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But this Thanksgiving, we choose gratitude

“God, there are days we do not feel grateful. When we are anxious or angry. When we are alone. When we do not understand what is happening in the world, or with our neighbors. We struggle to feel grateful.

But this Thanksgiving, we choose gratitude.”

These opening lines from a prayer written in 2016 by Diana Butler Bass and included in her book, Grateful, have become my mantra during these days of 2020 leading up to Thanksgiving. There are days when we all struggle to feel grateful, especially these days.

Although this prayer has brought me great solace, it wasn’t until I remembered that Sister Barbara Doherty had filled nine volumes of those little blank books with gratitude statements that I realized how I might help myself choose gratitude. 

Sister Barbara Doherty embracing Sister Jessica Vitente as Sister Dawn Tomaszewski looks on..

Sister Barbara began this practice on Dec. 8, 1990, while she was president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She set out on that day to record 14,000 things she liked.

Her last entry was on an unspecified day in July of 2013. It was during our SP Annual Meeting because she writes, “ALL the SPs for the week talking and thinking.” That was her 12,402 entry.

There is not another entry until June 8, 2020, when Beth Collins, our clinical care coordinator and the person helping Barbara navigate her final days, began to use the gratitude recording as a way to “continue her tradition of remembering the things that make her happy.” So, the last entry, 12,440, reads: “Barbara is so grateful to not be experiencing pain or distress.” Sister Barbara died Aug. 17.

Beth made the last two volumes of Barbara’s collection available to me. From the moment I opened Volume 8 till I closed Volume 9, I was filled with gratitude for her life well lived and for perspective on how gratitude just might be the secret to living well.

Volume 8 opens with entries from the canonization of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin in Rome in 2006. Here is the first: “that our choir was excellent at the Vatican. We were asked to sing a second song—good microphones.”

I was in that choir!

I was immediately flooded with those good memories of being in St. Peter’s Square. I remembered the wonder of the whole experience. We did feel proud to be asked to sing a second song during the liturgy. That song began with a solo part, sung by Beth Burch Williby, an SMWC Madrigal. And after it was over, Beth was embraced by her mom, also in the choir, and the two cried and cried with joy. I’m still moved when I think about it and grateful to have been a part of it.

Sister Emily greets Sister Barabara Doherty before Mass

Not all of Barbara’s gratitude statements record such momentous occasions. She tells of buying a new pair of blue shoes and eating pumpkin ravioli with as much delight as she chronicles the birth of her grand nieces and nephews born during this time. She expresses the beauty of listening to an opera in the same week she applauds two sisters as good drivers. She mentions her good friends over and over and over again. And she gives thanks for her family over and over and over again.

One of my favorite entries was made Wednesday, Nov. 9 (2011). It said simply, “An ordinary day.”

I have such friends and family. I don’t pay enough attention to the good food I am able and privileged to eat, but I probably will now! And the next time I have an ordinary day, I am going to make note of it, and give thanks for it because we all need those kinds of days every now and then.

After my foray into Barbara’s gratitude practice, I make no promises to start filling blank books with the 14,000 things I like. But I am determined to choose gratitude as my resolution and prayer this Thanksgiving. 

So, let me offer the closing of Diana Butler Bass’s Thanksgiving prayer to strengthen my own resolve. I invite you to do the same!

“God, this Thanksgiving, we do not give thanks. We choose it. And we will make thanks, with strong hands and courageous hearts. … In this choosing, and in the making, we will pass gratitude onto the world. … And we ask you to strengthen us in this resolve. Here, now and into the future. Around this table. Around the table of our nation. Around the table of the earth. AMEN.


P.S. Use the comments section of this blog to honor Barbara’s practice by listing some of the things for which you are grateful!

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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. Cathy Dearing on November 26, 2020 at 6:16 am

    Sister Dawn,
    A beautiful reflection about gratitude and Sister Barbara as I begin my Thanksgiving Day like no other. I collect six-word phrases and this shall be added to it: “But this Thanksgiving, we choose gratitude.”

    Ahh, that I can choose!

  2. Debbie Dillow on November 26, 2020 at 6:30 am

    Dear S. Dawn –
    What a beautiful reflection on gratitude and S. Barbara. This Thanksgiving Day, while it is very different from many others, I am grateful that I am alive and healthy to celebrate Thanksgiving in my little bubble.

  3. Katie O’Donoghue Ly on November 26, 2020 at 6:52 am

    Thank you for this beautiful reflection and tribute to Sr. Barbara, my beloved President from 1986-90. This reflection brings to the surface my profound gratitude for so many Sisters of Providence who literally transformed me (and countless others) from the inside out, and who continue to inspire us in simple and impactful ways. Happy Thanksgiving.

  4. Marilyn Schaaf Rausch on November 26, 2020 at 7:05 am

    Thank you, S. Dawn!
    What a wonderful way to begin a Thanksgiving Day that is unlike any before it. Today I am grateful for the feeling of the air flowing in and out of my lungs, each breath carrying the gift of life, each breath carrying a memory of someone whose participation in my life has been a manifestation of God’s love. I am particularly grateful for my Schaaf Family, my Rausch Family, and my Providence Family!

