Frequently Asked Questions
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Q. Who are the Sisters of Providence?
A. We are a Roman Catholic Congregation of women religious (nuns) who are dedicated to being God’s Providence in the world by committing ourselves to works of love, mercy and justice in service among God’s people. We serve where there is need and according to our own gifts and talents. You will find Sisters of Providence serving in education, social and ecological justice, health care and in Catholic parishes. The Sisters of Providence Congregation was founded in October 1840. Our mission is to “collaborate with others to create a more just and hope-filled world through prayer, education, service and advocacy.”
Q. Where are the Sisters of Providence located?
A. We serve in 17 states and the District of Columbia in the United States as well as in Asia. Did you know that the Sisters of Providence were the first American women’s Congregation to establish a mission in China? We’ve also previously had missions in Peru and Antigua. Our motherhouse, our community’s home, is located at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, which is 77 miles southwest of Indianapolis.
Q. How many Sisters of Providence are there?
A. Currently, there are more than 250 Sisters of Providence and 10 women in formation in the United States and Asia.
Q. Why don’t the Sisters of Providence wear habits anymore?
A. When our foundress Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and her five companions came over from France to the United States, they were dressed in French peasant clothing common to the culture and time in which they lived. The goal was never to stand apart from the people with whom they ministered. Think of Jesus and his ministry — he dressed appropriate to the times and community in which he lived. The Sisters of Providence now dress in modest, modern clothing suitable to the culture in which they live and minister, to make those with whom they minister feel comfortable and to best enable sisters to do their work. Sisters of Providence all wear a distinguishable white and silver cross as a religious, unifying symbol of the Congregation.
Q. When were the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods founded?
A: The Congregation of the Sisters of Providence was founded in 1840 by Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.
Q. How does a person become a Sister of Providence?
A. Most current sisters say they felt a calling or a “nudge” toward becoming a Catholic sister. They were curious and wanted to learn more. The process for determining a call from God to become a Sister of Providence is called discernment. Single, Catholic women between the ages of 18 and 42 are invited to consider religious life as a Sister of Providence. If you feel a nudge toward life as a Catholic sister or would like more information about becoming a Sister of Providence, see the Become a Sister section of our website.
Q. How can I get more involved with the Sisters of Providence?
A. There are many ways that you can be in relationship with the Congregation. You can become a volunteer at one of our ministries or intern for a period of time at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice. You can attend one or more events sponsored by the Sisters of Providence. Women and men of all faith traditions can walk with us as Providence Associates. You can apply for a staff position at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. You can support the Congregation through your donations. Learn more about getting involved or about joining us.
Q: What is the relationship of the Sisters of Providence to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College?
A: The Sisters of Providence started Saint Mary’s Female Institute (also known as the Academy) in 1841, in response to a request from the bishop of Vincennes, who asked the sisters to help educate Catholic immigrants in Indiana. The Academy was incorporated as Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1928 and the Congregation and the College now operate as separate organizations with different governing entities. The College is considered a sponsored institution of the SPs and sisters serve on its Board of Directors.
About Saint Mary-of-the-Woods
Q. What is Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana?
A: Saint Mary-of-the-Woods is home to the Sisters of Providence and several of our ministries, including White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, the Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin , the National Shrine of Our Lady of Providence and our events, programs, and retreats. Also located at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods are Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and Providence Health Care, Inc., both separately incorporated, sponsored institutions of the Sisters of Providence. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Village, a community of private citizens, is adjacent to the Sisters of Providence property and was named prior to the arrival of the sisters. In 2017, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and includes 26 buildings over a 67-acre area belonging to the Sisters of Providence and the College.
Q. Where is Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana?
A. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods is located 10 minutes northwest of downtown Terre Haute in west central Indiana. It’s located about 77 miles southwest of Indianapolis; 190 miles south of Chicago; 160 miles east of St. Louis; and 113 miles north of Evansville. See further directions here.
Q. Can I visit Saint Mary-of-the-Woods?
A: Absolutely! All are welcome at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, whether you want to visit for a few hours or a day. There is much to see and do. Start your visit at the welcome center located in Providence Spirituality & Conference Center, where we will be happy to help you plan your time. Individuals, families and groups will all find something interesting when they visit the Sisters of Providence.
Becoming a Sister of Providence
Q. Who can become a Sister of Providence?
A. We welcome single, Catholic women between the ages of 18 and 42 without any dependents to consider if you are being called to life as a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Q. Are there educational requirements to enter?
A. There are no specific educational requirements to enter. But we do find that women who have had some life experience are more prepared to make a life-long commitment. So we prefer that, in addition to having completed high school, you have at least two years of professional, college or life experience that could lead you toward a ministry in line with living out the mission of the Sisters of Providence.
Q. Do I have to be Catholic to become a Sister of Providence? Can I be a convert?
A. To enter the Sisters of Providence, you do have to be a Roman Catholic. Those who have converted to the Roman Catholic faith are welcomed! If you are in the process of becoming a Catholic, you are welcome to begin discerning with the Sisters of Providence.
Q. How is being a sister different than being a dedicated single person of faith?
A. Sisters of Providence profess life-long vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. We live in community when at all possible and become a member of a community. We hold all things in common, live simply and dedicate ourselves to lives of service and prayer.
Q. Do your sisters live singly or in community?
A. Our sisters live in community when at all possible. This includes a variety of living situations. Some live in small community settings of 2-5 sisters. Others may live in a larger convent setting with 10 or more sisters. In some instances a sister whose ministry or other circumstances brings her to an area where no other Sisters of Providence minister may live singly for a time. All members of the Congregation who are able gather at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for a week each summer for an annual meeting.
Q. Do you accept sisters from overseas?
A. We accept sisters from overseas from countries in which we currently minister. Currently we accept new sisters from within the United States, Taiwan and some other areas of Asia.
Q. How are you different than other congregations of sisters?
A. Just like individual people or families have unique personalities and differences, so do Congregations of women religious. Founded by a strong woman leader and originally founded to educate women, our congregation remains dedicated to education in all its forms. Sisters of Providence were historically teachers and many sisters are well educated with advanced degrees. We also continue our legacy of advocating for equal rights for women. We are committed to care of Earth, ecological and social justice, and serving and advocating for people on the margins of society. We are an apostolic Congregation of sisters, meaning we serve others out in the world, as opposed to monastic or cloistered communities who dedicate their lives to prayer, some of whom rarely leave their convents.
Q. Can I still see my family and friends if I enter?
A. Yes! Sisters of Providence maintain family ties. Sisters may visit their families and friends as their schedule allows. Family and friends are also welcome to visit the sisters.