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Sister Marilyn Baker: living the legacy of Saint Mother Theodore as an international teacher

Reflecting on her 59 years as a Sister of Providence, Sister Marilyn Baker, SP, identifies many parallels between her life and Saint Mother Theodore’s.

Sister Marilyn Baker

Sister Marilyn was born as the daughter of a U.S. serviceman and a British mother. She grew up “fitting in” as her father and her family were transferred to various military bases.

“My parents gave me and my sister examples of how to be hospitable and respectful of persons from other cultures, countries and races. They showed us in their speech and attitudes how to ‘disagree respectfully.’ They helped us to see as an adventure our constant moving from place to place and leave-taking of friends and home after beginning each time to get settled,” Sister Marilyn said.

Invited to teach far and wide

In her ministry as a Sister of Providence from 1967-1980, Sister Marilyn taught primary grades at various Sisters of Providence schools in Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Washington, D.C. and Indiana.

Then in 1983, Sister Mary Maxine Teipen, SP, (RIP) her superior, asked her to go to Taiwan to teach there at Providence College (which later evolved into Providence University.)

Sister Marilyn in 1983 learns some phrases in Mandarin as she begins her Taiwan ministry.

So, with little knowledge of the language or the culture, Sister Marilyn traveled to Taiwan. “I really had to learn how to lean on Providence as I began teaching in both the English and English as a Second Language programs there. During my 20-some years there, however, I had some of my happiest years in ministry.”

In a new country

Sister Marilyn, third from right, in 2013 during her ministry in Taiwan

Sister Marilyn recalls that in her first years in Taiwan, she saw many parallels between herself and Saint Mother Theodore as she adapted to a new culture, new foods and a new language.

“During my years in Taiwan, I experienced the deep reliance on Providence of which Mother Theodore consistently spoke in her writings. Whenever I was in a position in Taiwan when I was not sure of how to get somewhere or how to say something in Chinese, there were persons who spoke English, or understood my dilemma and took me by the hand to get me what I needed or the help I needed. Our Asian sisters and colleagues were a constant reminder of God’s Providential care.”

Love the children first

As a teacher, Sister Marilyn said she also found herself applying many of Mother Theodore’s famous sayings. “Show our students how sweetly tender is the Providence of God, that from their souls may go forth a touching homage of confidence and love.” And of course, her admonition “Love the children first and then teach them.”

Today Sister Marilyn teaches in the Intensive English Program at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and in the English as a Second Language program in her parish. She also enjoys sharing the legacy of Mother Theodore with her housemate Sister Emily TeKolste, SP. Sister Emily ministers at NETWORK, a lobby for Catholic social justice in Washington, D.C.

Sister Marilyn Baker, right, teaches a student by Zoom in her current ministry in the Intensive English Program at Catholic University of America.

“As Providence would have it, I have had the blessings of a younger member of the community with me. Sister Emily has shared with me different insights in prayer and community life, particularly through the Zoom prayer groups she has invited me to join. Because of her ministry at NETWORK, I have new perspectives into the importance of involvement in political policies. Having her to share community life has been a joy.”

As the future unfolds Sister Marilyn says she is confident, “Providence will place me wherever I am to be. That’s how it has been since I came to the Sisters of Providence. And I expect Providence will continue to guide me on the road ahead as I follow in the legacy of Mother Theodore.”

Join us in continuing the legacy
Follow Mother Theodore in mission. Become or invite someone you know to become a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Originally published in the fall 2021 issue of HOPE magazine.

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Sister Cathy Campbell

Sister Cathy Campbell

Sister Cathy Campbell, SP, is a freelance writer and editor. She holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in Spirituality from Catholic Theological Union/Chicago. Sister Cathy also ministers as a retreat facilitator for the Providence Spirituality and Conference Center with special interests in scripture and the mystics.

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