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A Reflection for the 2022 Senior Jubilee

Note: If you didn’t get a chance to watch the livestream of our 2022 Senior Jubilee celebration, here is the reflection General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski offered during Mass.

We need days like today! We need days like today in the life of our Church and in the life of this Providence Community. Days when we remember that God’s incarnate love needs our YES!

On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, we hear once again the young Mary respond to the angel’s announcement. She is to bear a son; he will be great; he will be called the Son of God.

And though her first response was, “How can this be?” we know we would not be here today if she had not said:

Let it be done to me according to your word.

God’s incarnate love needed Mary’s YES!

And on this celebration of our senior jubilarians, we will hear our sisters once again tell us that they wish to renew and confirm their vows. In a very real way they make the same pledge that Mary did:

Let it be done to me according to your word.

God’s incarnate love continues to need your YES Jubilarians! We need your yes!

General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski at the 2022 Senior Jubilee Mass.

We know that after the angel left Mary, she set out in haste to visit her elder cousin Elizabeth. And it is in that encounter that Mary utters what becomes the theme song of her life:

“ My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. ….for God has looked on me in my lowliness.”

She sings the praises of a God who shows mercy, who scatters the proud, who brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the lowly.

My reflection on what scripture tells us about these events in Mary’s life led me to ask this question of our jubilarians:

In response to the invitation from the angel, Mary proclaims the Magnificat. Do you have a theme song?

I invited the Jubilarians to send me the name of a song, a line from a song, a refrain. And if not a song, then a phrase or line from scripture. Some thought, some prayer, some theme that has carried them through their lives as Sisters of Providence. I explained that I had been studying their ministry records so I had a good sense of what they had done in their lives as Sisters of Providence, but I wanted to capture a bit of the essence of WHO THEY ARE.

Our sister Jubilarians did not disappoint.

Sister Therese Whitsett was the first to respond, naming the “Summons” as her theme song:

Sister Therese Whitsett

“Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?”

Therese explained:

“Many times in my life, I’ve been called by God to follow and go. Through the example of my sister, Mary, I was called to the Sisters of Providence and to the mission in Arequipa, [Peru]. God called me through Sister Peggy Nau to the Indian Mission in North Dakota. Sisters Laura Ann and Patty Fillenwarth called me to Maternity BVM in Chicago. Sister Marikay Duffy called me to serve at the Hispanic Education Center in Indianapolis. My brother, David, volunteered many years at the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry. God has called me…through David, to serve at the pantry, where there are many Spanish speaking people who need assistance. I can truly say, that all these experiences, have blessed me and I will never be the same.”

Thank you, Therese, for your quiet courage and strength in responding to these Summons. The people you have helped will never be the same either.

Sister Patty Geis wrote:

“ I don’t have a particular theme song that keeps haunting me, but my scripture verse would be:

‘Not my will, but thine be done.’

I have always, since early on, wanted and prayed for my life to be only what God wills, not my own. I recently came across a small letter that we attached to our shirts when we took our vows. In it, which was a letter to God, I asked for grace to always do God’s will in my life. In the very beginning of our religious life we were assigned to our missions, so I felt this was truly God’s work. As times changed it depended on me to make the right choices. And I hope and pray that I have and will continue as long as God wills. This is my Magnificat!”

Thank you, Patty, for the many right choices you have made placing yourself at the service of God’s most vulnerable ones — both young and old.

Several other sisters named scripture verses.

For Sister Margaret Heese, Micah 6:8 has been her constant companion:

“What does our God require of you? To act justly and to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.”

Sister Margaret Heese (left) with Sister Martha Joseph Wessel.

Margaret explained that she has tried to live by this all her life. Whether it was teaching, living with others, working in a parish with adults or sewing for the sisters, she has tried to follow this call of God.

We’re grateful for that, Margaret, and for the many ways you have tenderly loved and helped your sisters.

I was totally unfamiliar with the Scripture verse that has been a theme in Sister Marie Esther Sivertsen’s life. From the book of Zechariah, 4:10:

“A day of little things, no doubt, but who would dare despise it?”

This is the way life is, Marie Esther explained, but each day is important just the same. She has learned to love the little things. Imagine how many little things she has unearthed and taken  care of during her 21 years of service in Archives.  

Thank you, Marie Esther, your practice of being attentive to little things has certainly added up to a lifetime of faithful service to students and sisters alike.

Sister Joyce Brophy also had a verse, but hers came from Mother Theodore:

“Love the children first, then teach them.”

Sister Joyce Brophy

This has been her guiding light in every new ministry—loving the children under her care as teacher and principal, appreciating and acknowledging staff members for their gifts, and using common sense and lots of love with the postulants with whom she worked in formation.

Joyce also shared a lovely story about her relationship with the Magnificat. As a child, her grandmother encouraged her to look at the moon and be reminded of Mary’s YES, but also for Joyce to see Mary’s arms held out to protect her. To this day when she passes a statue of Mary, Joyce says:

“Mother of God, remember me.” (in an Irish brogue, of course, in imitation of her grandmother!)

