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Called by God to life as a doctor and a Sister of Providence

When you look back at your life how do you see Providence at work in the journey? Who did Providence send into your path? What challenges have you faced and what blessings were bestowed?

Recently I had an opportunity to look back on my last nine years in the Sisters of Providence community and reflect on how Providence has made its indelible mark on my path. I shared my vocation story at our October virtual Come and See weekend retreat. Several women joined us to learn more about who the Sisters of Providence are.

Challenged and blessed

Sister Arrianne in her ministry as a resident physician in Idiananapolis.

The timing of this talk was especially providential for me. I am currently discerning my next step in this life, professing perpetual vows. The opportunity gave me the chance to reflect on the many ways Providence has molded me, challenged me and blessed me in my past nine years in community. Preparing for the weekend was overwhelmingly affirming to my journey. Most notably I was reminded of many examples of how Providence guided my choices, even when, in the moment, I had no recognition of this divine energy playing a role in guiding me to where I am called to be.  

My journey is really two-fold, a dual vocation in medicine and religious life. And while I discerned both these vocations, simultaneously, my journey really does start with my parents.  Both chose life-long careers in medicine. My mom is a pediatric nurse, and my dad is a doctor, a hematopathologist. Inspired by them, from the time I was four I knew I wanted to be a doctor. This was my sole goal through my childhood into my early adulthood. Every choice I made was with this goal in mind. It guided my choice of classes, volunteer opportunities, my undergraduate university and even what I chose as a major. 

Providential moments

And yet here is the first Providence moment in my life. All these choices brought me to Marquette University for my undergraduate work. My time at Marquette expanded my world in many ways. It challenged by faith life. I delved more deeply into what it means to be called to a vocation. Ultimately, it was through Marquette that I found Saint Mary-of- the-Woods, Indiana, and the Sisters of Providence.

Sister Arrianne Whittaker, SP, DO, back center, on her graduation from medical school. Joining her in the celebration were (front, from left) Sisters Corbin Hannah, Tracey Horan, Emily TeKolste, Barbara Battista and Susan Dinnin, along with (back) Sisters Mary Ann Stewart, Jenny Howard, Connie Kramer, Donna Butler, Marsha Speth, Janice Smith, Arrianne, Marilyn Herber, Barbara Sheehan, Barbara Reder, Dawn Tomaszewski, Beth Wright, Jeanne Hagelskamp, Patty Wallace and Carole Kimes.

I was about to graduate, and I found myself at a crossroads. There was something holding me back from taking the leap of faith to move into medical school. And so, I decided to put a pause on this life-long dream. I found a fulltime volunteer opportunity at St. Ann Clinic (now Wabash Valley Health Center) in Terre Haute, Indiana. So on a whim, which is characteristically not me, I moved to “the Woods” and started ministry at St. Ann Clinic. This free medical clinic focused on serving the underserved in the community.  I lived, ate, prayed, played and worked with Sisters of Providence, and this possibly was the strongest motivation for me to look closer at this life.  

A new light

In reflecting on my journey, I recalled a quote from Mother Theodore which really resonated with me. “You will see many things in a new light if you give the Holy Spirit free access to your heart.” That year living among the Sisters of Providence certainly helped me “see many things in a new light.” It was my first real interface with the underserved and the injustices they face. It challenged me to see God and my role in God’s mission in a different light. It was no longer about what I wanted to do but rather about what am I called to do

Ultimately the transformation I experienced in this year catapulted me into my journey with the Sisters of Providence and challenged me to genuinely engage religious life as a possibility for me. And in that transformation I had to set aside my desire to be a doctor. Letting go of this dream, while painful and challenging, also provided a sense of freedom. Ultimately this reinvigorated my passion for medicine later on in my journey.

In community

Sister Arrianne spends some time planting in the organic gardens at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice in 2015.

I entered the community Jan. 4, 2012. I spent many years learning about who I was in the context of this community and who this community was in the context of our larger mission. In my ministry, I spent time on an alpaca farm/organic farm and learned about eco-justice. I worked as a daycare teacher and volunteered at a long-term care facility visiting the residents and assisting with activities. 

I spent hours learning about the varied ministries we have in this community and discerned about my own interior call to this vocation of religious life. I grew in my understanding of God, faith, prayer and community. I learned about the vulnerability of relationships. I experienced unconditional love. I faced my growing edges and learned to admit my imperfections. All these experiences hold the imprint of Providence on my journey and have made me the person I am today.  

