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Smile for the camera!

My colleague and I recently had occasion to visit with a number of Sisters of Providence, most of whom could not attend the Congregation’s 40th Chapter at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in October 2021. Casey Kellum, the official photographer and graphic designer for Advancement Services, and I were on a mission of bringing a significant project to a close, seeking the last few photos of Sisters of Providence so she could send an updated pictorial membership directory to print. We were down to five portraits needed and these sisters happened to live in the Chicagoland area.

Sister Susanne Gallagher inside the SPRED Chapel and Center.

Four sisters joined us for lunch at Maggiano’s Little Italy in Oak Brook, a central location for all. (Casey had the foresight of taking photos as the sisters arrived and before any marinara or Bolognese sauce might ruin the shots.) It was such a fun gathering. We enjoyed bringing the Woods to them. We had a delightful time getting to know Sisters of Providence Mary Tomlinson, Betty Smigla, Sharon Richards and Diane Mason. After nearly two years of isolated living due to the COVID pandemic and its emerging variants, the sisters were thrilled at the opportunity of being in community if only for a couple hours. They shared news of their personal ministries, housemates and family members. The drive on an unseasonably warm and sunny February day was well worth the early start.

But that’s not all!

Special Religious Education

From Oak Brook we ventured into the Windy City’s Bridgeport/Hyde Park area where we visited with Sister Susanne Gallagher, SP, on mission with SPRED (Special Religious Education). Hers was officially the last picture Casey snapped before putting her project to rest. We received an unexpected bonus, too, when we crossed paths with Sister Terri Grasso, SP, who volunteers for SPRED one day a week.

Sister Susanne Gallagher in the SPRED Chapel and Center.

Sister Susanne can be found in ministry at the SPRED Chapel or across the street at the administration building, located at the intersection of Lowe Avenue and 30th Street in Chicago. Nestled in the Bridgeport neighborhood, the three-story chapel houses a surprising collection of original art, primarily sculptures. We felt as though we were touring an art museum as we walked through the chapel, sanctuary, kitchen, classrooms and hallways. We learned the public art sculptures depicting various scenes with the apostles, as well as sculptures of prophets and installations of scriptural references, were created by Father James McCarthy, chaplain emeritus, the priest who previously served as director and (now) 92 years-old, just recently retired. The stained-glass windows in the chapel were equally beautiful.

The Special Religious Education (SPRED) Chapel and Center located in Chicago.

Upstairs, though, is where the magic happens. In the classrooms based on the ages of the friends with intellectual and developmental disabilities, catechists and friends participate in planned activities, share their spiritual walks from the prior week, listen to scriptural passages and reflect on the messages that Providence wants to share. Not surprisingly, as Sister Susanne explains, growing in faith is a two-way street. Through the sharing, catechists learn from friends just as friends learn from catechists. This exchange is what makes the SPRED model a compelling and beautiful spiritual experience. Families travel from great distances throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago to bring their loved ones to SPRED.

Sister Susanne initially joined SPRED as a volunteer for ten years beginning in 1967. Eventually she was hired, became Assistant Director and now bears the title of Associate Director. Her great joy was ministering with her sister Rita (RIP), who participated in SPRED for many years. The organization draws support from the Archdiocese of Chicago which is supplemented through charitable donations.

SPRED was founded at its current location and, through the decades, branched out to sixteen dioceses in the United States and ministers in eight countries around the world. To learn more about Sister Susanne’s ministry or how you may join in her efforts, contact SPRED here.

Art of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit at the SPRED Chapel and Center.

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Maureen Dickinson

Maureen Dickinson

Maureen Dickinson was the Director of Advancement Services for the Congregation. Prior to coming to the Woods, the Illinois native served as the Executive Director of Quad-Cities Foundation for Black Hawk College in Moline, Illinois.

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  1. Avatar Sister Connie Kramer SP on February 17, 2022 at 2:57 pm

    Beautiful article Maureen. Thanks for sharing your experience with all of us.

  2. Avatar Sister Sue Paweski on February 22, 2022 at 3:06 pm

    I had the privilege of spending a few days with Sr Suanne and the SPRED team. It was a poignant experience that I shall not forget. The ministry is inspirational. I am happy to see Susanne and her ministry highlighted.

  3. Avatar Mary Tomlinson on February 23, 2022 at 8:50 pm

    Maureen. Welcome to the Sisters of Providence. Yes it was a lovely afternoon. Thanks to you and Casey for making the trip. I love knowing about S. Suzanne’s ministry. I knew basic information, but your article gave me so much more. Thanks.

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