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Crossing the bridge into community: Postulant Stephanie Rivas

Until 1988, there was a bridge over a ravine between Providence Convent and Foley Hall at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. When a woman entered the Sisters of Providence, it was called ‘crossing over the bridge.’ Though the physical bridge no longer stands, the metaphor remains fitting. We are crossing over between a noisy world that values individualism and possessions, to a Congregation of women who values prayer, community and simplicity. We join with sisters not afraid to take risks and break boundaries.

Crossing over

Stephanie Rivas knocks on the door of Providence Hall during her entrance ceremony to the Sisters of Providence in September.

In September, Stephanie Rivas became the newest woman to join Sisters of Providence. Being a risk taker and breaking boundaries is not new to Stephanie. The first in her family to earn a college degree, she attended Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas. She began a career at a community college using her business degree. But she found herself looking for something more. So she joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. She spent a year in Baltimore as a volunteer, helping to direct an after-school program. She discovered that she loved working with young children. She returned to San Antonio and her work in the community college. But she felt a call to teaching little ones. So she took night classes and earned a second degree in early childhood education. After, she again joined Jesuit volunteers, this time teaching children in Red Cloud, South Dakota.

Next, Stephanie volunteered in Chicago. She had a wonderful time in a home for single moms. She loved assisting women in caring for their babies, reveling in baby showers and watching young women happily mother their children.


Different bridge, same entrance. Stephanie Rivas, center, crosses over the Le Fer Bridge during her ceremony entering the Sisters of Providence
as a postulant on Sept. 10. Vocation Director Sister Joni Luna, at left, and her discernment guide, Sister
Terri Grasso, at right.

But Stephanie began to realize that, for her, a career, independence and romantic relationships were somehow not enough.

“Part of me knew I was not on the right path. I felt that I was still searching for something.”

In her search for something more, she spent a year in a discernment house in New Jersey. There she had a spiritual director and experienced a traditional daily routine of early rising, reciting the Divine Office,
praying silently at Holy Hours and weekly days of silence. She liked the many opportunities for prayer but found the structure too traditional. Stephanie shared that getting up at 5:50 a.m. every morning might have been easier had she not stayed up talking with her roommate until midnight!

At home

It was at this point that Sister Joni Luna, SP, whom she had met through a mutual friend, invited Stephanie to a “Come and See” weekend retreat at Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods. After this visit to the Woods, Stephanie knew that she didn’t want to go back to the discernment house. Instead, she ended up spending a month living with the Sisters in Providence as part of a Mission Immersion Experience. Entering the Sisters of Providence, Stephanie admits, “was more a capitulation than a decision.”

When asked what drew her to religious life, she responds immediately. “The quiet, the silence.” Our culture, she says, “is talking all the time. We fill spare time with noise. The best part about where I live is that there is a chapel where I can go pray and be with Jesus anytime throughout my day or night.”


Stephanie also values the intergenerational living she finds in the community of the Sisters of Providence. She enjoys engaging with younger sisters from a variety of backgrounds and with older sisters “who have done this for many years.” She values their wisdom and their experience. She finds she is comfortable talking with sisters who are older. “They do not judge, are into social justice and care about what a young person has to say,” she says.

Director of Postulants Sister Editha Ben presents Stephanie with the keys to her new home at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Another important element of religious life for Stephanie is communal living. She says living in the Sisters of Providence Community means living in a safe place, not worrying about having necessities and finding a richness in simplicity. “I wanted to live with others committed to community living.”

Breaking boundaries

Stephanie sees the Sisters of Providence making things happen, facing challenges, involved in risk-taking — in ground-breaking ministries such as White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, prison ministry, ministry to immigrants and the Providence Food Pantry.

Sister Janet Gilligan, Stephanie and Sister Editha Ben laugh in September after Stephanie signed in as the
newest woman to enter the Sisters of Providence Congregation.

It was Stephanie’s need for a quiet, prayerful community that spans generations and breaks boundaries that eventually led her to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. The bridge over the ravine is gone and Foley Hall has long been demolished, but young women are still choosing vowed lives of service and prayer in a committed community — still crossing the bridge.

Originally published in the Winter 2024 issue of HOPE magazine.

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Sister Janet Gilligan

Sister Janet Gilligan

Sister Janet Gilligan is a volunteer in the Sisters of Providence Archives. A retired English professor, she enjoys her role as an archivist — answering queries, writing grants, and learning how to digitize collections.

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