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Virtual opportunities a silver lining to a pandemic

The Church of the Immaculate Conception ready for virtual worshipers for monthly Taizé prayer

When the world shut down in the spring of 2020 it would have been understandable if the Sisters of Providence would follow suit. Surely no one would blame them for taking a break during such an unprecedented time.

But if you know our sisters at all, it probably won’t surprise you that not even a global pandemic could stop the Sisters of Providence. In fact, being forced to find new ways to reach and connect with people has truly been the “silver lining” of this terrible period.

Embracing technology

Although the Sisters of Providence have been offering in-person workshops, programs and retreats for a long time, we could never quite find a way to extend these opportunities to people who could not physically attend. But when the world shut down, people who had previously shunned technology began to embrace it as a way of keeping in touch with loved ones. Suddenly it seemed that everyone could FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or Google Meet.

On Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, the Sisters of Providence held our very first virtual program, “Coffee with the Mystics,” via Zoom. Sister Cathy Campbell, SP, presented the first in this monthly, four-part series. People from as far away as California attended. It was a huge success. Providence Spirituality & Conference Center Director of Programming Sister Paula Damiano, SP, says, “It’s been a really amazing experience to be able to finally offer programs online. The participants seem to form their own communities despite the fact that they are not physically together.” Since then, there have been several other virtual offerings including a book study, weekly Lenten gathering, sourdough bread baking class, alpaca encounter and wreath making class.

Going virtual

Sister Joni Luna gathers sisters and women together for monthly Taizé prayer followed by discussion via Zoom.

Broadcasting from the Church of the Immaculate Conception, something the Sisters of Providence have been doing for many years, was also impacted by the pandemic. Once only a private telecast to sisters and associates, the temporary closing of the church due to the COVID-19 protocol inspired sisters to share many livestream services, such as the monthly Taizé Prayer Service, with the public.

Our new membership ministry under the direction of Sister Joni Luna, SP, also found new life in the virtual world. In addition to transitioning the Come and See events, a semiannual weekend get-together of women discerning a religious vocation, to a virtual gathering, Sister Joni has also created additional opportunities for women.

“Our new membership team has been very busy hosting various Zoom events for women between the ages of 18-42 who want to connect with us. Together we’ve attended an online virtual retreat for Advent, a discussion about human trafficking offered by a group to which Sister Barbara Sheehan belongs and a presentation by Sister Tracey Horan on the work of her ministry. We’ve even plugged into events the Sisters of Providence already offer such as the monthly Taizé Prayer Service. We’ve also shared vocation stories and the mission of Providence via Zoom with Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College students through their Woods Core class as well as with students at other Catholic schools.” The new membership team even had a virtual booth at the 2021 FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) SEEK conference.

Participants at the “Virtual Alpaca Experience” program learn how to make a felt ornament from alpaca fleece.

Learning as we go

As with anything new, there are always challenges and obstacles to overcome. Offering virtual programs and livestream events are certainly not the exception. There is always human error to account for as the sisters are still learning as they go. And because much of our equipment is outdated, we’re currently examining what is needed to be able to continue meeting people through the magic of technology (see Can you hear me now?).

Although the Sisters of Providence look forward to the day when people once again can freely visit Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, virtual programming and livestream are here to stay. This will just be another way we can continue to connect with people and take our mission into the world.

(Originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Mary Riley

Mary Riley is the marketing manager for some ministries of the Sisters of Providence including White Violet Center for Eco-Justice and the Volunteer Services.

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