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Sister Carolyn Bouchard’s woodshop: a place of creativity and prayer

Sister Carolyn Bouchard works on a tealight candle holder in her woodshop in Providence Hall basement.

The gentle prayerful music of John Michael Talbot and the smell of freshly sawed wood greet visitors to Sister Carolyn Bouchard, SP’s woodshop in the basement of the Providence Hall motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Here Sister Carolyn creates wooden rings, flutes and whistles, candle holders, pendants and more.

Wood from the Woods

Sister Carolyn’s face lights up as she finds a perfect piece of wood from a large oak tree at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods that has fallen during a storm.

“People are used to seeing me like this,” she says as she balances wood branches on her amigo mobility scooter to bring back to her shop. “This piece could be used for flutes and whistles and rings,” she says. “This might even be good for a walking stick.” The possibilities delight her.

“I’ve always been imaginative,” she says.

Sister Carolyn did not expect woodworking to become such a spiritual practice for her.

She came to woodworking naturally, all her uncles being carpenters and her grandfather having run a sawmill in Canada. She got serious about woodworking a few years ago.

Ministry in wood

Sister Carolyn works on smoothing and polishing a wooden ring.

“Woodworking is a kind of metaphor for ways I have always sought out and found God,” Sister Carolyn said. “What I do with wood I have done in many other ways throughout my personal and ministerial life. I find a fallen tree, a broken branch, a person in need or distress from a storm in life. I do not see dead wood but possibility and new life. I do and did that with persons, too.”

Sister Carolyn spent most of her nearly 40 years as a Sister of Providence ministering in Catholic parishes.

“As a Sister of Providence I served in pastoral ministry which always included pastoral visitation to the sick and homebound. My education in sociology, theology and pastoral care and counseling prepared me to serve as a healing minister, offering encouragement and counseling.”

Sister Carolyn has found continuity in woodworking.

Sister Carolyn is happy with the possibilities this fallen tree limb holds.

“In the doing I find my spirit prays for the person who will receive this work of my hands and heart. My workshop in the basement of Providence is a chapel, a place of creativity, a place of prayer.”

Beauty in Creation

She finds so much to love in her craft.

“I find in each piece the diversity and beauty of creation. It is a creative outlet. I love working with my hands. I love the challenge of mastering a new tool, trying something new. I like the solitude. The physical outlet of energy sawing and hammering. I like getting dirty. I love the way I feel connected to God and the way the craft becomes prayer,” she said.

What does she do with her creations? She gives them as gifts and sells some. (The Farm Store at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice currently sells some of her wooden rings.) She also takes special orders.

What unexpected gifts does Sister Carolyn hope her creations bring to others?

“I hope that seeing and having a little piece of The Woods helps to connect the holder to the charism of Providence and to the Providence community for a long time to come.”

Originally published in the summer 2023 issue of HOPE magazine.

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Amy Miranda

Amy Miranda

Amy Miranda is a Providence Associate of the Sisters of Providence and a staff member in their Advancement Services office. Amy is a 1998 graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She currently manages the SP publication HOPE and works on marketing support for Providence Associates, new membership and Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

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