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Former Sisters of Providence General Superior passes away

On Sunday, December 20, the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, announced the death of former General Superior, Sister Nancy Nolan.

Sister Nancy Nolan

Sister Nancy, formerly Sister Jean Paula, was 84 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 66 years. She was the Congregation’s 15th General Superior from 1986-96.

Born on May 13, 1936, in Galesburg, Illinois, Sister Nancy entered the Congregation on Feb. 2, 1955, from Corpus Christi Parish in Galesburg. She professed first vows on August 15, 1957, and perpetual vows on August 15, 1962.

Sister Nancy followed her two older sisters, Sister Lucy Nolan and Sister Carol Nolan, into the Congregation.

“My grandfather’s sister, Sister Modesta Nolan, joined the Sisters of Providence, so the Sisters were always important to our family,” Sister Nancy once said. “My memory is in fourth grade when a Sister asked what we wanted to be when we grew up and I knew I wanted to be a Sister. I know I was influenced by the Sisters who taught me. That is important because my two sisters joined the Community before I did, but I remembered I wanted to join before they did.”

Sister Nancy earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, a master’s degree in education from the University of Illinois and another master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University in Chicago.

Her teaching ministries took her to schools in Indianapolis, Chicago and Oklahoma. She ministered as principal at Corpus Christi School in Oklahoma City from 1971-75 and as president of Mother Theodore Guerin High School in River Grove, Illinois, from 1999-2008.

She served in elected leadership as Co-Provincial of St. Joseph Province, primarily in the Chicago area, from 1975-83. For 10 years, she served as the Congregation’s General Superior. She was elected to her first term on February 26, 1986, and her second term on July 17, 1991.

Sister Nancy Nolan with Providence Associates Ezra Meadors and Tara Lane.

“It was the greatest privilege of my life,” Sister Nancy said. “I felt very honored to be in that position. And I said many times that it probably was the best 10 years of my life.

“It was during that time that we celebrated our sesquicentennial in 1990, which, I think, was a great moment in our history. We worked on getting the cause for Mother Theodore to go forward. And, most important, we deepened our understanding of Providence spirituality and its relationship to our charism.”

During her 10-year term, Pope John Paul II bestowed the title of Venerable to Mother Theodore, who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 15, 2006. In addition, during her administration, Sister Nancy oversaw the razing of Foley Hall, the renovation according to liturgical norms of the Church of the Immaculate Conception and the construction of Providence Center, now known as Providence Spirituality & Conference Center. The Congregation’s government structure was also centralized during her second term.

Sister Ann Casper, who served as General Secretary alongside Sister Nancy during the two terms, said, “Sister Nancy was the perfect leader for those 10 years. Her ‘laid-back style’ was somewhat misleading, for she was a woman of great wisdom, vision, strength and courage.”

After completing her second five-year term, Sister Nancy was hired as Programs Director at the Institute for Spiritual Leadership in Chicago, before starting her ministry at Mother Theodore Guerin High School in 1999. There, she was instrumental in changing the mission of that school at the request of Francis Cardinal George of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The school became co-ed in order to welcome the young men of neighboring Holy Cross High School because of that school’s closing and was renamed Guerin College Prep High School.

Sister Nancy returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 2011, and, in 2012, she became the Congregation’s Vocations Coordinator, while also taking part in prison ministry at the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary until 2017 when she began a ministry of answering the prayer requested posted on the Sisters of Providence website.

Upon learning of Sister Nancy’s passing, Noreen Fitzgerald, who taught at Mother Theodore Guerin and Guerin Prep high schools, said “Sister Nancy was so fortunate to make a difference in so many places as a Sister of Providence. I have true admiration of her success with making friends with those she worked with. Her calm demeanor and critical eye allowed those she came in contact with to succeed. She was a compassionate leader who was driven with a strong faith. She was appreciative of those she worked with whether it be employee or student or friend. Everyone loved her. Her memory will be engraved in so many minds.”

Sister Nancy Nolan and Sister Tracey Horan (right).

Former Mother Theodore Guerin and Guerin Prep high school principal Bonnie Brown also added, “She took me on as an assistant principal and had confidence that I could help administer Mother Guerin … She influenced my leadership for many years and I am sure there are many, many people today who have been influenced by her within your community.”

Regarding all of her ministries through the years, Sister Nancy once said the established relationships she had with others were most important to her.

“The relationship with the Sisters I lived with and the relationships with the students and parents. I don’t think there is any place I have ever been that I have not continued some relationships,” Sister Nancy said. “We are women who aren’t afraid to be challenged, to grow, and to change.”

Due to the restrictions on group meetings, Sister Nancy’s wake and funeral will not be open to the public. Burial will take place in the Sisters of Providence cemetery on Monday, December 28, 2020. DeBaun Funeral Homes and Crematory assisted with the arrangements.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Sisters of Providence, 1 Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, IN, 47876. One may share or read memories of Sister Nancy here.

About the Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence, a congregation of 214 women religious, with 300 Providence Associates, collaborate with others to create a more just and hope-filled world through prayer, education, service and advocacy. The Sisters of Providence have their motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, located just northwest of downtown Terre Haute, Ind., which is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840. Today, Sisters of Providence minister in 13 states, the District of Columbia and Asia, through works of love, mercy and justice. More information about the Sisters of Providence and their ministries can be found at SistersofProvidence.org.

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Jason Moon

Jason Moon

Jason Moon serves as media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence. Previously, he spent more than 16 years in the newspaper industry.

Media contact

For inquiries or information, contact Jason Moon at jmoon@spsmw.org or 812-535-2810.

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