Connecting with the Sisters of Providence
In the eyes of many, Sister Joni Luna had it all.
She had taught physical education for more than 20 years. She was an athletic director. She had material possessions and was just about to purchase that recreational vehicle she had always wanted.
But something was missing.
“I was in my late 30s and life was good,” Sister Joni said. “But the more material possessions I had, the emptier I felt. I had everything and still, something was missing.”
Sister Joni said at that point, she turned to exploring spirituality through different churches. A friend then suggested she come to a Catholic Church and she did. At the time, she wasn’t a practicing Catholic, but while at the church in her native state of Texas, she saw a flier that had been posted by Sister of Providence Sister Barbara Bluntzer. The flier offered people with little knowledge of Catholicism to learn more about the church.
Sister Joni began discussing spirituality with Sister Barbara, but was still searching for more. Sister Barbara then encouraged her to travel to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.
Sister Joni’s first visit to the Woods was for a “Come and See” weekend for women considering religious life, although at the time, she did not want to become a woman religious.
“But I felt something there,” she said. “Something I had never felt before. I didn’t want to be a sister, but I kept coming back.”
Eventually, the sacredness of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods grew on Sister Joni and an old thought crept up in her mind.
Sister Joni said she believes she thought of religious life while she was in grade school, but initially, chose a different route. But after meeting the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, that thought breezed past everything else and into the forefront.
“I thought I’d give it a try,” she said. “I could always leave and buy the RV. But as Providence would have it, things have worked out and I’m still here.
“You enter community and spend three years learning who you are,” she continued. “The masks that we build start to peel away and you become the person God created you to be.”
Sister Joni entered the second year of formation in 2014. During that year, she volunteered with Saint Mary-of-the-Woods campus ministry.
Sister Joni said three of the reasons she chose the consecrated path with the Sisters of Providence were: To be the best person she can be; to get to know herself; and to serve God intentionally.
“Those three things continue to happen every day,” she said. “There is an adjustment period, but the sisters allow you to watch and learn through their example. There is something peaceful to how the sisters live. They truly live intentional.”
In 2015, she began her third year of formation, called the mission novice year. She is ministering as the assistant principal at St. Patrick’s School, the only Catholic school in Terre Haute, Indiana.
St. Patrick’s – a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school – has 329 students. The school was originally founded by the Sisters of Providence in 1881.
Then pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish, Rev. Thomas X. Logan, approached Mother Mary Ephrem Glenn – the general superior at the time – to finance a convent and school for his parish. Mother Mary Ephrem agreed and the sisters purchased a piece of property next to the church grounds. In 1882, four Sisters of Providence officially opened the school.
The school remained at its original location until the 1950s when the parish began fundraising to build a new church and rectory at a different location.
In 1995, the parish raised funds for new space and renovation. The new media center is dedicated to Sister Mary Moeller, who ministered as the school’s principal from 1987-96.
Even though Sister Joni has a background in education, she feels that her ministry at St. Patrick’s is a breath of fresh air.
“The atmosphere is different,” she said, comparing a Catholic school to a public school. “You can talk about God. I feel like my hands have been untied and I’m able to reach out to students.”
St. Patrick’s School Principal Amy McClain said she is pleased to have Sister Joni aboard.
“Sister Joni brings a whole new level of energy to our staff,” McClain said. “I love the way she works with children. When she meets with teachers, she brings a positive air and I think the sisters feel that, too.
“She has also done a really good job of connecting us back to the Woods.”