Sisters of Providence ministry founders
In 1840, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and her five companion Sisters of Providence traveled from Ruillé-sur-Loir, France, to Indiana to help educate Catholic immigrants in the area.
The sisters arrived on Oct. 22, 1840, and settled at Saint Mary-of-the- Woods. Less than one year later, on July 4, 1841, they had established Saint Mary’s Female Institute, also known as the Academy.
In 1846, the school received the first charter for higher education of women in Indiana. The Academy was incorporated as Saint Mary-of-the- Woods College (SMWC) in 1928. It is the oldest Catholic college in the state of Indiana.
SMWC has continued to evolve throughout the years. A women-only college for more than 100 years, in 2015, SMWC began to admit men on campus as well.
Many Sisters of Providence have followed in the footsteps of foundress Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and her early companions by establishing and founding ministries to meet the needs of those around them throughout the years. Here is a look at just a few of those ministries:
Living in Indianapolis in the late 1990s, Sister Barbara McClelland, SP, and Sister Rita Ann Wade, SP, noticed the unmet needs of the people who lived around them. To help meet their neighbors’ needs, they established Miracle Place in August 2000.
The ministry helps the community with whatever they need. Each afternoon, for example, children of all ages come to Miracle Place after school for a safe place to be and to get help with their homework. They also take part in other activities, such as arts, craft projects, music and workouts. The children begin their time at Miracle Place with prayer and end by receiving a healthy snack.
Adults are also welcome at Miracle Place. Seniors often meet for community, food and discussion.
Sister Barbara and Sister Rita Ann say the mission of Miracle Place is “to offer hospitality, care and concern. It is a place of spiritual refreshment where all who come may find refuge. Where all who are severely tried may be comforted. Where all who are lonely may find companionship. And where those without hope may find a renewed spirit.”
Wabash Valley Health Center
Sister Connie Kramer, SP, saw a great need for medical services for low income individuals in the area of Terre Haute, Indiana, where she served as a parish minister. So, in September of 1997 she and her parish founded St. Ann Medical Clinic in the former St. Ann School on Locust Street in Terre Haute.
Clinic hours and services expanded quickly, so great was the need. In 2005 a dental clinic was added.
The facility was incorporated as Wabash Valley Health Center in July 2011 and continued to operate as a ministry of the Sisters of Providence until 2015 when it became a federally qualified heath center. Its mission to provide quality and affordable health care for those in need continues today.
Providence Cristo Rey High School
In the fall of 2003, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis received a grant from the Cassin Education Initiative Foundation. It was to conduct a feasibility study for beginning a Cristo Rey school within the Archdiocese.
The school model, created by Jesuits, offers classroom instruction to economically disadvantaged high school students. The cost of the private school education is offset through students’ participation in corporate work programs one day a week. The Archdiocese confirmed there was a need for a Cristo Rey model school and reached out to the Sisters of Providence to help sponsor it.
The Congregation agreed, if (as was the case for Saint Mother Theodore’s mission) Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp, SP, agreed to lead the efforts. In 2007, the school opened its doors. It is located near downtown Indianapolis. The high school continues today serving the city’s students in need with a quality, college-prep education.
Just as Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded many schools in her lifetime to meet the needs of those around her, so did Sister Barbara Ann Zeller, SP (RIP) create many ministries to meet the needs of the people around her. She created Providence Self-Sufficiency Ministries (PSSM) and the non-profit corporation Guerin, Inc., in 1999, in the New Albany, Indiana, area.
Sister Barbara and the sisters who ministered with her worked to create Providence House for Children, a group home for foster children, which later included family reunification homes, in Floyd County. In 2005, they opened Guerin Woods, a senior living facility which now includes 22 two-bedroom apartments for low-to-moderate-income individuals and couples ages 62 and older.
Sister Barbara later spearheaded creating the Meadows of Guerin in 2009 next to Guerin Woods. The facility serves people ages 62 and older and is composed of 24 one-bedroom apartments, one two-bedroom apartment and a community center. Despite Sister Barbara’s death in 2019, the corporations and the many ministries she founded continue to serve people in need.
Originally published in the fall 2021 issue of HOPE magazine.
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