Thank you, Joyce, for your constant and loving yeses to all the circumstances of your life! Please remember all of us when you make your prayer to Mary.

Sister Rose Virginia Eichman, also cited scripture for her theme — Psalm 23. This, no doubt, is due to the fact that this psalm is printed on a throw she received from a friend sometime during her 33-year ministry in New Albany and which she uses as a spread on her bed even now. It has been a constant remembrance, she said, that

“God maketh me lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.”

Sister Rose Virginia Eichman.

She said it also reminded her of her commitment to attend the funerals of all the people she knew during her parish ministry in New Albany where this psalm was often sung.

Rose Virginia also regaled me with an original composition that is her current theme song: “Life is better in the Woods!” You can ask her later to sing it for you.

Thank you, Rose, for being so inimitably and generously you!

Sister Mary Ann McCauley also referenced an original composition when reflecting on the theme songs of her life — the band song of the 70-year jubilarians, written by Sister Mary Cecilia Carter.

“After all these years I remember the words to the first verse,” she said, “but please don’t ask me to sing it!”

On a more serious note, Mary Ann spoke of her love for music and for being part of congregation choirs over the years.

“I always looked forward to the beautiful “Tota Pulchra Es” on Dec. 8th and the novena preceding it, or any other time it was sung! It always gave me a feeling of peace and belonging. … when I hear the organ begin Tota I feel calm.”

Thank you, Mary Ann, for that band memory and for the peace and calmness you have always brought, especially to those who are ill.

Sister Marilyn Baker during Mass.

Sister Marilyn Herber did not name a theme song, but she certainly did remember her Annunciation moment. It was 1942 and she was in third grade at St. Jude School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her day began with Mass and Communion, but she had forgotten to bring her breakfast. Of course, she didn’t want to tell her teacher, Sister St. Dorothy, that she had forgotten it, but she was hungry. Marilyn recalled,

“I began to cry, and so St. Dorothy came over to me and put my face in her hands and said, ‘Marilyn, would you like to go home?’ And I said, ‘Oh, yes!’ And off I ran the block and a half to my house. From that time on I wanted to be a Sister just like Sister St. Dorothy — so kind and thoughtful. Ten years later in 1952 I entered the Sisters of Providence.”

Thank you, Marilyn, for the witness of your own kind and thoughtful ways, especially when you were dealing with the likes of this canonical novice and our infamous band.

Sisters Marilyn Baker and Martha Wessel both named “How Great Thou Art” as one of the important theme songs of their lives. Both recognize its power to reveal God’s love for us in nature. Marilyn uses it as a walking meditation song. And Martha offered the rhetorical question: Isn’t the Woods the perfect place to praise God for all the gifts bestowed on each of us?

Gratitude for all God’s gifts were at the heart of the other five songs that Marilyn named as important — a woman after my own heart. She also mentioned lines from Psalm 109 and 21, Ephesians 3 and two quotes from Mother Theodore. Here’s her explanation:

“The above is probably more than you may need … but from an early age, I have felt a great sense of thankfulness, of gratitude for all the blessings that God had, and continues to shower upon me. I am amazed by the overwhelming love that has supported and sustained me each day, in every circumstance of my life. The many hymns, prayers, quotes…have each come into my life just when I needed them! The fact that I am still alive and healthy and have happily persevered these 60 years is to me an even greater blessing!”

Thank you, Marilyn, for your graciousness in sharing all the blessings God has given you, especially when it took you to places and circumstances more than half a world away.

As for Martha, she, too, had more than one theme song. “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” is her other favorite.

“How many times have we sung this song at our funerals!” she explained. “Being called home by our God and seeing God face to face—isn’t that what life is all about? My goal is to dwell with God forever. This song expresses my faith in God’s promise of eternal life. I rejoice with each sister that we let go of and send on to dwell with God forever. It speaks of God’s unconditional love for each of us. . . God’s Providence!”

Your own love for your sisters, Martha, mirrors God’s love; it seems to know no bounds. Thank you for your unselfish service wherever you are.

And last, but certainly not least, is Lucy Nolan’s theme song. Lucy couldn’t remember the title of the song, but she certainly remembered the words:

“Let every instrument be tuned for praise—let all rejoice who have a voice to raise and May God give you grace to sing always—Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!”

Sister Lucille Nolan (back) with her sister, Sister Carol Nolan.

Google helped me find the title for those words: “When in our music God is glorified.” I am not sure you could find a better theme song for a life-long music teacher than that. The song, said Lucy, reminds her of life which begins slow and soft and gradually continues to a triumphant Alleluia when we are united to our loved ones in God our creator.”

Thank you, Lucy, for helping us to sing always—Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

We are united this day with these loved ones of ours, these Jubilarians, whose lives, like Mary’s, have incarnated God’s love in our very midst. The themes of their lives provide inspiration for all of us, which is why we need days like today.

So, I invite all of us, that before this day ends, we reflect on the theme songs of our own lives. What song, thought, idea or prayer has carried you through your life?

As Advent continues, let us not be afraid to explore what new tunes might be awaiting our YES. “May God give us grace to sing always — Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!”

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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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