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A reflection for the Providence Associate Commitment Ceremony

Note: The following is the reflection our General Superior, Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, SP, provided at the 2022 Providence Associate Commitment Ceremony, which took place on Saturday, Oct. 8, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

It never fails. When talking with people about Providence Associates, especially persons new to the community, they ask, “Well, what exactly are Providence Associates?”

I usually try to conjure up some of the beautiful words written in the spiritual integration units that our associates-elect and their companions have used during the past year to guide their journey.

So, I say lines like:

  • Associates are people seeking deeper relationships with God and with the Sisters of Providence,
  • They are responding to a call from God to unite with the Sisters and with other associates to be Providence in our world, and
  • They are willing to make a commitment to honor divine providence and to find a way to do this in their own lives in service among all creation.
Providence Associate Kara Wilson (left) with Sister Norene Wu.

‘Mustard Seeds’

All of these thoughts are well and good. But after reflecting on the Gospel reading chosen for our liturgy today, I have decided that the next time people ask me to define Providence Associates, I am simply going to say, they are mustard seeds!

In Matthew’s version of the parable of the Mustard Seed, which we just heard, Jesus tells us that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown, it is the biggest shrub of all. In fact, it becomes so large that the birds of the air come to perch in its branches.

Taken in context, Jesus is telling his community and his followers, who sometimes felt small and helpless that, the kindom of God will prevail. With faith, with trust in Providence, good things will come from small beginnings.

It has been 17 years since our own small beginning in establishing the Providence Associate relationship. The commitment ceremony of that first group of brave people who decided to take a chance on this new relationship with the Sisters of Providence took place in 2007 with 58 persons becoming Providence Associates.

With the commitment of our associates elect today and the recommitment of our current associates, Providence Associates will number about 320. I am grateful for this growth and for all that our associates have come to mean to us and for us and for one another. So many good things and good people have sprung up from this small and patient beginning.

A ‘Good Something’

But I think we all know that the associate relationship is not really about growth in numbers – nor is the kindom to which Jesus likens the mustard seed. The associate relationship, the reign of God, is about growth within, about channeling the life energies of our own seeds into fruitfulness, about the transformation that happens when we set our sights on seeking to be the persons God intends us to be. There is this wonderful line on our website about the associate relationship that says it is not about doing more. “It’s about being who you are and this IS good enough.”

During my own travels with Donna Kehoe, the first person I accompanied on the way to becoming a Providence Associate, she told me that her husband Frank thought something had happened to her because she was on the associate journey. He thought it was a good something. And Donna, may she rest now in peace, was a pretty wonderful person to begin with.

Providence Associate Co-Directors Debbie Dillow (back) and Sister Susan Paweski.

In blessing your commitment today, we Sisters of Providence are telling you that we believe that something has happened in you because of what you began with your companion a year ago. And as you continue in this relationship, we believe that YOU, like the mustard seed, will bear much fruit, right in your own backyard, right in your own family, parish or civic community, wherever you decide to plant your little mustard seed of faith that now bears the name Providence. One person can make a difference. You are enough.

Because you, like Donna, are pretty wonderful people to begin with. Many of you are already devoting your lives to activities of love, mercy and justice – as advocates for victims of domestic abuse and for planet Earth. You are volunteers in food pantries and soup kitchens, at cancer resource centers and your local precinct. Some of you have been tutoring prisoners and persons with disabilities.

‘You Are Enough’

You have companioned children with special needs and taken teens to Appalachia. A good many of you are supportive parents and grandparents. And most of these activities have been done in addition to your day jobs.

Some of you have been hurt deeply by the Church – and not just the Roman Catholic church – but you have tried to find and make a spiritual home for yourself and others in spite of that hurt. Many of you are part of a growing number of members of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi Church in Greenwood, outside of Indianapolis, and together you are making that church a place of spirituality and hospitality. (They even have a Joy Club at that parish).

Sister Anne Therese Falkenstein at the 2022 Providence Associate Commitment Ceremony.

As the other general officers and I worked through your letters, we were touched by your own desire to grow more deeply in your spiritual life – to grow within, to be transformed, by being more intentional about prayer, more reliant on God’s Providence, more focused on your relationship with the Holy One. You want to show up and be present in your own life and in the lives of others, to be a connector for those in need, to be the face of Providence.

We say AMEN to all of that!

And we know that your individual growth will lead to our collective growth as a community of love, mercy and justice. We know that because of those sitting behind you in church today waiting to recommit themselves as Providence Associates. They have taught us the power of the Providence Community.

The ‘Kindom’ of God

And though you come from an array of places – the Chicagoland area, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and many places in Indiana, you now have a place and a home within the extended Providence Community. We are better together than we are alone. As one of you said in your materials, “Instead of just ‘me’ I want to be a part of a ‘we’ in order to be in the hands, mouth, whatever is needed to extend love, mercy and justice to our world.”

Now, one last thing about this mustard seed.

They tell me that the shrub that develops from the mustard seed is so strong that in some places it is actually considered an invasive. Now there’s something for all of us – sisters, current associates and our associates elect – to strive for – to invade those places where we live and move and have our being with love, mercy and justice. Let’s envision a mustard field where no one goes without; where right relationship is the only kind of relationship; so that society’s unwanted, disenfranchised, and unloved can find comfort and security among our branches.

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski (front) and Father Terry Johnson.

This is the kindom of God to which Jesus invites us. And your gifts/my gifts/our gifts, given away for the good of the entire Earth community, help the reign of God happen. Your presence in this church today helps me know that you are willing to make such a commitment for the good of all creation.

Let’s remember that we have each other to lean on during those days when we just don’t feel like tending the garden. And, of course, we have the good example of our Saint Mother Theodore who told us to lean with all our weight on Providence, to behold the author of all things in all things.

Henri Nouwen has written the following about community that perhaps summarizes what I believe here this day:

“… try to think about yourself as belonging to the home of God, to the family of God, to the communion of God. And from that place where all is one, you are sent into the world to form community and to minister.”

Go forth, Providence Associates, into the world to form community and to minister. Go, spread your seeds.

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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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2 Comments

  1. Debbie Griffey on October 12, 2022 at 6:40 am

    Your reflection at the PA commitment and renewal was so apt. Words we can all take to heart and practice. Thank you so much.

  2. Ann Clem on October 12, 2022 at 9:03 pm

    Sister Dawn, thank you for summarizing who we, as Providence Associates, are to be and supporting us to bear much fruit in our own backyard, family, parish, and civic community… As a very civic-minded person, with my daily prayer for the Ukrainians and the issues of our politicians, I pray that I will do justice in planting my mustard seed. You are a strength to our Community.

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