An Associate’s Associate
Like most boys back when I was in elementary school, I looked forward to two things during summer vacation – baseball and no school. Unlike most boys my age, I also looked forward to the trips to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. My sister Mel was just a youngster at Our Lady of Mercy School in Chicago when she became aware of a subconscious calling to join the Providence community. She elected to attend a high school for girls aspiring to become Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in Indiana. My mother would make two trips a year to take Mel to the Woods. One in late summer and bring her back home in late spring. I still take great pride in the fact that I was the only one of six boys to make every 200-mile trip with my mother and sister in our family station wagon.
The Sisters of Providence have their motherhouse on the grounds of the Woods. These wonderful sisters were my teachers for my eight years in Our Lady of Mercy parish in Chicago. I admired them greatly and was impressed with their dedication to God and to the people they served. My sister Mel was hoping to complete high school at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and eventually move on to become a Sister of Providence. She was a role model to me and was responsible for me eventually becoming a teacher. Her influence was very important to me, but I would never have let her know that back then.
Due to various changes in her life, Mel never became a Providence Sister. Instead she focused on her career as a teacher and her role as a wife and mother. But the yearnings to be connected to the Sisters of Providence were too great for her to ignore. After being widowed and seeing her daughters blossom into adulthood, she eventually reconnected with the Sisters by becoming a Providence Associate of the Sisters of Providence. Because of Mel and the good sisters, I share their vision of caring for others with love, mercy and justice. I have been fortunate to have performed at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods a few times in recent years. I still get chills up my spine when I enter this world of peace and tranquility.
We both share the same feelings of awe about the campus. I’ll never forget passing the guard gate that first time and seeing the various architectural designs on these sturdy, almost indestructible buildings. Besides the beautiful green grass and colorful flowers, there were also many unique places of interest to a boy of 10 years old within the Woods. Where else can you see a chapel that has its walls covered with shells but at the St. Anne Shell Chapel? A great place to pray in solitude is at the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto. The Grotto Bridge makes me feel like I’m entering a new world. No one can go to the Woods without hearing or seeing the examples of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. She was the guiding force behind the Sisters of Providence. And her spirit remains with the sisters and associates who travel there today.
Beauty and inspiration
However, nothing compares with my last trip to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods infirmary. I was able to visit my former eighth-grade teacher, Sister Terese Marie Havlik. She was bedridden and hadn’t spoken a word in quite a while. But before I could belt out the first word of the song “Young at Heart,” she grasped my hand and began singing right on cue. I still get all choked up when I think about that great moment. That event had a major impact on me. I felt more connected to the Sisters of Providence and to my sister. I’ve heard General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski say in a few reflections that what makes the Woods so beautiful are the beautiful people who live and work here.
Mel Wolff has been an inspiration to me as well as and the Sisters of Providence and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. I have given myself a new title – the Associate’s Associate. I believe that I am the first (unofficial) Associate’s Associate in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods’ history!