Grounded in Providence

This image from my office helps remind me every day that I have a dual vocation and am called to live out each of those vocations to the best of my ability. The image of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin is by Sister Jody O’Neil and the statue was gifted to me by a Sister of Providence friend as I started my residency. It depicts two children playing medicine.

In reflecting on my current ministry, I again recall how I “see things in a new light” because of my willingness to follow the Spirit and Providence’s leaning in me. I did end up coming full circle, back to my vocation in medicine. After graduating medical school as a Sister of Providence, I started my residency as a family medical physician in July 2019.

In reflecting on the past year, I see Providence’s impact on every aspect of my ministry. My ability to accept my imperfections helps keep me humble. It helps me stay true to the understanding that as a physician I am never going to be perfect and therefore always have room to learn and grow. The gift of understanding the interconnectedness of all creation that I learned at my time at White Violet Center helps me see the holiness in my patients and helps me recognize that every patient is larger than the sum of their disease. The patience I learned with my one-year-olds at the daycare helps me stay calm amid the sometimes-chaotic world of residency which is tough enough without also being in the midst of a pandemic. 

Strength, courage and faith

I am utterly convinced that the spirit of Providence guiding me to a new light has provided me with the strength, courage, resilience and faith that this year has demanded. Plus, a bonus to my dual vocations is the promise of prayer and support from all my sisters and our Providence Associates. Let me tell you it never hurts to have hundreds of nuns and associates praying for you when you work on the frontlines of a pandemic … I highly recommend it!!

So, as I challenged the Come and See group during our weekend together, I now challenge you to think about how Providence has made an impact on your life. What are the people, places and events that have transformed you into the person you are today? What is God calling you to see in “new light”? In what areas are you being called “to give the Holy Spirit free access to your heart?” I promise that if you trust the journey it will be worth the adventure. 

Do you know someone who might benefit from learning more about life as a Sister of Providence? Share information on our April virtual Come and See weekend with them!

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Sister Arrianne Whittaker

Sister Arrianne Whittaker

Sister Arrianne Whittaker, SP, entered the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 2012. She is a temporarily professed Sister of Providence. Sister Arrianne recently completed medical school at Marian University in Indianapolis and is serving as a doctor in residency at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis.

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  1. Avatar Donna Butler on December 2, 2020 at 7:20 am

    Thank you for this wonderful sharing of how Providence has been with you every step of your challenging life journey. What a blessing for all those you encounter!

  2. Avatar Susan Paweski, SP on December 2, 2020 at 10:28 am

    Your article is filled with the Spirit! It challenges me to reflect on my commitment to Providence. Thank your compassionate sharing.

  3. Avatar Jeannie Smith, PA on December 2, 2020 at 11:48 am

    Thank you for answering all your callings, Arianne. I remember your laughing, upbeat, irrepressible postulant-self and I know your are sharing all that positivity and hope along with the wisdom you’ve gained in the years since then with your patients and their families, and all your Providence Family.

  4. Avatar Editha Ben on December 2, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    Your vocation story is so inspiring, Arrianne. I’m always touched whenever you relate how Providence has been guiding you along. May your story inspire more women to have courage to follow their calling. Thanks for sharing, Dr. Arrianne!

  5. Avatar Lori Herbst on December 3, 2020 at 10:24 pm

    You are incredibly inspiring. I know you made a difference in my life and my view of the life of a nun. I will always cherish our time working together. I can’t help but believe you will continue to inspire many young women to reach for their goals. I’m so very proud to call you my friend!

  6. Avatar Sabrina S Falls on December 6, 2020 at 4:56 pm

    Sister Arrianne, thank you so much for this rich and honest sharing. I especially love this that you wrote:
    “The gift of understanding the interconnectedness of all creation that I learned at my time at White Violet Center helps me see the holiness in my patients and helps me recognize that every patient is larger than the sum of their disease.” Bringing this perspective and approach to your medical ministry is so essential for the wholeness and healing of your patients as well as a powerful witness to the love of Christ and good news, not only to your patients, but to your physician colleagues as well. I hope they are watching and gleaning wisdom from you! Praying for the protection of Providence to surround you.

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