Sisters of Providence, Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters enter covenant relationship
A process which began nearly two years ago culminated on Sunday, August 28, as the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, and the Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, based in Huntington, Indiana, sealed a covenant relationship during a transfer of leadership ritual.
A covenant relationship is a formal relationship between religious communities which the Vatican approves. A congregation may seek such an arrangement when its members determine they no longer have sufficient resources or persons available to serve in leadership roles to operate independently in the future.
During the August 28 ceremony, Sister Jenny Howard, SP, was installed as the congregation leader for the Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, who are located in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
“We promise to provide the safe and sure support needed by the Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters at this time in your history,” said Sisters of Providence General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, SP, during the installation ceremony. “We promise to be the loving Providence needed to enable you to deepen your lives and live out the commitments you made to God and one another.”
The Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters (OLVM), also known as the Victory Noll Sisters, approached three different congregations in late 2020 asking if they would be interested in entering into a covenant relationship. The Victory Noll Sisters considered this decision for a number of years as they reached the conclusion that there were not OLVM sisters available to serve in leadership positions into the future.
“The invitation from the Victory Noll Sisters to the Sisters of Providence was the first time that I began to think about this,” Sister Jenny said. “I prayed about it for many months.”
After nearly a year of prayerful consideration, the Sisters of Providence formally accepted the invitation to enter into the covenant relationship.
“I had an energy for it from the very beginning,” Sister Jenny added. “And it was very exciting at our chapter in October 2021 when the letter came from the Victory Noll Sisters that they had selected our Congregation to provide leadership for them.”
Following the full membership meetings in October 2021 announcement, Sister Dawn invited all Sisters of Providence to pray over if they might consider taking this leadership position with the Victory Noll Sisters.
The Sisters of Providence and the Victory Noll Sisters then contacted the Vatican in April 2022 requesting that the Sisters of Providence be given the responsibility to provide the Victory Noll community with a commissary to act as the major superior of their congregation because they lacked the capacity for governing into their future. The Vatican approved the relationship through decree, which was sent to both congregations in July 2022.
“At that point, I continued my discernment, and many sisters and other friends were encouraging me to consider this new role,” Sister Jenny said. “When the call came from Sister Dawn, I felt like it was an opportunity for me to place my name forward. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to be in relationship with other religious communities. It is the future of religious life. It is a wonderful model of collaboration and working together for the sake of our respective missions.
“The Sisters of Providence have been collaborating with other religious communities in a variety of ways for many years, and this is just a new way for us to be in relationship with the Victory Noll Sisters. This summer, at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious National Assembly, there were several religious communities who spoke of coming to this moment of needing to discern with other congregations to provide a commissary.”
During the installation ceremony, Sister Dawn said Sister Jenny – who has been a member of the Sisters of Providence for 39 years and has served in leadership for three terms – will provide her “gifts of leadership, of listening and of loving.”
“We Sisters of Providence know Sister Jenny as a faithful daughter of Providence,” Sister Dawn said, “someone whose own life experiences, like your own, have called her to let go in order to let something new come.
“I believe you have already experienced in her someone willing to provide the constant and open dialogue of which the decree from Rome suggests.”
“As far as the leadership role, many things are familiar,” Sister Jenny added. “What I want to learn more deeply is their charism, the eyes and the heart of their charism. It’s important to first get to know the sisters and I’ve had conversations with many of them. But there are also the other roles, including getting connected with their corporate board members and their trustees. That’s the part of the leadership role I’m looking forward to learning.
“My hope, during these first few months, is to visit the Victory Noll Sisters who are ministering in South Carolina, Colorado, New Mexico and the Chicago area.”
Sister Jenny currently ministers part-time with Providence Housing Corp., located in West Terre Haute. Providence Housing Corp. offers affordable housing for senior citizens ages 62-older with limited income. She said she will continue to serve there while also taking on this new ministry.
“I’m always on call and available to the Victory Noll community and staff, however, the expectation is that I do not always have to be present on their campus,” Sister Jenny said. “The Victory Noll Sisters know of my ministry at Providence Housing, and are very supportive. Many Sisters have said how glad they are that I have a ministry where I’m connected directly with the residents who live there.”