January 13, 2006

2006 Religious Vocations Supplement

Sisters of Providence find miracles
in center-city neighborhood

By Mary Ann Wyand

It truly is a “miracle place.”

Providence Sisters Barbara McClelland and Rita Ann Wade founded the center-city ministry in 1999 at 940 N. Temple Ave. in Indianapolis, and believe God’s Providence helped them establish this hospitality house in a transitional near-eastside neighborhood to provide a variety of services to the poor.

“In 1999, we were given permission [by the Sisters of Providence] to begin a new ministry, which we named Miracle Place,” Sister Barbara said. “When we spoke with the [congregation’s] general council, we envisioned a neighborhood ministry which would evolve as the needs presented themselves.”

Their new ministry enabled Sister Barbara and Sister Rita Ann to return to the near-eastside and minister to the white, mostly elderly residents who have lived in the neighborhood for many years as well as younger African-American and Hispanic families who moved there in recent years. Most residents have incomes that are below the federal poverty level.

Both sisters lived at the former Holy Cross Parish convent on the near-eastside until it was closed in 1996, and enjoyed an informal part-time backdoor ministry of providing hospitality and food for neighborhood residents.

Sister Barbara joined the congregation in 1967 and served as the principal at Holy Cross Central School from 1981 to 1996.

Sister Rita Ann joined the order in 1948 and taught fifth-grade and eighth-grade classes at Holy Cross School before she began a new ministry as a chaplain at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis in 1977.

Now they are ministering together as co-directors of Miracle Place, which officially opened on Aug. 15, 2000. Administrative assistant Cate Dion Lane assists the sisters in this ministry, which relies on donations and volunteers. A grant from the congregation provided funding for three years.

“Our outreach to the near-eastside neighborhood is an effort to re-create a community vibrant with care and concern, where people can feel safe and neighbors can once again enjoy one another,” Sister Barbara said. “Hopefully, our presence dispels some of the fear and distrust that had grown. In our ministry at Miracle Place, there are opportunities for direct service to those who lack some of what many [people] may take for granted.”

Miracle Place offers after-school care for children, English classes for Hispanic adults, activities for senior citizens, academic and sports programs for youth, and support and counseling.

Picnics in the backyard at Miracle Place help build community by fostering friendships among neighbors, and seasonal gifts from the ministry to residents include fruit baskets, Easter lilies, boxes of food and even bicycles.

“I had been in chaplaincy for 22 years,” Sister Rita Ann said. “I noticed the loneliness of people in the hospital and wanted to do something that would bring people together so they would have companionship and feel a part of some place. Barbara and I felt that we did somewhat of a similar ministry at Holy Cross Parish. We used to give people food when the parish office and food pantry were closed.”

Providence led the way for them, Sister Rita Ann said, as they began to plan the new center-city ministry.

“We knew that we wanted to do neighborhood ministry and work with children,” she said. “We told our superiors at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods that we would like it to evolve, and that’s what has happened.”

There were too many coincidences and unexpected offers of help as they worked together to make Miracle Place a reality, Sister Barbara said, so they decided that God and Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin—the foundress of the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods—have blessed their ministry to the poor.

“Both of us loved our former ministries,” Sister Barbara said, “but we felt that we could be of service in a different way and that other people were quite capable of doing our school and hospital ministries.

“God called us [to this new ministry] and things opened up for us very easily,” she said. “Money was there when we needed it. A businessman gave us an initial donation which inspired us to move on. At the time, our community had new ministry grant funds available, and that was providential. We didn’t set out to get those funds, but they happened to be available to us at the time we asked permission to do this. We had three days to write a proposal. That was a wonderful opportunity. God has worked with us.”

After the sisters acquired the house, they needed funds to renovate it and an anonymous donor soon offered them enough money to complete the house repairs so they could begin their ministry in this home mission territory.

“This area has problems with drugs and crime,” Sister Rita Ann said. “Many of the seniors own their homes and have lived here for many years. They’ve seen the neighborhood go down, and now they have hope that there will be a resurgence of families living in the neighborhood. Miracle Place gives them hope for the survival of the neighborhood.

“I think our reliance on Providence has increased with this ministry,” Sister Rita Ann said. “That’s been one of the fruits of the ministry.”

Miracles continue to happen there, the sisters said, as neighborhood revitalization funds from government and corporate grants enable residents to repair the deteriorated old houses.

“We’re trying to offer a sense of beauty and dignity to the people,” Sister Barbara said. “One of the greatest ways [that] Miracle Place has helped the community is through a grant received from the Federal Home Loan Bank to rehab homes in the neighborhood. The $280,000 [grant in 2002] was entirely for the purpose of renovating homes owned by people who live in our immediate area. Our senior citizens, in particular, benefited. New roofs, furnaces [and] electrical wiring were just some of the improvements which were made.”

Sister Barbara and Sister Rita Ann also were amazed when the congregation’s general council granted permission for the ministry to own homes and vacant lots in the neighborhood for a short time to renovate and beautify the properties—then sell them to low-income people. The goal is to provide affordable, suitable and stable housing so families can put down roots and take pride in their neighborhood.

During the past five years, Sister Barbara said, she has seen “God’s Providence manifest itself more and more and more in my life and in this ministry through benefactors, volunteers and neighborhood residents. It is a very humbling experience for me to be able to share God’s love here and minister to people in this neighborhood because I see their goodness.”

The most surprising miracle, the sisters said, was the unexpected gift of a linden tree with heart-shaped leaves from Eastside Community Investments to beautify the front yard of Miracle Place.

“That was Blessed Mother Theodore’s favorite tree,” Sister Rita Ann said. “She used to send a [linden] sapling to new missions. She would say ‘Do your best and God will do the rest.’ We have both felt her presence.”

(For more information about Miracle Place, call 317-423-3064.) †


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