August 16, 2013

Special Aug. 25 celebration to honor Sisters of Providence

Providence Sisters Loretta Gansemer, left, Rose Eichman, Hannah Corbin, Joanne Cullins, Maria Smith and Barbara Zeller will be honored during a special Aug. 25 celebration in Georgetown. (Submitted photo)

Providence Sisters Loretta Gansemer, left, Rose Eichman, Hannah Corbin, Joanne Cullins, Maria Smith and Barbara Zeller will be honored during a special Aug. 25 celebration in Georgetown. (Submitted photo)

By Dale Moss (Special to The Criterion)

GEORGETOWN—A large, adoring crowd seems certain on Aug. 25 near the Dollar General Store in Georgetown.

After all, who can pass up a good 305th anniversary celebration?

The party salutes six Sisters of Providence, yes, for three-plus centuries of service and devotion. All still help the ever-evolving campus of Providence House/Guerin Woods continue as a unique oasis both for old and young. There is certainly more than plenty to appreciate. But 305?

Well, a story within this story involves another anniversary, one more typically recognized. One of these religious, Providence Sister Barbara Ann Zeller, has reached 50 years in the order. As seniority goes, Sister Barbara is way down this remarkable list.

As responsibility goes, though, she is first and foremost. Admiring this bucolic, now 24-building campus is easy. Imagining, planning, building and managing it is not. Sister Barbara called and still calls on lots of help from more than her religious sisters. To single out anyone for the place’s success is to single out Sister Barbara, its founder and administrator. Not that she, true to her calling, lives to be singled out.

So Sister Barbara’s party fittingly is to be a party, too, for Providence Sisters Joanne Cullins (67 years), Loretta Maureen Gansemer (64 years), Rose Eichman (61 years), Maria Smith (59 years) and Hannah Corbin (three years). “Three hundred and five years of consecrated faithfulness,” Sister Barbara said.

“That is a bunch.”

As is the cumulative good provided at Providence House/Guerin Woods. Little wonder this ministry struggles not to assist but to meet demands. People wait on lists for senior apartments and for nursing care. A senior center offers meals, fun gatherings and educational programming for residents and visitors alike. Buildings long used for foster care—a service reluctantly sacrificed by a change in government priorities—now are occupied by families in strife seeking to reunify. Unlike that dollar store, the set-back campus off State Road 64 can be overlooked. It clearly is not, however, by those who could benefit by it.

Patty Luckett moved in to a Guerin Woods two-bedroom apartment five years ago, ready for a smaller, simpler-to-care-for home. As Luckett moved in, neighbors invited her for coffee and conversation. Sister Barbara and the other sisters learned not only her name, but those of her children. Luckett considers herself very fortunate. “Whoever comes here feels the spirit of respect and kindness for each other,” she said.

Luckett is not the least bit surprised these sisters go on and on and on in selflessness. “They still want to be a gift to people, a help to people,” Luckett said. “They just don’t want to quit.”

Diane Murphy, a local banker, sits on the board of directors for Guerin Inc., honored to play a role in what she calls the phenomenon that is the campus. Like so many others, Murphy marvels at Sister Barbara’s potent mix of business acumen and spirituality. Being both what she is, and who she is, Sister Barbara is indeed a difficult woman to whom to say no.

“People have such faith in her,” Murphy said.

Some of these sisters served years, too, as teachers or social workers or both. Among her stops, Sister Barbara administered Providence Retirement Home for about a decade. By 1994, the women turned their convent residence in New Albany into a foster home for abused and neglected children. The sisters expanded their reach to people in public housing, helping them earn GEDs and find jobs. A food co-op was set up, and classes in parenting were among several taught. When other needs became obvious, they likewise were addressed.

“We really tried to create a seamless situation,” Sister Barbara said.

The “Church ladies of New Albany,” the sisters often were called.

With Sister Barbara at her persuasive and determined best, they resettled in Georgetown on former dairy-farm land given to them by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Develop it or give it back was the arrangement. Develop it beyond imagination is what has happened.

The budget for this not-for-profit operation (actually, three corporations) is about $5 million, with 90 employees on the payroll and nearly 20,000 people helped in one way or another. The property is still not all in use; nothing new is definite but more is obviously possible.

“I love to create stuff,” Sister Barbara said. “It’s fun, and it’s wholesome. It just seems so natural.”

“It’s our way of life,” Sister Joanne added.

The celebration is at 1 p.m. on Aug. 25. Among those expected is Bishop Christopher Coyne, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. A light meal will be served following a liturgy.

(Dale Moss is a member of St. Augustine Parish in Jeffersonville. For more information on the Aug. 25 celebration, call 812-951-1878. The campus’ address is 8037 Unruh Drive, Georgetown.)

Local site Links: