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A reflection on the first profession of vows by Sister Leslie Dao

Note: The following is the reflection offered by General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski as Sister Leslie Dao professed First Vows with the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.

“Talitha cumi.”

These are the words Jesus says to Jarius’s daughter in today’s Gospel reading — Talitha cumi —“Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

Some sources translate the word Talitha as “Little Lamb” to indicate the tenderness with which Jesus engages with the child.

Leslie, today on this first profession of your vows as a Sister of Providence, I would like you to hear Jesus speaking these same tender words to you — “Leslie, (Tiêpthu Đào) I say to you, arise.”

Sister Leslie Dao.

The circumstances of your life are not exactly the same as in the Gospel story. However, I would like to suggest that your journey to this community has been a search for the very gift Jesus offered Jarius’ daughter — new life, renewed life — and, in your case, consecrated life as a Sister of Providence.

We do not know what Jarius’ daughter did with her gift of new life. We do have some expectation about how Leslie will spend her life. Her presence here today, her willingness to profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and commit herself to life in THIS Providence Community, suggests her own desire to do as Jesus did:

To be among the people; to touch them, to heal them, to free them, to bring them to life.

A ‘Lot of Practice’

Now I just have to say it, Leslie — as the youngest in a family of 15 children, you have had a lot of practice at being among the people!

We Praise Providence for your family, for your mother and father who instilled such strong faith in you. This faith was tested time and time again, I am sure, as your family sought to escape a war-torn Viet Nam, and as they made their way across this country in search of a safe place to live that faith. We’re grateful that so many members of the Dao family are with us today. The witness of your love and care for one another is a gift that Leslie has shared with us.

I feel sure that Leslie’s life experiences have had significant impact on her  educational and ministerial choices. Before coming to us, she worked with refugees and immigrants as a social worker. 

Currently as a community organizer with the Coalition for Spiritual and Public Leadership in Chicago, Leslie joins a group that is working to transform and build systems and structures that advance racial, economic, social and environmental justice.

Sister Leslie Dao (from left), Father Terry Johnson and General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski.

The Transformation

What we know about transformation is that it happens in the day-to-day encounters with people in need, in the grassroots efforts to which Leslie is lending her energy.

To do as Jesus did:

To be among the people; to touch them, to heal them, to free them, to bring them to life.

And is this not what the vows should empower us to do? Are they not a way to focus our power for love and goodness for the life of the world?

In preparation for first profession, Leslie has been meeting with a group of sisters and together they have studied the vows. As a backdrop for these discussions, they have used Sister of Loretto Elaine Prevallet’s work: In the Service of Life:  Widening and Deepening Religious Commitment.

Prevallet calls poverty the fundamental vow because, she says, nothing belongs to any of us. We only live by sharing.

What did that second reading from Corinthians tell us: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” 

Prevallet suggests that the acceptance of our fundamental poverty issues in a life of gratitude.

Our own SP Constitutions reflect this sense of gratitude.  And I quote:

“The Sister of Providence chooses poverty in imitation of Jesus Christ; using goods with deliberate moderation in a spirit of dependence upon the Providence of God, being poor in fact as well as in spirit, and sharing the common law of labor. She strives to make the best use of things in gratitude to God and in respect for all creation.”

Poverty, Obedience, Chastity

Poverty: a life of sharing, lived in dependence on God and in gratitude for all creation. With whom will we share our abundance?

Sister Leslie Dao.

Prevalette uses Sandra Schneider’s notion of the vow of obedience and calls it a “covenant of cooperation.” Everyone has a role to play. We discern together where our own particular gifts fit within the community and its charism for the common good. Our real power is the power of love. That power is best expressed when we are cooperating with others.

Does not today’s Gospel give us vivid example of this kind of power? The woman with the hemorrhage believes: “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well … and immediately the hemorrhage ceased.” Jesus perceives in himself that power has gone forth from him.

­­­Again the SP Constitutions echo this truth:

Obedience is a matter of continuing growth and ever greater surrender to the creative action of love.

Obedience: the power of cooperation and surrender to the creative action of love. How will we surrender and use this power in our lives?

And finally, the vow of chastity as expressed within a celibate life lived in community.  

Prevalette says the heart of the vow of chastity is a desire to dedicate oneself and all one’s life-energies to God.  And she is clear, love of God and love of neighbor are a single love.

Again, our Gospel reading shows us a Jesus who was consumed by the single-hearted desire to-be-with. When Jarius is told that his daughter is dead so why trouble the Teacher any further, Jesus ignores them and presses on to be with the child. 

And from the SP Constitutions:

The evangelical call to chastity is an ineffable gift which summons one to single-hearted dedication to God. The Sister of Providence responds by the gift of her complete being as she dedicates herself by public vows.

Chastity: a summons to be-with. How will we be among the people; to touch them, to heal them, to free them, to bring them to life?

Professing these vows of poverty, obedience, chastity is no small commitment. Living these vows, says Prevalette, calls for us to have hearts large enough to love the whole world.

‘You Are Not Alone’

We know we are not alone in this. I look around this church and see so many of Leslie’s family, Sisters of Providence, Providence Associates, other friends and companions who are living vows, who have made commitments, who have dedicated themselves to one another, who are tending to a family or have devoted themselves wholeheartedly to a ministry.

And Leslie, your commitment today, your PUBLIC PROFESSION that this is how you are going to live your life, gives each of us strength for the journey. Your yes inspires us to enlarge our hearts:

To be among the people; to touch them, to heal them, to free them, to bring them to life.

May we all hear Jesus say: Talitha cumi. I say to you, arise.

May we be for one another worthy companions in service for the life of the world.

It is my privilege now, on behalf of this Providence Community, to call Sister Leslie (Tiêpthu Đào) to her first profession of vows.

What do you ask?

I believe our Saint Mother Theodore put it this way:

“If … you are quite determined to belong entirely to God, to work with all your strength … I say to you with assurance, Come.”

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Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski was elected General Superior of the Sisters of Providence in 2016. She has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. Previously she ministered as a teacher, as communication and development director for the sisters and their ministries and as a member of elected leadership on the general council of the Sisters of Providence.

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  1. Avatar Deb Griffey on July 1, 2024 at 6:29 am

    This was a beautiful reflection, in a touching and beautiful ceremony of profession of first vows. Welcome, Sister Leslie Dao!

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