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Reflections for the Silver Jubilee of Sister Evelyn Ovalles

Note: On Sunday, August 21, 2022, we celebrated Sister Evelyn Ovalles’ Silver Jubilee in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Here is the reflection General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski offered during the celebration.

MABUHAY Evelyn, as we celebrate your silver jubilee as a Sister of Providence.

Mabuhay is a Filipino greeting that literally means “long live,” or come alive. Sister Editha Ben, my mentor for all things Filipino, led me to this phrase when I asked for an appropriate cultural greeting for Evelyn.

Sister Evelyn Ovalles

Come alive! What more beautiful way to mark the passing of 25 years than to tell you to COME ALIVE, Evelyn. Come alive to what our Provident God has done for you and in you these past 25 years and what the Holy One still has in store for you.

This seems especially appropriate when the readings for this 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time seem to me to challenge all of us to Come Alive to the path traced out for us by Providence. My words. Jesus calls it the narrow gate. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

Jesus further warns that we had better be attentive to this. If not, “there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out.”

As I like to say, “Yikes!”

The Paths We Are On

Even the letter to the Hebrews picks up some strains of this with its admonitions about discipline. “So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.” That what is lame may be healed, may come alive again.

Perhaps an occasion like a jubilee is just the right time for all of us to step back and look at our lives and sincerely and humbly examine the paths we are on.

Am I moving towards God? Or am I so weighed down that I couldn’t possibly make it through a narrow gate. Am I on a trajectory that leads straight to compassionate service of my brothers and sisters in imitation of the Christ?

It seems to me, Evelyn, that 25 years ago you set off on this path, this trajectory to orient your life to Christ and in Christ. What coming to the Sisters of Providence and entering through the narrow gate have in common is the challenging task of change, of opening ourselves to God’s calls, of allowing God’s voice and grace to guide us through that gate and transform our lives.

Your listening these past 25 years has led you to move from the safety of a familiar home and career in California, your landing place after emigrating from the Philippines, to the Providence Community based in Indiana. You had hardly finished your novitiate when you were called to return to the Philippines to care for and ultimately lay to rest your dear mother.

Sister Evelyn Ovalles (right) at her 25-year Jubilee celebration on Sunday, August 21, 2022, as General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski looks on.

Upon return to the states, you nurtured the ministry you had begun in California by earning a licentiate in canon law from St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. This led to service in the Diocese of Gary from 2004-17, primarily as the director of the tribunal and a judge. As a canonist you have helped execute justice and bring peace to people’s lives.

If all had gone as you planned after that ministry ended, you would be in the Philippines right now. COVID interrupted your plans to return to your homeland to put new skills of spiritual companioning at the service of the people there. What happened to your seemingly straight path?

A New Ministry

I consider it God’s jubilee gift to you that within the last few weeks you have been offered and accepted a position as the pastoral associate at St. Katharine Drexel Parish of Chicago at the St. Ailbe Catholic Church Site, a predominantly African-American community on Chicago’s southeast side. Both Sisters Evelyn and Judy Birgen call this parish home.

The parishes’ long name offers some clue as to what and perhaps why God is calling Evelyn there. St. Katharine Drexel is a new parish created in 2018 as part of the Renew My Church parish grouping process in the Chicago Archdiocese. The parishioners of St. Ailbe, St. Felicitas and St. Joachim parishes came together to form this new parish. I’m not exactly sure who chose to entrust this new group to St. Katharine Drexel, but if anyone could be an inspirational force to help these folks let go of all they have known and pass through the narrow gate to a new reality, I think she could be that holy energy.

Born two years after our own Saint Mother Theodore died, Katharine was an heiress to a large fortune. However, her life took a profound turn after the death of her stepmother when she realized that no amount of money could shelter them from pain or suffering. According to her biographers, she became imbued with a passionate love for God and neighbor, and took an avid interest in the material and spiritual well-being of black and native Americans.

Eventually she established the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. By the time of her death in 1955, there were more than 500 Sisters teaching in 63 schools throughout the country. Mother Katharine Drexel helped establish 50 missions for Native Americans in 16 different states and if the founder of St. Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic University in the United States for African-Americans.

MABUHAY

Though I know of your devotion to our Saint Mother Theodore, Evelyn, I suspect you would have a willing advocate in St. Katharine as you strive to become the kind of unifying presence for which she was known. It does seem that the Holy One is inviting you to come alive – MABUHAY – in the midst of God’s people in this your jubilee year.

In just a few moments, Evelyn, we are going to ask you to renew your vows as a Sister of Providence, a beautiful reminder that your life is moving towards God on a path traced out by Providence.

May all of us make a silent vow this day to do the same, wherever or whoever we may be, in response to God’s invitation to enter through the narrow gate. May we, too, come alive as we follow our own path traced out for us by Providence. MABUHAY

***

So I invite all Sisters of Providence to stand now and renew your vows. And Evelyn, please come up to the sanctuary and lead us in our vow renewal.

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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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