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The Sisters of Providence mission: living the Gospel today

In 1840, Mother Theodore Guerin and five companions came to the United States from Ruillé, France. Their mission at the time was that of the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé: “to honor Divine Providence and second its merciful designs upon mankind by devoting themselves to the education of young girls and to the solace of the miserable … ”

In 1840, young women were not being educated in the United States, so that ministry was a focal point of the Sisters of Providence. Mother Theodore also created “free schools” for those who could not afford to pay for their education. And she learned how to use various herbs to make medicines which she dispensed to the sick.

Over the past 180+ years, the Sisters of Providence have continually asked themselves: “To whom and to what are we being called at this time in history? Who are ‘the miserable’ in the world today? Who are the vulnerable most in need of our service?”

Sister Leslie Dao, SP, offers Communion to Sister Martha Rojo, SP, during a Mass at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Same mission, new times

Today, our mission is very much the same. Our website proclaims: “A community of vowed Catholic women religious, we joyfully live out the radical Gospel message of love, mercy and justice in today’s world. Inspired by our foundress Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, we are passionate about our lives of prayer, education, service and advocacy. We dedicate ourselves to helping those who might otherwise be forgotten.”

I can’t help but believe that Saint Mother Theodore would be delighted to call us her daughters as we seek to “create a more just and hope-filled world” (or, as she said, to bring “solace to the miserable.”)

So, what does that look like today?

The mission to which we aspire calls us to many different ministries, some similar to those Mother Theodore knew. We continue to sponsor our legacy educational institution, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Through our sponsorship of Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis, we bring hope to young women and men, nearly all of whom live in poverty. We teach at several schools and universities across the country. And at Providence Health Care, Inc. at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, we carry on the ministry of healing.

Staff members at the Sisters of Providence Miracle Home ministry in Taishan County in Taiwan, including Director Sister Rose Chiu, SP, and Sister Celeste Tsai, SP, (3rd and 4th from left), pray for successful fundraising for their new building which will allow them to better serve the elderly and disabled in their area.

In Taiwan, Miracle Home provides eldercare, meals on wheels, and respite care for caregivers. Our Providence Food Pantry and The Connecting Link in West Terre Haute provides food and access to services for our closest neighbors in need. Here at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Providence Spirituality and Conference Center helps to meet the needs of those who are spiritually hungry. Our White Violet Center for Eco-Justice provides organic food and works to heal this ailing planet we call Earth.

Sisters serving

But beyond our sponsored institutions and ministries, we Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods carry out the mission in many other ways as well. Our doctor, nurses and other health care ministers provide care for those who suffer physically, emotionally and/or spiritually. Our spiritual directors and hospital chaplains attend to those who, in some cases, may be “miserable” in spirit. Our parish life coordinators, pastoral associates, pastoral ministers, campus ministers and religious education directors tend to the soul — and often other needs — of their congregations.

Sister Tracey Horan, SP, helps a migrant file a formal complaint of abuse against a U.S. official as part of her ministry with the Kino Border Initiative at the U.S./
Mexico border.

Sisters work with refugees who have fled the violence of their own countries. We advocate for justice for the oppressed. We provide administrative assistance for social service groups … the list goes on and on.

And we all pray, and pray and pray some more — daily — for the needs of our world, for the most vulnerable and their needs, and for each of you! We know that we do not do this work alone.

Partners in the mission

We are blessed with nearly 300 Providence Associates who have committed themselves to be the hearts and hands of Providence as well. Some assist us at our own ministry sites and others do a variety of ministries in their own locales. Among them, our associates serve as ministers, therapists, scientists, volunteers, counselors, justice advocates, parents, educators, environmentalists and more.

And we are blessed with people like you who want to be part of this sacred trust to which we are all called. You have given of your own time, talent and treasure so that our work can continue through your beneficence. Thank you for being part of the legacy which Mother Theodore began 182 years ago and which so vibrantly lives on today!

Originally published in the fall 2022 issue of HOPE magazine.

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Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp

Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. She currently serves on the Congregation leadership team. Previously she ministered as a teacher and administrator at the secondary and university levels.

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