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The Sisters of Providence: A history of justice

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the- Woods, Indiana, have a long, rich history of committing to love, mercy and justice. The Providence Community continues to collaborate with others to ensure the legacy of their foundress lives on.

“Yes above all things; justice, justice. If any preferences may be shown let it be to the poorest or most abandoned.”

— Saint Mother Theodore Guerin
Sisters of Providence Justice Promoter Sister Barbara Battista speaks in front of a crowd of anti-death-penalty protestors across from the Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, as an execution was taking place in August 2020.

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin was a champion of justice, a woman of courage and compassion. For example, while traveling through New Orleans, Mother Theodore saw slaves being auctioned. She wrote that she wanted to buy them all in order to set them free. Caring for those in need and on the margins of society continues to thrive among the women who enter the Congregation to this day.

Human rights and more

In 1965, two Sisters of Providence, Sister Alma Louise Mescher and Sister Mary Jean Mark, volunteered to travel to the state of Georgia to help Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with his program, Summer Community Organization and Political Education (S.C.O.P.E.). The program was intended to help educate African Americans and get them registered to vote. During that summer, more than 48,000 voters were officially registered. While there, the two sisters also established the Freedom School in Albany, Georgia, teaching youth and adults how to read, write and do mathematics.

Sister of Providence Dorothy Gartland, far left, joins other 8th Day Center for Justice staff members in advocating for equality during the Center’s tenth anniversary celebration in 1985.

In 1974 the Sisters of Providence were one of six founding religious congregation’s of the 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago. First Sister Dorothy Gartland, SP, then Sister Kathleen Desautels, SP, ministered there until it closed in 2017. The 8th Day Center advocated for justice modeled after Catholic social teaching. Some of the many issues the center took up were homelessness, human trafficking, nuclear disarmament, labor rights, inclusive language, LGBTQIA+ rights and more.


The Congregation has continued efforts toward justice.

“The work of Justice, of promoting systemic change that protects planet Earth and promotes human rights, is essential to answering our call as Sisters of Providence.”

— Sister Donna Butler, SP

In 1996, the Sisters of Providence brought litigation against a Chicago landlord for housing discrimination. After winning the lawsuit, they used the $40,000 they received to educate themselves and others against racism and established their own anti-racism team, developing programs for racism awareness within the Wabash Valley.

In 2016, the Congregation, in collaboration with Providence Associates and others, identified climate justice, racial equality and equity, criminal justice reform, human trafficking and immigration as the top justice issues to focus on. Currently the major focus is on racial equality and equity and climate justice.

Sisters of Providence Justice Coordinator, Sister Barbara Battista, SP, and many other members of the Providence Community continue to tackle these issues on a daily basis. Learn more or join us in our justice efforts: Justice.SistersofProvidence.org

Originally published in the Winter 2024 issue of HOPE magazine.

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Jason Moon

Jason Moon

Jason Moon serves as media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence. Previously, he spent more than 16 years in the newspaper industry.

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