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Reflections for Foundation Day 2020

Facilitated by Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski opened the reflection time.

Happy Foundation Day!

Such mixed feelings as we come together as a Providence Community to celebrate our humble beginnings here in these Woods 180 years ago today.

As if COVID-19 and the U.S. elections weren’t enough to deal with, we received the stunning news yesterday that Sister Rosemary Ward had died during her heart surgery. And we learned of her death within minutes of having laid our dear Sister Dorothy Drobis to rest.

The beautiful vigil with Saint Mother Theodore last evening from the very place where our Saint rests was certainly like a balm in Gilead. Thank you, Sisters Paula and Jan, and all who made that possible.

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

And thank you all for being here for this celebration – wherever you may be, however you are connecting to the energy of this moment of remembrance. It is always better when we are together – even if being together has taken on new and creative forms these days. Everything seems possible when we have each other to lean on and when we remind each other to lean with all our weight on Providence. I believe that is how our foundresses not only survived but ultimately also thrived in the midst of the forest.

So, this morning I am going to lean on my teammates to help us break open once again our founding story.

It has been my practice to incorporate other voices during our Foundation Day celebration. Last year, if you remember, we had representatives of three of our sponsored institutions share their reflections.  So for today, I have invited the General Councilors Lisa, Jeanne, Mary Beth and Jenny to share their reflections. It was actually my predecessor Denise who gave me this idea because she provided her team this same opportunity during her administration, and I was grateful to have been one of those invited.

You should know that the GOs have not compared notes with one another in preparing for today. I have asked them to try to keep their reflections to three minutes each, but I do know they have much to share about this adventure we call Providence. I also know we will be blessed by their sharing.

Sister Lisa Stallings:

Today I’d like to share with you a book I love – “Saint Theodora and Her Promise to God.”

I believe you’re familiar with the plot – but the pictures are worth many thousands of words.

Here’s one of my favorites:

In the illustration we see Mother Theodore about to disembark from the ship Cincinnati in New York Harbor. Her face bears an expression that can only be construed as the French equivalent of AY-YI-YI.

And here’s the narrative:

Finally the ship reached America and docked in New York Harbor. A green rowboat pulled up alongside the ship. “Come on in,” called the captain. The sisters looked way down at the little boat bouncing far below on the water. Sister Saint Theodore’s eyes grew wide.

(I believe this is the moment she said “If we must die, let us die and say nothing about it.”)

Mother Theodore and Sister Companions Have First Glimpse of America From the Deck of the Cincinnati.

She took a deep breath and placed one foot after the other down the rungs of the rope ladder alongside the big ship. The other sisters bravely followed.

IF WE MUST DIE, LET US DIE AND SAY NOTHING ABOUT IT.

I’ve never really known whether that statement was an illustration of her French wit, her French spirituality – or both.

But I wonder if it is something for us to remember and reflect on during these troubling days when so many of us feel anxious and isolated, lonely and vulnerable, when we wonder how long this will last and whether we have enough courage to make it through the days ahead.

IF WE MUST DIE, LET US DIE AND SAY NOTHING ABOUT IT.

How did Mother Theodore summon the courage to descend the rope ladder? How did her companions summon the courage to follow her?

Perhaps the key lies in a recurring theme of Saint Theodora and Her Promise to God: In the words of the picture book Mother Theodore, “When God asks us to do something, God helps us along the way. God loves us everywhere and always.”

Our sisters Basilide, Olympiade, Mary Xavier, Saint Liguori, Saint Vincent Ferrer, and our Mother Theodore have shown us the way. May we help one another to follow that way.

Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp:

I must say, that I have always loved these readings … but for whatever reason, the first line from Jeremiah brought out the cynic in me … . “Surely, I know the plans I have for you, says our God … .”  I stopped right there and said to myself: “Gee, could you let us in on those plans?”  And isn’t that the way we sometimes feel right now?  When will this COVID thing ever be over?  Will we ever get out of lockdown?   Will we make it through it without too much loss?   And in the country:  When will there ever be an end to the blatant systemic racism that beleaguers our country?  How many more executions will it take before we call a halt to them?  The list goes on and on. And don’t we wish we knew God’s plans for all these things!

I think the answer is right before our eyes.   And the answer is this:  God has only one plan for us … a plan to create a future full of hope.  And Jeremiah tells us we will understand that plan if we seek God with all of our heart.

Peter reminds us that, yes, for a little while, we may have to suffer various trials and that our faith may be tested … but that if we love God, then in the end, we will find joy. 

And the Gospel assures us that we DO have a God whose name is Providence, that we need not worry … for our God knows what we need.

And so these readings today leave me with these questions:  How do we seek God with all of our heart and where do we find hope, when sometimes it is so incredibly difficult to even recognize God amidst the chaos and pain of the world?   

Upon their arrival, the first thing Saint Mother Theodore and her postulates did was seek out a Log Cabin Chapel, which would serve as their very first “convent”.

What do we need to do to bring ourselves to an unfettered, uncompromised trust in the Providence of God?

Our founding sisters taught us well … our founding sisters who sought God so totally, with all their hearts, that they abandoned everything they knew, all that was familiar, to make Providence manifest in the woods of Indiana.  They held nothing back … they were “all in.”

Day after day, trial after trial, they found the courage within and among themselves to abandon themselves to the God who lured them and loved them. And I believe it was in those very acts of total abandonment of self, that they found a hope that resided deep within.  It was in those moments of complete surrender, that they found their Provident God, and knew in the depths of their bones that all would be well.

