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The 2020 Annual Meeting ZOOM Adventure!

Friends finding friends; doing what we can do for the future

Whenever Sisters of Providence gather for our Annual Meeting, there is great energy.

In more recent years when we have included our Providence Associates in the first day of that meeting, the vitality and noise level have seemed even greater!

Sisters and Providence Associates together on Zoom from many remote locations filled multiple pages of the screen

This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our Annual Meeting needed to be a ZOOM version of the gathering. We planned for two half-days, instead of our typical four days of meetings.

As we approached the meeting time, I wondered:

— would sisters and associates be scared off by the technology and not even sign up to participate?

… would the meeting end up feeling like talking heads on a screen rather than real engagement?

… do we really need to meet or is this more trouble than it’s worth?

In the end, we – both the SP leadership team and the Chapter Planning Committee – decided convening was vital to our continued connection with one another.

Because this year’s annual meeting was remote preparation for our General Chapter next summer, it seemed not only necessary but also important to come together in some way.

It turns out so did the sisters and associates! More than 300 of them signed on to participate in the meeting via ZOOM (we have 239 sisters and 273 associates). Of the 300, some 60 sisters and associates were observers. They watched a livestream version of the meeting.

The rest of the participants were channeled into 35 groups and, with the help of the SP-IT department, were literally whisked into ZOOM breakout groups for prayer and discussion.

Sisters discuss a break-out session question in their small group in Providence Hall resource room. From left: Sisters Mary Lou Ruck, Arlene Knarzer, Kathleen Leonard, Jeanne Hagelskamp, Gloria Memering

In all, sisters and associates from 21 states and Asia made their presence known and their energy felt across the bandwidth and wireless signals it takes to make something like this happen.

And what energy it was.

When I logged on for the trial run two days before the meeting, it was chaos! “Oh no,” I thought. I soon discovered it was happy chaos – like the noise in the Church of the Immaculate Conception before a Golden Jubilee or vow liturgy. Friends were finding friends as the square boxes containing the images of the participants flashed across the screen.

That happy chaos returned during both days of the Annual Meeting. Before the meeting was called to order, during the long morning break, and even after the meeting was adjourned, members of the Providence Community took the opportunity to greet one another, ask about each other’s health, show pictures of their dogs, and marvel at the fact that some of our sisters who live in Asia could finally participate in our Annual Meeting.

As our Chapter facilitator Catherine Bertrand, SSND, reminded us, “it is not a room that holds us together.”

What holds the Providence Community together?

Certainly our love for God, one another and the mission entrusted to us by a Provident God.

In offering an introduction to the day, I said:

Many situations that need our response are coming to light these days – the racial violence that has come to the fore, the continued dire warnings about climate change, the reinstatement of the death penalty, a myriad of immigration issues.

How will we respond? How will we be Providence? That is the work of a General Chapter, and we begin that work today.

And begin we did. Besides exploring our hoped for outcomes from the Chapter and how we will participate in the Chapter, we spent most of the second morning discussing the various justice issues that need our attention.

At the last General Chapter in 2016, we dedicated ourselves as the Providence Community to addressing environmental issues, in particular climate change. It will be our task during next summer’s General Chapter to once again choose a justice focus. In preparation for that and with the help of Justice Advocate Karen Donahue, RSM, as presenter, we explored our climate change intersects with other justice issues, like racism, immigration and militarism.

Virtual small group meeting on screen. From top left: Providence Associate Diana Garza, Sister Nancy Reynolds, Providence Associates Joan Frisz, Regina Hartman, Lorraine Kirker

Susan Weber, PA, who facilitated that portion of the Annual Meeting, remarked that the ZOOM technology in no way lessened the passion that was expressed as group reports were given in answer to the question: “As a Providence Community, what is ours to do now?”

For months now, our days have been overshadowed by the looming presence of COVID-19. Our Annual Meeting was a poignant reminder that physical distancing does not preclude connection and that in the midst of a pandemic, the work of love, mercy and justice must go on. There is something for each of us and all of us to do now.

… which brings me to my favorite memory of our Annual Meeting.

It actually happened a day before the meeting started. Sister Marceline Mattingly, 104 years young, called her General Officer fretting that she was not sure she could get all the preparation reading completed in time for the meeting. Her General Officer told her not to worry – “just do what you can.”

Did not Saint Mother Theodore Guerin tell us that we are not called upon to do all the good possible but only that which we can do?

With sisters and associates like Marceline to inspire me/us, I not only have confidence in Providence but also deep faith in the members of our Providence Community. We will commit ourselves wholeheartedly to do what is ours to do now.

Here is a photo gallery from our Annual Meeting.

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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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