February 3, 2017

General superior brings communications background to ministry

Providence Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, left, walks on Oct. 3, 2014, along a coffin containing the remains of St. Mother Theodore Guérin as it was taken to a new shrine built in her honor on the campus of the motherhouse of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Sister Dawn was elected general superior of the Sisters of Providence on July 3, 2016. Also accompanying the coffin are, from left, Providence Sister Mary Beth Klingel, Tony DuBois, Providence Sister Lisa Stallings (partially obscured) and Providence Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior at the time. (Photo courtesy of the Sisters of Providence of Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods)

Providence Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, left, walks on Oct. 3, 2014, along a coffin containing the remains of St. Mother Theodore Guérin as it was taken to a new shrine built in her honor on the campus of the motherhouse of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Sister Dawn was elected general superior of the Sisters of Providence on July 3, 2016. Also accompanying the coffin are, from left, Providence Sister Mary Beth Klingel, Tony DuBois, Providence Sister Lisa Stallings (partially obscured) and Providence Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior at the time. (Photo courtesy of the Sisters of Providence of Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods)

By Sean Gallagher

Providence Sister Dawn Tomaszewski is a communicator. She studied journalism as a college student in the early 1970s at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Later, as a member of the Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, she served at different periods as communications director for her religious order and her college and high school alma mater.

Elected to a five-year term as the 19th general superior of the Sisters of Providence on July 3, 2016, Sister Dawn now has the task of communicating regularly with the members of the congregation’s leadership team, known as its General Council, the members of the congregation as a whole and the outside world about the order’s mission and ministry.

She’s also communicating frequently with St. Mother Theodore Guérin, who founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840 and is Indiana’s first saint. She will sometimes visit Mother Theodore’s shrine on the motherhouse campus where her remains are on display for veneration.

“There have been more than a few days that … I’ve stopped in and sat in that little chapel and said, ‘Help us know what it is we’re being called to do,’ ” Sister Dawn said. “She was so trustful, so open to God’s action in her life. So, I think to myself that we’re going to be just fine if we’re faithful to being daughters of Mother Theodore, daughters of the Woods, as she liked to call us.”

Sister Dawn was her congregation’s communications director in the mid-1980s when it renewed its efforts to promote Mother Theodore’s canonization cause. She learned at that time how much of a communicator Indiana’s first saint was through her many letters and journals, which Sister Dawn now likens to Facebook posts or tweets on Twitter.

She found soon after her election that the news was quickly shared through such social media platforms.

“The election was supposed to be this secret process,” Sister Dawn said with a laugh. “We’re all in the dining room casting ballots. And I hardly get outside the room and here are all these messages showing up on Facebook because somebody inside the room has posted what had happened.”

Sister Dawn looks back on Mother Theodore’s writings, and tries to take to heart their deeper meaning.

“What I have learned most from her writings is her desire to remain in right relationship with all people—even those with whom she might be struggling,” she said. “She used the vehicles she had at hand to accomplish this. This has had a great influence on me—as a person, as a communicator, and, now, as general superior.

“It seems to me she was never afraid to approach someone, raise an issue with someone, offer a kind word or a challenging word, if needed. So, I hope to do that in my own way in these times.”

Sister Dawn had this approach to communications instilled in her at a young age when she grew up around many members of her extended family in her native Chicago.

“I’ve always felt like I was formed in a loving community,” she said. “That, for me, is really part of the power of being a woman religious. It’s the community. It’s not ‘I,’ it’s ‘we.’ ”

As Sister Dawn communicates with the members of her congregation about the fulfillment of their mission in the future, this focus on community will play a large role.

“We do this together,” she said. “Together, we are providence. Not ‘I,’ ‘we.’ Together, we can have one impact, one voice, one heart.”

In the meeting of the members of the order in which she was elected general superior, the sisters did much to begin discerning what they called their “emerging future.”

Much of this happened in discussions aimed at consensus building about the sisters’ future role in education, which has been the historic focus of their ministry, but also in advocacy and in bringing about a greater justice in society and in the broader environment.

“The consensus builds so that we can have a collective impact, make a statement and hopefully effect positive change,” Sister Dawn said. “That is how we’ll figure out our emerging future together, in a reflective and contemplative way. That allows the signs of the times to really break through.”

Achieving this mission will happen, she said, through the ministry of the Sisters of Providence, the cooperation of its lay Providence Associates and others in and beyond the broader Church, and communicating well with all of them.

One of the members of the congregation with whom Sister Dawn will communicate as general superior will be Providence Sister Cathy Campbell, who was a high school journalism teacher of Sister Dawn in the late 1960s at Guérin College Preparatory High School in River Grove, Ill.

“I was very pleased and humbled,” said Sister Cathy of Sister Dawn’s election as general superior. “When you play a part in a kid’s life, you never know exactly how that journey is going to unwind and unfold.”

Sister Cathy, who is the coordinator of the archdiocese’s Circle of Grace program, a safe environment training program for children in grades K-12 in archdiocesan schools and catechetical programs, called Sister Dawn “the right person at the right time” to lead the Sisters of Providence.

“Clearly, one of her strengths is her ability to communicate, both as a listener and as someone who sends messages out,” Sister Cathy said. “She has a real gift for being able to catch the themes that people are very concerned about, and to be able to articulate a vision of their sense of who they are and who we are at a particular time.”

In all of the communicating that Sister Dawn will do as general superior, she will bring a conviction about the goodness of religious life and of the mission of the community founded by Mother Theodore.

“I believe in religious life very strongly,” Sister Dawn said. “I believe in the charism of providence. It’s a charism for this time. And I want to have the same kind of trust that Mother Theodore had, that if we’re faithful and open to God and God’s providence, God will lead us where we need to go.”
 

(To learn more about the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, visit www.spsmw.org.)

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