Yes, as our dear Mother Theodore advised us well: “Perfect abandonment of ourselves in all things for the future requires great courage, but we ought to aspire to it.”  May it be so!

Sister Mary Beth Klingel:

As I recalled events leading up to the arrival of our foundresses at SMW I thought about our current situation and its many challenges.  The sometimes harrowing 40-day voyage on the Atlantic doesn’t seem so remote given our personal and communal trials during this pandemic. 

The phrase “being in the same boat” has taken on a new meaning.  If I and we feel cooped up and deprived, consider how they felt aboard a sailing vessel that didn’t come close to providing the accommodations of modern-day cruise ships.  While most of us haven’t experienced the perils of ocean travel we have been living with the fear of threats to our lives and well-being during COVID-19. 

MT’s poignant words to her sisters as they descended on a rope ladder from the Cincinnati into a rowboat beneath are challenging, “Come, if we have to die, let us die, but say nothing.”   However, can any of us by worrying add a single hour to our span of life?  What is needed is trust in Providence!

Right on (I think) is her observation, “so true is it that misfortune binds hearts together.”  I believe many of us have experienced a deepened concern and love for one another during Covid.

I’ve been thinking as well about transitions and how challenging transitions can be…from good health to poor health, from one residence to another (often necessitated by declining health).  Consider counting the many difficult transitions those six women experienced from the time they left France until they arrived at SMW.  Reflect as well on the disappointments along the way … not least of which was their expectation, perhaps, to settle in the established town of Vincennes, only to find themselves in a dense forest, miles north and west of the Wabash River.  “All appearances are against it,” Mother Theodore wrote.  But, shortly after, this is recorded in her First Journal, “The Daughters of Providence must fear nothing as to their future.”

Hers was a faith grounded and reliant upon the assurance in today’s reading from Jeremiah, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with HOPE.”

HOPE…a week ago I participated in a webinar at the invitation of S. Connie Kramer and presented by a well-known grief specialist, Dr. Alan Wolfelt.  He used the word HOPE as an acronym for – Have Only Positive Expectations! 

The faith of our founding sisters supported them in suffering various trials with HOPE, trusting that in striving first and foremost for the reign of God, all would be well.

Standing on their shoulders for 180 years, let us continue to “Have confidence in the Providence that so far has never failed us.”  My prayer today is that we may continue to be patient, and trustful.

Sister Jenny Howard:

Happy Foundation Day!!

The readings chosen to celebrate our Foundation are so very rich!  This year my heart was particularly drawn to the promise of “HOPE”!

The prophet Jeremiah tells us that … God has plans for us, plans for our welfare and not for harm … to give us a future with hope!

Jesus suggests that we are “not to worry about our lives … instead strive for the reign of God.

In preparation for our Oct./Nov.  LGU we are all invited to read the article by Sister Teresa Maya … ”A Vision for the Future of Religious Life”.  She reminds us that it is in our “Founding Stories” that we find these seeds of hope!

We as SPs, Associates, and ministry partners have incredible Founding stories to rely upon…today we celebrate 180 years since the arrival of Mother Theodore and her companions here at the Woods, … and this past September 29th, we began our celebration of the 100th Anniversary of our Founding in Asia led by Mother Marie Gratia and her five companions!

S. Teresa Maya also says that “The future of our life as religious will be intimately related to our courage to enter into a spirituality of noticing … and how God’s spirit is stirring new insights and hope all around us.”… we are invited to notice joyfully what is emerging!

In order to guide this “noticing” Teresa says we need to be asking the right questions“Where is the need?  What is ours to do?  Who are we today?  Who are we globally?  How are we globally? Where are we being invited to collaborate, network, build bridges within and across religious life and beyond?” 

This spirituality of “noticing” will move us to small meaningful acts of compassion that restore hope.”… in a world so in need of hope today!

One day last week I received this poster in the mail … the poster contains the pictures of all of the women and men in Formation in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis … I know it is not easy to see very clearly and I will find a way to make it available.

However, please notice that in this top row are the pictures of our Providence Women … our newest members, who by their lives and ministries are fully committed and engaged in this “spirituality of noticing” for the future! (Sister Teresa Kang is first in the second row, and our sister in temporary profession in Asia is not pictured here.)

In each of them, and certainly when they are together we see…hope and inspiration for the future of religious life…religious life perhaps not as we have always known it, or lived it, …

…rather it is exactly what religious life needs to be now and into an emerging future of hope!!! 

I would like to close with a favorite and inspiring quote from Mother Theodore…she reminds us….

“Well, my daughters, ours is a preparation for the generation that will succeed us.  You may not live to see it, but you will have sown the seed, and your Sisters will come to reap what will have been sown.”

Sister Dawn continues:

Thank you Lisa, Jeanne, Mary Beth and Jenny for your reflections and for your service to all of us as a leadership team. You are indeed a blessing.

And thank you Theodore, Vincent Ferrer, Basilide, Olympiade, Mary Liguori, and Mary Xavier. We love these women who have so shaped our beloved community. We love our founding story.  Oh, how their lives and that story teach us that everything is possible BECAUSE we have each other and a loving, Provident God on whom to lean.

I’m not sure there is a more perfect time than this to repeat Mother Theodore’s prayer, written in her diary on that day in 1853 when the cross was put on the top of the new motherhouse.

 “Grant, O my God, that all who dwell in this house may love Thee much, may love one another, and may never forget why they came here.”

Amen. Amen.

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Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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