January 8, 2021

Sister Nancy Nolan served as general superior of Sisters of Providence

Criterion staff report

Providence Sister Nancy NolanProvidence Sister Nancy Nolan (formerly Sister Jean Paula) died on Dec. 20 at Mother Theodore Hall on the motherhouse campus of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in St. Mary-of-the-Woods. She was 84 and had served as general superior of her religious order from 1986-96.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a virtual funeral service was held on Dec. 28. Burial followed at the sisters’ cemetery.

Sister Nancy was born on May 13, 1936, in Galesburg, Ill. She entered the Sisters of Providence on Feb. 2, 1955, and professed final vows on Aug. 15, 1962.

Her family had deep connections to the community, with two of her sisters joining it before her.

“My grandfather’s sister, Sister Modesta Nolan, joined the Sisters of Providence, so the sisters were always important to our family,” Sister Nancy once said. “My memory is in fourth grade when a sister asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I knew I wanted to be a sister. I know I was influenced by the sisters who taught me. That is important because my two sisters joined the community before I did, but I remembered I wanted to join before they did.”

Sister Nancy earned a bachelor’s degree in education at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, a master’s degree in education at the University of Illinois and a master’s degree in pastoral studies at Loyola University Chicago.

In her 66 years as a member of the Sisters of Providence, Sister Nancy ministered for 12 years in Catholic schools in Illinois, Indiana and Oklahoma. In the archdiocese, she served at St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis from 1959-65 and as associate administrator and director of religious education at the former St. Ann Parish in Terre Haute from 1985-86.

In the 1970s, Sister Nancy began serving in positions of leadership, ministering as provincial of her community’s St. Joseph Province in Illinois and then as the associate executive secretary for the Asian Bishops Conference, based in Taiwan.

After she returned to the United States, she was elected general superior of the Sisters of Providence, serving in that role from 1986-96.

“It was the greatest privilege of my life,” Sister Nancy said of her years of service as general superior. “I felt very honored to be in that position. And I said many times that it probably was the best 10 years of my life.”

During her tenure, the community celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding and saw progress made on the beatification and canonization cause of its foundress, Mother Theodore Guérin, who was declared Indiana’s first saint by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

Providence Sister Ann Casper, who served as the community’s general secretary at the time that Sister Nancy ministered as general superior, said that Sister Nancy “was the perfect leader for those 10 years. Her laid-back style was somewhat misleading, for she was a woman of great wisdom, vision, strength and courage.”

Sister Nancy is survived by a brother, John Nolan, and two sisters, Providence Sister Carol Nolan and Providence Sister Lucille Nolan.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Sisters of Providence, 1 Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, IN, 47876. †

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