  5. A daughter of the Woods circa 1977 on November 26, 2020 at 7:09 am

    I am thanks filled that Providence led me to the doors of 8001 W. Belmont so many Moons ago. Over fifty Moons ago. Providence gifted me with lifelong friends and mentors. The Sisters of Providence and our teachers taught us to questiion, how to make deductions and
    so much more. Again, Providence brought me to my then unknown beloved Woods for a two week adventure helping children. Switched colleges and became a daughter of tbe Woods. Sister Barbara or BD became a lifelong dear one My years at the Woods gave me so many gifts of Grace, Beauty, Balance and Delight.
    What gifts Providence freely gives us. Unasked for, sometimes totally unacknowledged Graces liberally sprinkled in our paths. How wonderful it is to be a daughter of the Woods. How blessed are we? Each moment, each day Providence atays with us
    .On this day I am filled with gratitude for the brave Sisters that braved the wilds of Indians, those that continue the mision and all those I am blessed to know and cherish because of Providence!
    Hmmmm, 14,000 moments of gratitude. Who has a jar that big? There are always blank books……
    Be blessed!

  6. Marsha Speth on November 26, 2020 at 8:10 am

    Reading this brought a tear to my eye, such lovely reflection!
    So, I give thanks for tears when my heart is touched.

  7. Meghan Groeger DeVito on November 26, 2020 at 8:25 am

    Thank you Sister Dawn for your beautiful reflections. My thanks stretches back 50 years to the education I received at the Woods. The influence of educators like Sister Barbara and Sister Marie William Horner have made such a difference in my life.

  8. Maureen Abbott, S.P. on November 26, 2020 at 8:26 am

    Now I understand why Barbara’s eyes never stopped smiling. May we all tap into our power to choose gratitude. Thanks!

  9. Molly Harris on November 26, 2020 at 8:55 am

    Thank you Sr. Dawn for sharing. A beautiful read this Thanksgiving morning. Sr. Barbara continues to give even in her death. I am grateful for The Woods being such a wonderful part of my life which included Sr. Barbara who always made every student feel welcomed.

  10. Dr. Judy Barad on November 26, 2020 at 10:19 am

    I was Sr. Barbara’s PA companion. Is there any way that I can get a copy of her gratitude book? I am most grateful to have been her friend and companion.

  11. Donna Butler on November 26, 2020 at 10:38 am

    One year when I was helping to sort books for the book sale, I noted how many spiritual books there were. My heart was filled with gratitude for so msny diverse paths to God.
    Today I am grateful that so many spiritual seekers have burst the boundaries of any particular rellgion to take in the diverse spiritual richness wherever they find it.

  12. Jaennie Smith, PA on November 26, 2020 at 11:18 am

    I’m grateful for S. Barbara! I was one of her postulants in 1963 and her example and teachings have been a profound influence on my entire life. For her and the many other SP’s who shaped my life I am grateful every day.

  13. Lorraine Kirker on November 26, 2020 at 11:49 am

    I am grateful for whatever forced my parents to move when I was three, relocating us to a different parish. I’m so very grateful for my wonderful parents and my Mother’s determination that I attend a parochial school. And I’m grateful for the timing that put me in the original first grade class of St. Polycarp School. My life would be profoundly different otherwise. Despite difficulties and loses, I choose gratitude every day of my life. Bless you my friend and thank you this beautiful reflection.

  14. Donna Butler on November 26, 2020 at 11:50 am

    A second comment. Thank you, Dawn for sharing Barbara’s wonderful example with us. Her legacy continues to nourish us. You also are such an inspiration, Dawn. We are so blessed by your presence and your leadership.

  15. Katherine Manley on November 26, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Thank you, Barbara, for greeting us in the halls of Providence with “Hello ” Swellie”. Maybe I was greeted after you wrote in your gratitude book.

  16. Mary Montgomery on November 26, 2020 at 1:54 pm

    Thank you, Dawn, for creating this article for today and beyond! I too teared up, at the scene in Rome for Mother Theodore’s canonization in 2006. Your sharing about the young woman singing a solo part and her mother also being in the choir…. So Touching! During that liturgy I was so proud of our choir, etc. and so happy to be present for this awesome occasion. I am grateful for Barbara being our group’s tertianship and 30-day retreat director. I am grateful for you and your abundant gifts in leadership! I am grateful for this amazing Community of Providence and my own Montgomery Clan and so much more…

  17. Sue Benoit on November 26, 2020 at 4:18 pm

    I am thankful and blessed to be the sister of an SP, Sister Paula Modaff. My family has received many many blessings which we are sure have come to us through the prayers of the SPs.

  18. Norma Marie Honiball on November 26, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    Muchas gracias…this lovely reflection has gone all the way to Costa Rica! I give thanks to the Sisters of Providence and their care through the years….so many of you! Always thankful to have your ideas and spirituality strengthen my life! Thank you for the technology that makes it possible to hear from you almost instantly! Blessings! Norma Marie Honiball class of 79, daughter of Martha Jane Drennan, class of 39. And I always have to add, loved by the Jasinskis of Chicago. ALL OF WHICH I AM THANKFUL FOR,

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