January 7, 2011

Religious Vocations Supplement

Sisters of Providence show love in mercy, justice and service

By Dave Cox (Special to The Criterion)

Love flourishes with the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. It has to. It is part of the congregation which, as is expressed in its mission statement “…devot[es] itself to works of love, mercy and justice in service among God’s people.”

It flourishes through Providence Sister Regina Gallo, who ministers as a chaplain and spiritual care coordinator at Bethany Terrace Nursing-Rehabilitation Center in Morton Grove, Ill.

“The love comes from one human heart reaching out and touching another. As a chaplain in a nursing home, I walk with people in the final miles of their life’s journey,” said Sister Regina. “I sit with them in their fear, pain, sorrow and sometimes joy as they prepare to see their God face to face.

“Love comes from sitting in the mystery of God’s presence, asking to step out of the way to allow God to do God’s work, and being a channel of God’s love, hope, healing, mercy and compassion.”

It flourishes through Providence Sister Dina Bato, a mission novice.

“When I was at Providence Cristo Rey [High School in Indianapolis], I was awed by the faculty and staff who work with the students,” she said. “Some work very long hours toward providing a quality education for the students. Being a part-time theological studies graduate student, love looks like passion exuded by students and faculty working together to grow in knowledge and understanding of spiritual matters—matters that, to me, are missing links to wholeness in our society.”

Sister Regina and Sister Dina are among eight women currently in initial formation or who have professed temporary vows with the Sisters of Providence. Sister Regina is a temporary professed sister in her tertian year, and Sister Dina is in her canonical mission year.

Love also flourishes through Providence Sister Jenny Howard, the congregation’s vocation director.

“In my ministry, love takes on many facets. It flourishes in relationship with God, with others, and with the Earth,” she said. “I definitely see it in the women [that] I journey with as they discern God’s call. I am able to witness God’s tender and unconditional love for each of the women as God lures them to become most fully the person each is called to be.”

“In a broken, violent and shattered world, love comes at times when we least expect it,” Sister Regina said. “Love will come when complete strangers begin to help each other. Love comes when we respond to each other, not with a glare of anger and frustration, but with the eyes of compassion. Love comes when we choose to act and respond in a loving way with our words, thoughts and deeds.”

Sister Dina emphasized the role of companionship, especially in times of need, to demonstrate how love flourishes.

“In the public around me, love looks like camaraderie one expresses to another in assisting him or her in a time of need,” she said. “Love also looks like the number of people willing to journey with others desiring to enter into full communion with the Church.”

Sister Jenny, speaking about all of the women in the congregation’s formation program, and those who are in discernment or might be considering discernment, reflected on how love reveals itself through a spiritual connection.

“I see in their hearts the longing and desire to come to know God more deeply and, in response to that love, to use each one’s own unique gifts as a witness and messenger of God’s love, mercy and justice in our world,” Sister Jenny said. “These women desire to be part of something greater than themselves, to connect with others who share that same passion and vision for a better world for all of God’s people, and for the Earth itself.”

Explaining how she lives out Christ’s call for unconditional love, Sister Dina said, “I try to follow Jesus’ words of love for others by trying to understand and respect where they are coming from while trying to stay true to myself. Every single person has within himself or herself an indomitable spirit destined for holiness, and that spirit cannot exist independently of others. A level of trust and openness must be honored in order to live honestly and lovingly.”

Sister Regina agrees.

“It first and foremost begins with my relationship with Jesus. It begins with my asking the questions and praying for the grace to be open to answers. When I focus on my relationship with Jesus, when I look at how he lived his life, in his humanity, I am given glimpses of how I am called and challenged to live my life in order to truly love one another as he has loved me/us. It is not always easy.”

To bring to life the commitment of flourishing love within her community, Sister Jenny invoked the spirit of St. Theodora Guérin, the congregation’s foundress, who was canonized on Oct. 15, 2006. “She once said to her sisters, ‘Love all in God, and for God, and all will be well.’ Our life as Sisters of Providence calls us to do just that.”

(For more information about the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, log on to www.spsmw.org.)

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