Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, the General Officer liaison to the Providence Associate Relationship, answers a few questions about herself, the associate movement and Providence Associates in particular.
1.) How important is the Providence Associate Relationship to the Congregation?
This relationship is not just important — we think the relationship is vital. The greatest evidence of that is our recent Chapter commitment, in which we said:
We will create new forms of collaboration with Providence Associates and other partners for the mission.
We also have dedicated significant resources to nurturing this relationship. What’s that scripture passage: Wherever your treasure lies, there also is your heart. We do treasure our associates, and the various programs and activities that have been created show that: the orientation sessions, the one-on-one companion program, the commitment and renewals ceremonies, the retreats — even the existence of an advisory board, composed of associates, sisters and staff members to help lead the way.
And more and more, we are including our associates in the life of the Congregation. They have attended parts of our Annual Meeting and our recent General Chapter. Sisters through their LGUs or in their geographic regions have invited associates into various activities from socials to inclusion in book clubs and other gatherings.
And then there is the whole realm of how the associates themselves are advancing the mission of Providence by their very presence in the many places where they live and work. If that isn’t vital. …
2.) What do you believe is the future of the associate movement in general?
Someone shared an article with me recently in which it was reported that there are: “currently 50,000 lay associates in North American countries, which is a big jump from a survey in 2000 by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which reported 24,500-plus associates (although not all orders responded to the survey). That 2000 survey showed an 11,000 increase from a survey taken in 1995.”
The movement is growing. It seems to me that there is a future for this movement because of people’s deep desire for connection with something and someone bigger than themselves — to express and live a charism that is already deep within themselves. This movement seems to have found a way for people to do this in a meaningful way, in a mutually beneficial way for the religious communities involved and for the associates themselves.
3.) What do you think is the greatest challenge for the Providence Associate Relationship?
The greatest challenge might be for all of us to recognize that the Providence Associate Relationship is a unique relationship that is within the Congregation — not outside of it. How can we Sisters of Providence best nurture that relationship and how can Providence Associates best nurture that relationship, so that together we honor Divine Providence through our works of love, mercy and justice.
Another challenge, I think, as our Chapter Focus suggests, is to find new and deeper means of collaboration. My own desire for the future is that we explore ways to draw younger lay people into association and even family groupings.
4.) What did you learn the year you were a companion to Donna Kehoe? Did you know Donna before becoming her companion? What did you most enjoy about that year of candidacy?
In so many ways, Donna has become my sister — just as I know my Sisters of Providence to be sister to me.
It was clear to me that she didn’t want to BE a Sister of Providence but that she did want to have the charism of Providence, especially as she has experienced it through the Sisters of Providence, animate her life.
I did not know Donna before we became companions but she came with such openness to me, to the community, to where Providence was leading her that I came to know her pretty easily and at a depth level. I think she would say the same of me. She came into my life at a time when I needed the inspiration of her faith and the strength of her love of the God named Providence to lift me up. I feel pretty certain we will be lifelong companions.
5.) Why did you want to be the general officer liaison for the Providence Associate Relationship?
Having had the privilege of being a companion to an associate and participating in various association activities in Chicago with other associates and their companions gave me the opportunity to see the movement in action. I have a real desire to support these efforts and for this relationship to grow, for our collaboration to deepen.
And frankly, my own Providence journey has been filled with so many meaningful companions. I have been blessed to stay in touch with many of these friends in significant ways over the years — I am godmother to their children, I go to dance recitals and first communions, I sing at their weddings and funerals; and they have been with me in the dyings and risings of my own life. I know the power that relationships of this nature can have in one’s life and in the life of a community.
6.) What three things do you want associates and sisters to know about you?
I’m not sure I can identify anything new that most people don’t already know about me. I am highly relational; I really love to be with other people of all ages.
I even enjoy going to meetings because together we accomplish so much more.
And I often say, I was made for community — the first time I had my own room was when I entered the Congregation and the first time my family lived in a single-family dwelling I was already in college. I have lived with and vacationed with siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, grandparents most of my life!
7.) Do you believe, as Sister Catherine “Cathy” Schwemer, PHJC, said this summer during the Annual Gathering, that associates are a faith community? If you do, why?
If by faith community you mean a group of people, regardless of race or creed, joined together by a common focus, goal, or idea, then Providence Associates are definitely a faith community. Providence is that common focus — not just the Sisters of Providence, but Providence itself. And at the heart of our associate movement is the mission of the Sisters of Providence, which is to honor Divine Providence and to further God’s loving plans by devoting itself to works of love, mercy and justice in service among God’s people. As I read the commitments our associates make, I am in awe at the ways we now share this mission, spread this mission and enliven this mission.
8.) What do you say to sisters who have been thinking about becoming a companion to a candidate?
Go for it! “Companions” is absolutely the best title for this relationship — you will be confidants, colleagues, friends. The definition I like best for companion is fellow traveler. Exploring the holy mystery and charism of Providence is something you will do together, and you will both be better AND happier for having made the journey.
9.) Is there anything you’d like to say about Sister Diane Mason and her leadership?
Sister Diane has been a real blessing to the associates movement within the Congregation. She worked side-by-side with Sister Mary Alice Zander to set this wonderful movement into motion, and she has done a masterful job in the face of Sister Mary Alice’s sickness and eventual death to honor the vision that was developed. In the process, she has leaned on the associates themselves for leadership, help and strength.
What I like best about Sister Diane as the director is that she constantly talks about the Providence Associate Relationship as being Spirit-led. It is not about her agenda for associates; she really is trying to be open to the movement of the spirit within the Congregation and within the associates. I think her vision for the future is to find new ways for associates to deepen their understanding and love of Providence. And I can only believe, as Mother Theodore reminds us: “You will see things in a new light if you give the Holy Spirit free access to your minds and your hearts.”