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A reflection for Reception into the Novitiate

Note: On Sunday, August 14, we received Sister Leslie Tiephu Dao into the novitiate. Here is the reflection our General Superior, Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, offered during the celebration.

Even before Leslie Dao arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for her entrance as a postulant, I knew she was a plant lover! Your reputation preceded you, Leslie!

So, I laid out this plot that at the end of the meeting I was to have with her this spring, in preparation for her reception into the novitiate, I would seek her advice about this jade plant that has grown wild under my car.

Now just to be clear, Leslie and I had a very serious and engaging conversation about religious life and what draws her to life with us, BEFORE I tapped into her horticultural skills.

General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski (from left) joined Sister Leslie Dao as she entered the novitiate on Sunday, August 14, 2022, along with Sister Norene Wu and Sister Marsha Speth.

For example, I learned that Leslie has found us a supportive and welcoming community. She feels at peace and at home with us and for that I am grateful to the formation community, to her director Sister Marsha Speth, and the many sisters and associates both her and as she has traveled to various Sisters of Providence missions around the country.

Those visits have helped her embrace what she calls our charisms of love, mercy and justice. In fact, she loves them. They seem to cohere with her own sense of the mission to which God calls her. Additionally, since being with us, she has a deepened sense of God as Providence and how that Providence has been working in her life – long before she met us.

I was and am inspired by Leslie’s prayer life and how it is shaped and colored by her Vietnamese culture. As she continues to mourn the death of her dear mother, she gathers each evening with family members on Facetime to pray for her mother – a ritual that will continue for an entire year.

But I have to admit that I experienced another side of Leslie when I introduced her to my jade plant after our meeting ended. Not unlike others of her age, she whipped out her smart phone and took me to an APP: PictureThis, the essential guide to plant care, to help me get smart about Jade Plants.

I found her an encouraging teacher and a helpful presence as we started snapping pictures of my wandering jade. And after reviewing next steps with me, she plucked off a small bit of the jade plant for herself. With that winning smile of hers, Leslie told me she wanted to see if she could successfully transplant a piece of my jade.

Sister Leslie Dao and Sister Norene Wu.

As I prepared these reflections for today, the image of that little piece of jade in Leslie’s hand kept coming to mind. In so many ways, Leslie, you are like that newly transplanted jade. You came to the United States from Vietnam when you were very young, escaping a war-torn country, having to adapt to various cities and circumstances before your family was safely harbored in California. Most recently, you have come to us from the Sisters of Mary Queen, a religious community composed only of Vietnamese sisters. We are definitely different soil for you.

But your request to be received into the novitiate of the Sisters of Providence speaks of your desire to sink your roots with this Providence Community. Trustfully, the canonical novitiate will afford you the time to ponder the longings of your own heart as you seek to recognize, as the reading from Proverbs suggested, just what a Provident God has in mind for you. Where is Providence luring you? Where will God’s steps take you? How has that God patiently supported you in the desires and choices of your life? And how do you need us to support you on your path now marked by Providence?

You will have the companionship of your sisters and associates, the formation community here as well as those you will meet as part of the Intercommunity Novitiate in St. Louis. Your director, Sister Norene Wu, will be a special companion on this journey as you follow the guidance of our Constitutions about our novitiate: To internalize Gospel values, to deepen your prayer and receive spiritual direction, to give service, and to receive instruction in the religious life, scripture, theology and the history and traditions of our Congregation.

AND, I hope all of us will be for you, Leslie, a schola caritatis, a school of love.

I tripped over this phrase – schola critatis – doing some reading during my recent retreat. Though traditionally a phrase associated with monasticism, specifically the Cistercians, it seems that various spiritual writers are appropriating the phrase to describe an environment that allows your heart and mind to be slowly transformed as you cooperate with the grace of God. Perhaps these writers have read the section of Proverbs you selected for today, Leslie.

We might define our school of love as an environment in which we discover the life-changing power of cooperating with the designs of Providence; where we realize just how life giving it can be to follow the lures of Providence.

May you see these designs in many places during the coming year, Leslie – in the women who are now your sisters, in those you will serve, in your continued connection with your family and friends and our Providence Associates, in your prayer in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, in other quiet moments of prayer and contemplation and certainly as you tend the plants you so love.

AND, may you school us in love with your presence, in your sharing of your gifts and talents.

Together, may we help each other live religious life as a movement of love, a movement that necessarily takes us beyond the confines of our own small world and establishes God steps for our life and for the life of the world. As Proverbs advises: “Commit to God whatever you do, and God will establish your plans.”

And so, Leslie, I call you forth now for that next step in your life to be received as a novice of the Sisters of Providence. As Mother Theodore said to one of her daughters many long years ago:

“If … you are quite determined to belong entirely to God, to work with all your strength … I say to you with assurance, Come.”

Come, Leslie. Come follow this path marked out by Providence.

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Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski was elected General Superior of the Sisters of Providence in 2016. She has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. Previously she ministered as a teacher, as communication and development director for the sisters and their ministries and as a member of elected leadership on the general council of the Sisters of Providence.

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  1. Avatar S. Susan Paweski on August 17, 2022 at 4:56 pm

    Congratulations, Sister Leslie! We are so blessed to have your presence in the Providence Community. What a special day for all of us!

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