Ten years of transformation
I have been a Sister of Providence for 10 years. If you’re counting, that’s eight months of postulancy, two years of novitiate and just over eight years of temporary profession. On Aug. 20, 2022, I, along with my dear friend Sister Tracey Horan, will profess vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for the rest of my life.
When asked to consider writing a blog in conjunction with my vows, the invitation included a comment that this would “allow you time to reflect on your time in (trans)formation as a Sister of Providence.”
Formation to transformation
For those who don’t know, we (namely the temporary professed Sisters of Providence), recently renamed our group from the Women in Formation to the Women in Transformation. We think this better reflects the active evolution that we undertake when we enter community and start the long and sometimes arduous process of learning who we are as Sisters of Providence. But even with this context, I asked myself, “How have I been transformed?”
Now if you ask my sisters they probably will tell you that I have changed. At least they have said this to me, in numerous and varied ways. But when you are in the midst of the transformation, it’s not always easy to see changes in yourself.
In that brief moment, I couldn’t name any specific examples of the transformation which I encountered. This of course does not mean it did not occur! But the more I sat with the question, the more realization of just how much I have changed surfaced in my consciousness. Surprisingly, I gained awareness of not only changes in myself but also in my community and our world too.
For example, in those 10 years I have held many hats in ministry, from volunteering on an alpaca farm/organic garden, to working in a daycare, to earning a doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine. Most recently I completed my residency training to become a Family Medicine Physician.
In my personal life, my family grew by three when each of my siblings met their significant others. Friends from high school and college have steadily married and started families. Every time I visit home, the little farming town I grew up in is changing rapidly. In my religious life I have lived in four different local communities. (If you count the five months I spent living alone in an effort to protect my housemates at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic).
In these 10 years, the Sisters of Providence as a community have changed too. We have let go of ministries and property. Instead of simply closing some ministries, we repurposed them into new needed services. For example our old novitiate building Owens Hall was turned into low income housing for seniors. We have opened the doors of our healthcare center to people outside the Congregation. And we have embraced the new lovely relationships that this has brought into our community. Sadly, we as a community also mourned the loss of 170 sisters. Each of those lives taught us what it means to live a faith-filled life and helped us find grace in the letting go that inevitably comes with the natural order of things.
Conversely, we welcomed seven new members into the community over these last 10 years. And we’ve welcomed an explosion in interest in being in relationship with us through ministry partnerships and our Providence Associate community. We, as a community, have lived through the global COVID-19 pandemic and are still navigating what that new reality means for us and how we can care for one another at this time of uncertainty.
Changes in the world
The world, too, has seen much change in the last 10 years. A quick google search reveals numerous examples of the transformation which we have all experienced. We have seen an increasing number of natural disasters and we have had many man-made disasters, too. Right at this moment, our world seems to be in a state of entropy — or the inherent tendency to move from a state of order to disorder. We humans perpetuate so much death, violence, war and hatred. We no longer trust our neighbor. The other has become the enemy. Sometimes I wonder where our humanity has gone amid all those -isms — racism, classism, sexism, etc.
But then I read an article on social media about someone choosing to cross the divide — choosing to engage in tough conversations to come to a better understanding of “the other.” I see my neighbors coming out to help shovel snow, not just on their own property but also the entire community. I see a small child showing empathy and love for the injured, the marginalized, the forgotten. On the evening news, dispersed among all the stories of violence and war, I hear about the Polish mothers who left their buggies at the train stations for fleeing Ukrainian parents to use as they crossed the border. Providing a small comfort in a moment of terror.
I saw firsthand the many good deeds performed by overworked healthcare teams as they worked tirelessly to save patients affected by COVID-19. We provided reassurance (sometimes when we didn’t even believe it ourselves) to families who feared for their loved one’s safety as they lay isolated and unsure in a hospital bed. These are the real life “good Samaritans” who model for us what the ideal of our humanity should be. They show us that while some of the transformation we encounter in this world is out of our control, there is a transformation within. Transformation that is solely formed by our own thoughts, principles and morals. We can always choose to follow the path that leads to God, even in the face of enormous evil.
So to come back to that question, “How have I been transformed?”
Reflecting on transformation
Recently I was on my 30- day retreat in preparation for my vows. I spent a lot of time reflecting on my own inner transformation. I reflected on how my understanding of God has changed over the years and how my faith life has grown. I recalled how my understanding of how to pray has changed too. I even thought about how my dual vocation as sister and healer has been molded by the events of the world in the last 10 years.
I challenged myself to accept who I am and who God calls me to be. I found a place of peace where I could mourn the losses I experienced over the years and celebrate the blessings. Perhaps most importantly, I intentionally sat with the reality that I cannot realize these inner transformations without God’s deep, abiding, and unconditional love of who I am in this moment — flaws and all.
On the last day of my retreat, my director asked me to read and reflect on the Transfiguration passage in Matthew (Mt 17:1-9). I sat still, closed my eyes and tried to imagine the scene. I saw Jesus with, as Matthew says, “his face becoming as dazzling as the sun and his clothes as radiant as light” standing in the cloud, reaching down to pull me up to him.
As I passed through the cloud, I saw my own clothes transform into sunbeams. My hands shimmered like light bouncing off the ocean. I felt my burdens lighten. I felt seen in my entirety, and I felt loved for who I am right in this moment. Then, I looked around and saw all of creation’s transformation into light. Everything was good, everything was holy. And then as quickly as the daydream began it vanished, but the light persisted. I grabbed my journal and began to write. Words began to form on my page into a poem.
Divine Light, inspired might, shown all around.
I asked my friend what it was; He said, simply, “Love surrounds.”
For Love lifts us high, heals our wounds, and connects our spirit to the divine.
Love finds the lost and brings them home. Love proclaims; “You are mine.”
Love invites, in gentle nudges, to find our purpose, a life complete.
Without Love, a vocation steeped in doubt and fear, finds defeat.
Love renews, washes clean the weary and the tired.
Love claims our soul, unveiling truth, our hearts deepest desire.
So I follow Him, up that mountain, to embody that shining light.
God is pleased. We are transformed. God’s Love is and always our goal in sight.
So “how have I been transformed?” I believe my most important transformation is understanding that I am beloved of God. Through that Love I have the opportunity to be the change I wish to see in this world. By God’s transforming Love, we can realize our own “transfiguration” to the people whom God calls us to be. We can learn to be the “good Samaritans.” Helpers so desperately needed in this world who remind the rest of us what our humanity calls us to. So, on Aug. 20 as I take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, I also commit to an unspoken vow. I will vow to never forget the transformative power of God’s Love in my life. I will vow to spread that Love as far and wide as I can every day for the rest of my life.
We are transformed. God’s Love is and always our goal in sight.