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The loving care of a Sister of Providence lay sister

The story about Sister Lawrence Cheminant, a Sister of Providence lay sister who served cholera victims in 1854, prompted an inquiry about lay sisters in the Congregation. Lay sisters were those assigned to ministries other than education. In a series of blog posts, we will acquaint you with other lay sisters in our community, their gifts and eventually some of the hardships imposed by Rome. But first let us begin by celebrating the gifts of one such sister who served in the Academy at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Sister Francis Ann Carney entered the community from County Donegal, Ireland, on April 30, 1863. In addition to serving at the Academy, she also served the sick in the military hospital in Indianapolis during the Civil War, in the community infirmary and later in an orphanage. Sister Francis Ann died May 5, 1904, at the age of 68.

The Academy at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods

Rose Howe, who had been a student in the Academy at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, shares in a letter what Sister Francis Ann Carney’s compassionate ministry meant to her.

Letter of gratitude

Jan. 1, 1869

Dear Sister Francis Ann,

Two years ago when I returned home from St. Mary’s, I told my mother how kindly you nursed me, how you prepared my meals for me and how you were never the least bit cross to me when I could not remember my supper and you had to run all over the great Academy to call me to it. I feel my heart stop beating now when I remember that, just as it did then, when all out of breath you would find me in some remote corner of the Institute and I would suddenly recollect my impossible-to-remember supper which was always very good when I got it.

I also told Mother how you carried the wood to the infirmary and how purple your hands would get because you had no mittens, and she was very glad to do something for those kind hands that had done so much for her sick child. I hope you will find a great deal of comfort with these mittens. …

And I shall never forget, dear Sister, how one evening I returned to my room, sad, desolate, dispirited, forlorn, more unhappy than I had ever imagined it possible to be, and you had put my nightgown over a chair by the stove in my room and had turned my bedclothes down to warm my sheets. The fire was burning brightly and you sat in there sewing on some unbleached cotton.  Your motherly kindness made me burst into tears and you exclaimed, “Why, Rose Howe, stop! You make me cry too.” And you ran out of the room with tears in your eyes. I cry over that once in a while yet, especially when I am a little sick. And do what you can or may, I will always remember you gratefully and lovingly. …

Truly your affectionate,


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Sister Donna Butler

Sister Donna Butler

Sister Donna Butler has been a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for more than 60 years. Sister Donna has served in elementary education, parish ministry, diocesan social justice, as well as the Congregation’s liturgy office, archives department and social justice outreach. She also administered as the director of the Providence Volunteer Ministry. Sister Donna currently volunteers in outreach with Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College students.

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  1. Avatar Marsha A. Speth on June 8, 2021 at 9:51 am

    Beautiful and touching letter! Thank you for sharing it with us!

  2. Avatar Connie SP on June 8, 2021 at 10:08 am

    Thanks Donna….your reflection truly warmed my heart and brought tears to me eyes too!

  3. Avatar PAULA DAMIANO, SP on June 8, 2021 at 11:00 am

    How touching….thanks for sharing it.

  4. Avatar Mary Montgomery on June 9, 2021 at 2:24 pm

    What a Gift, Donna! Thank you so much for sharing this letter with us.

    • Avatar Janet Tosick, PA on June 9, 2021 at 8:12 pm

      I loved the story! Thank you!

      Janet Tosick, PAp

  5. Avatar Susan Paweski, SP on June 10, 2021 at 2:19 pm

    Thank you, S Donna! Our history is so rich with wonderful stories of our sisters and friends.

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