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Archives Spotlight: Change is the unchanging theme for this Sisters of Providence congregation

Laddby Phyllis Ladd

Sixty years ago, on January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII announced the second Vatican Council, Vatican II (1962-1965). Sisters do not need to be reminded that the post-Vatican II era brought more than a change from habit to street clothes. It brought a sea change in how the Congregation governs itself and how Sisters lived with each other and the wider world. As the Congregation continues today to both create and weather change, their history reflects that change has always been a part of their lives.


 

Mother Mary of Providence, in her autobiography, wrote about St. Jerome’s school in Holyoke in 1875:

My assignment to schoolwork was somewhat of a disappointment to me, as I had been wooed to my vocation by a great sympathy for the Poor….Had I wished to teach, I might have entered elsewhere….Though engaged in schoolwork, I cherished…an overwhelming desire to see the attention of Superiors directed toward hospital progress….but seeing no progress was being made in that direction, I gradually ceased to hope, and confined myself to the field of service appointed me.

In a 1969 Report on the Spiritual Condition of the Congregation, Major Superior Sister Mary Loreto states:

Our administration has witnessed an era of transition to a new age in the Church and in the world….It should not surprise anyone this experimental stage is accompanied by a great deal of insecurity, confusion and tension. True growth always involves change, though not every change means true growth….No one can tell us how much prayer is needed for a balanced life, nor what kind. The spiritual life is above all a personal venture, the response of a personal call from God….Community exists only insofar as it contains persons who in their life have interiorized the mission they bear as baptized persons who communally share a vision of faith and a life of charity….There must be sharing, communication and mutual respect….we have much progress to make in these areas.

Chapter voting

This photo of Sisters of Providence voting at the Congregation's 1989 General Chapter is a prime example of the greater active participation and self-governance afforded religious during the post Vatican II era.

Experiencing transformation
In the next decades, remaining true to their charism and their mission, the Sisters of Providence transformed the process by which they lived and governed themselves. There were challenges in learning to be an active participant in the Community’s decisions. As one Sister pointed out, “It takes a lifetime for some people to learn to trust and to express themselves.” In 1980, Sister Kathleen Popko, working on the restating of the Congregation’s Constitution, described the document as the “product of an evolutionary process.”

Today, the Sisters, fewer in number, continue to evolve in their “retirement” as they support each other and the wider community in which they live in aging with grace and purpose.

 

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