Providence Associate and former Sister of Providence Donna Watzke shares about her journey
I was a Sister of Providence for 33 years. And I was schooled by the Sisters of Providence since the first grade at St. Leo School in Chicago. These two realities encompass all that I am today in ways I never could have imagined. It was my eighth grade teacher, Sister Jane Bodine, SP, who invited me to consider going to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for high school. The rest is history! I always say we live our lives going forward but understand our lives looking backward.
For me, being a Sister of Providence (my religious name was Sister Marie Carmelita) was a transformative experience. In my early years of formation, I was steeped in Providence Spirituality, the life of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, the and the SP charism of Providence expressed in ministries of love, mercy and justice. Throughout this journey I learned the meaning of living in right relationship with our Sisters and with the larger world community.
Education and ministry
I began ‘active’ ministry as a junior high teacher in Evansville, Ind. In time I was named principal of All Saints Catholic School in Indianapolis. Eventually I was appointed vicar of religious and director of pastoral planning for the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. During these years, I was blessed with educational opportunities that supported the work I was doing. I earned an undergraduate degree from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and graduate degrees from Illinois University (education administration) and The Catholic University of America (psychiatric social work). I also received certification in formative spirituality under the mentorship of Father Adrian Van Kaam through Duquesne University.
Each ministry and education experience widened my horizon. Each gave me an expanding vision of the complexities of systems and the hungers of the wider world. They enlarged my understanding that God’s call is constant and comes day in and day out. In every stage I was supported, encouraged, challenged and called by my Sister companions and community leaders. They believed in me often when I had difficulty believing in myself.
A new way of living the mission
My life with the Sisters continues in my life as a lay person. For 20 years I worked at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, mostly in the role of consultant to human resources. Here, all my experience as teacher, administrator and counselor came to the fore as I served with other leaders and staff who were the life and heart of the hospital. Special to me was being invited to be part of the implementation of their Mission Integration Program.
At the invitation of Sister Denise Wilkinson, I’ve served on the Sisters of Providence Mission Advisory Board for 12 years. At the invitation of Sister Nancy Nolan, I joined the Sisters in their prison ministry in Terre Haute. As a Providence Associate my life continues to be enriched with opportunities to serve within our Providence Circle and at the Woods.
Now I am very fortunate to be part of a dynamic church community that has specific outreach goals related to our homeless neighbors, our immigrant community and addressing racial inequity. My little part in this has been partnering with our Immigration Welcome Center by mentoring individuals who are seeking citizenship, standing with our Latino community especially during the ICE enforcements (Sister Tracy Horan was a key leader of this endeavor), and supporting a local shelter for homeless families. Other commitments include parish ministry with the hurting, reading, ushering and various ad hoc committees.
I am grateful to the Sisters of Providence, who, I believe, fostered a solid core within me and then encouraged the spiraling out of the core in ways, as I said before, I never could have imagined. I admire the Sisters of Providence, a now smaller but mighty community of women. They continue to live their mission in service to others and welcome other lay men and women to join them in this ministry. And finally, I give thanks for all our Providence Associates who share with the Sisters the charism of Providence.