 2019) senior jubilee celebration. Here is Anna, or in some translations Hannah, who has prayed for years that she might bear a child. When Yahweh finally hears and answers her prayers, she turns around and gives the child back to God. She proclaims that as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Holy One. And that child, Samuel, becomes a key figure in the unfolding salvation history of the Israelites.

As I thought about these 18 jubilarians who have so faithfully lived out their vocations as Sisters of Providence, I found myself praying for them: “As long as you live may you rejoice in the knowledge that you have been given to the Everlasting One. You have been loaned to us your sisters and associates, your friends and companions on the journey. May you always know yourselves as signs, witnesses of God’s faithfulness to all of us.”

General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski introduces her reflection

Truly, each of you, in your own way, has been a key figure in the unfolding story of Providence in the life of this Congregation. I am always amazed when I search through the ministry records of our jubilarians at where they have allowed Providence to take them.

Not surprisingly every one of these jubilarians spent time in the classroom as a teacher either on the elementary or high school level. Some of those teachers remained teachers most of their lives—Sister Marie Denis Lucey spent 49 of her 70 years as a teacher in the primary grades. Quite a number of those teachers went onto to serve as principals. Sister Rosemary Eyler wins the prize there for 42 years of service as an elementary school principal.

Two of those teachers—Sisters Marian Brady and Ellen Cunningham — have had distinguished careers in higher education, both as teachers and leaders within their institutions.  Two others — Sisters Clelia Cecchetti and Regina Marie McIntyre — have coupled teaching with their gift of music.  And somewhere along the line, Sister Charles Van Hoy added librarian to her teaching resume.

I was surprised to find that three of these jubilarians have done tribunal work. Both Sisters Paula Modaff and Therese Guerin Sullivan hold degrees and licenses in canon law. Sister Suzanne Buthod was an auditor/advocate in the Evansville marriage tribunal.

Sister Suzanne as well as Sister Joann Quinkert both ended up back in the novitiate during the turbulent late ‘60s, early ‘70s—Suzanne, as director of novices; Joann as director of juniors. And both of them were called to ministry with the Edmundite Southern Missions in Selma, Alabama.

Sister Florence Norton heard a similar mission call but hers took her Arequipa, Peru, and the language skills learned through that experience opened the way to many years of parish ministry with Spanish-speaking people.

Sisters Barbara Bluntzer, Rita Clare Gerardot and Millie Giesler found their way to parish ministry after many successful years as teachers and administrators. Barbara’s work took her into the world of religious education; Rita Clare and Millie as pastoral associates and pastoral ministers.

Sisters Margaret Norris and Miriam Clare Stoll’s ministry records tell a similar story, although Margaret ultimately found her way to the ministry of massage therapy; Miriam Clare founded a house of prayer and hermitage in Pevely, Missouri.

Then there is Sister Dorothy Rasche, who has been involved in prison ministry of some sort (in addition to other things of course) since 1979. And yes, the reason Dorothy is not here today is because she teaches two classes at the prison on Tuesdays.

This has been just a glance at the fidelity of our jubilarians’ individual call to the mission of Providence. But taken together we see and celebrate that common call to mission of which our Constitutions speak. “Ever mindful that they are members of  pilgrim church, the sisters strive to follow the Lord by heeding the demands of the Gospel and by recognizing and responding to those signs of the times which make present the saving mission of Jesus.”

Thank you, jubilarians, for leading the way, for putting your gifts at the service of the Gospel. Truly you have been wisdom figures for all of us.

Which brings me to the fact that this is the first day of the O Antiphons. As you may already know, the O Antiphons are based on Isaiah’s prophecies and refer to the different ancient titles given to the Messiah. The Church has been reciting them since about the 8th century during the octave leading up to Christmas.

60-year jubilarian Sister Paula Modaff reads from under the O Wisdom banner

As Providence would have it, today is O Wisdom. “O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge!”

I asked each of the jubilarians to share a little of their own wisdom about what the past 60, 70 and 75 years have been for them. I will conclude with a kind of litany of the gems of their wisdom:

…the convent and all the Sisters gave me the joy of a permanent beautiful family.

…God, the Holy, slowly had to show me that all is gift both received first and given in gratitude.

…O Wisdom, God, you are always there for me, and I love you.

…to live inspired by the principles of our foundress, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, who herself was inspired by the Sisters of Providence in France.

…[like Mary] I, too, must be there to say “yes” when [God] calls me.

…to seek God “in all things,” especially in celebrating the Eucharist and living a vowed life in community.

…I have spent my life praising God…and as a Sister of Providence my “spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”

…many of us came…not knowing what to expect…we were “like clay in the potter’s hands.”

…my heart rejoices with my sisters who support one another in the many facets of ministry as we fill the hungry with good things and carry out our mission of love, mercy and justice.

…wisdom walks with me throughout the day…I pray to be a woman of wisdom and insight.

…I realize my life is lent to me and that I am accountable for how I strive to further the mission of Providence.

… I have learned to go to God often in prayer, especially now in this time of my life.

…Support from others, dedication to the mission, trust in Providence have all helped to make these years blessed, happy and memorable. Thank you, God!

And finally, from one jubilarian who finds it difficult to speak, came this response via Minister of Care Sister Claire Hanson, “I talked about vocation and calling, her ministries, her retreat work, being in health care. She just smiled when we talked each day and said she loved it all.”

Jubilarians, may you, may all of us who dwell in this house, continue to love it all—

“Grant that we may…..love God, love one another and never forget why we came.”

We praise Providence today for your coming to us.

See photos from the ceremony here. See a news release on our jubilarians here.

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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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