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Why I say “Yes” to life as a Sister of Providence

“Are you ready?”
“Are you getting excited?” 
These are the most frequently asked questions in my orbit these days.

In a few days, I will be walking down the aisle and professing perpetual vows as a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.

Perpetual vows

Google defines perpetual vows as “ordinarily the final vows that a person takes in an institute of Christian perfection, mainly poverty, chastity, and obedience.” I would like to say that Google is very knowledgeable. But it falls short in truly describing the meaning of this sacred Providential “Yes.”

Sister Joni, center, with Sisters Anna Fan, SP, and My Huong Pham at a community gathering in 2015

I am also saying “Yes” to being in daily communion and service with my Creator and my sisters in community. Together we are creating a space where all persons are made to feel like they matter. Where their basic needs of food, clean water and clothing are met. Where the rights of all people, regardless of race, color or creed, are honored and respected. A place where people feel loved, supported and included. A place where all creation is honored and seen as sacred and not for sale.

This is a tall order I know — almost an impossible order. After all, women and men for thousands of years have been trying to create this space. And from the looks of it we are no closer today than we were yesterday. 

Why say yes?

Some people judge me and look at me with pity. They ask, “Why are you choosing religious life and throwing your life away?” “Women’s communities are dying out.” “Why the Catholic Church?” they say. 

Well, let me share some insights. According to a recent study done by the National Religious Vocation Conference, there are more than 2,471 women and men religious in initial formation in the U.S. and about 1,000-plus more who have professed perpetual vows in the past 15 years. Last year, even with a pandemic, more than 300-plus women and men in the U.S. said “Yes” to entering a religious community. The fact is that women’s communities have evolved, just like our communities and families. We often hear that “nothing stays the same.” Well, religious life is no different. It evolves. It doesn’t look the same, numbers may be smaller, but it is not dying out.

A group of Sisters of Providence pose with Sister Emily TeKolste, center, when she entered the Congregation in 2016. Front row from left, Sister Anna Fan, Emily TeKolste, Sister Joni Luna. Second row from left, Sisters Nancy Nolan (RIP), Marsha Speth, Nancy Bartasavich, Denise Wilkinson, Mary Beth Klingel, Editha Ben. Back row from left, Sisters Carole Kimes, Janice Smith, Jenny Howard, Dawn Tomaszewski, Jeanne Hagelskamp and Lisa Stallings.

Why do we need people dedicated to helping make the world a better place? In scripture Jesus says in Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. … ” Who in their right mind would choose to be sent out in the midst of wolves? Our western, capitalistic society teaches us to be serpents, to meet our own needs and take what “I” want. We teach the “get mine” mentality.

We have turned over the sanctity of family and community and created a selfish model that has left us spiritually bankrupt. The United States in all its riches also tragically has the highest levels of teenage suicide, divorce and debt in the world. Just ask Google!

A call

Sister Joni prays as the community, including then-General Superior Sister Denise Wilkinson, SP, blesses her at her First Vows ceremony in 2016.

So why say, “YES!”?

I can only explain it this way. I have a deep calling, a yearning, a longing if you will, to serve and turn my life over to a mission greater than myself. When I reflect back to my youth and my life as a young woman, I can say that this call or longing has been in my spirit ever since I can remember. I can recall moments in time when I dreamed of serving others in ways that were counter to the traditional ways women in my community were serving.

Let me be very clear — this “Yes” does not make me holier than my beautiful mother Olga Gallegos who answered her call to raise seven children and 14 grandchildren. No, not holier than my sisters or brother who have devoted their lives to family, adopted children in need, visit the elderly, feed and clothe those in need. The key to each one’s “yes” is to be Christ-like and holy in the path you choose to live.

Unconditional love

Art created by Sister Joni during her 30-day retreat preparing for her vows

The “YES,” for me, is that I found a community that I love unconditionally through all the good times and especially the hard times. I found a community that speaks to my spirit. It invites me to grow and spread my wings. To fly to places I could never have imagined on my own. 

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary of-the-Woods have instilled in me a strength that comes from a long tradition of powerful, creative, faithful women who soar in the face of adversity. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin says, “We possess nothing. It is true, however, we form a Community, and from now on we feel obliged, or at least I believe myself obliged, to consecrate the rest of my life to it. … ”

So, my dear sisters, associates, family and friends, I ask for your prayers in the coming days and beyond. I ask for the grace to stay faithful and true to my vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. And I ask for the grace to join my efforts with all those who have come before me to serve. I pray to live each day in service to creating a more faith-filled, just and equitable world for all our sisters, brothers and all creation, while remaining grounded and rooted in the Providence that so far has never failed us.

Join us virtually for Sister Joni and Sister Jessica’s vows ceremony this Saturday, Aug. 14 at 2 p.m. EDT.

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Sister Joni Luna

Sister Joni Luna is a native of San Antonio, Texas. She entered the Sisters of Providence in 2012 after spending many years as a physical education teacher and athletic director. Sister Joni professed first vows in June 2016. She currently ministers as the Congregation's Director of Vocations.

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6 Comments

  1. Editha Ben on August 12, 2021 at 8:02 am

    Joni, what a profound reflection. Muchas gracias. I thank Providence for being in your journey the past years. I remember when you came… and now you’re saying YES forever! Continued blessings on your life-long journey with the SPs.

  2. Jeanne Hagelskamp, SP on August 12, 2021 at 8:24 am

    Thank you, Joni, for this beautiful reflection on the life to which you say yes and your reasons for doing so. Know that we hold you in prayer and in love!

  3. Mary Montgomery on August 12, 2021 at 1:17 pm

    Joni, I am thanking you and Providence for your “Yes”! Thank you for this very reflective, deep and insightful reflection
    of your journey to this moment in your life, as well as interesting points about religious orders today!
    Gratitude, Love, Prayer

  4. S. Janice Smith, SP on August 12, 2021 at 7:40 pm

    Dear Joni,
    This blog is a beautiful expression of the continued deepening of your life in community as a Sister of Providence. May you embrace the gift of this life that God has given you. And may we as your sisters hold you in a special way as you profess your perpetual vows on August 14. It continues to be a privilege to walk this Provident journey with you. Blessings to you in these coming special days.

  5. Elsa Gutiérrez on August 13, 2021 at 6:36 am

    Que bella reflexión, muchas gracias por su dedicación y por dedicar su vida al servicio de Dios y de quienes lo necesitan. Mil gracias por invitarnos y darnos el honor a mi familia y a mi de vivir ese momento tan especial con usted. Dios la bendiga siempre.

  6. Jane Fischer on August 13, 2021 at 8:54 am

    Dear Joni, I want to sing, “I say yes, my lord!” And I want to thank you on behalf of the Providence Associates for continuing the work and spreading joy of this Providence Community.

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