I am writing this from a village called St. Mary of the Woods, outside of West Terre Haute, Indiana, home of the Sisters of Providence, where I attended the commitment ceremony to become a Providence Associate on Saturday. The Providence Associates are lay people who agree to support the mission of the Sisters of Providence for a year or longer, by adhering to the congregation’s charism of Love, Mercy and Justice. The congregation was founded during the first half of the 19th Century by the recently canonized Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, who came from France in the early 1800s with the mission of founding a religious order that would dedicate itself to the education of young women in the New World.
I spent the last year preparing for this occasion by going through the different exercises required of Associate Candidates with the help of my companion, Sister Ann Sullivan, SP. She is an accomplished woman, and one of the most intelligent women I’ve met. She holds degrees in psychology and theology. and is the founder of the White Violet Center for Eco Justice here at St. Mary of the Woods. She also currently teachers Theology at the St. Mary of the Woods College. I find her to be quite enlightened about our mission on this earth, and I am privileged to know her. Also, thanks to her hospitality, I have been able to spend extra time here in “the Woods,” and to familiarize myself with the works and ministries of this group of dedicated servants of Christ.
This has been a truly enriching experience. I have learned a great deal about the inner workings of a religious order–which in my opinion makes up an almost Utopian organization of society–I have met wonderful women, and have been lavished with much attention and kindnesses on the part of the Sisters. I am even learning new skills! I am working at the White Violet Center where all manner of sustainable activity is going on, from the cultivation of an organic garden, to the raising of alpacas and the processing of their fleece for the manufacture of finished wool products that are sold at their store and online. I already have learned the basic principles of a process called “skirting,” which is the classification of the different grades of fleece as it is sheared from the animals; I have also tried my hand at carding the wool (see video), by using a special hand-cranked carding machine or “drum” that produces what is known as a “batt,” a veritable “pillow” of material, created when the fibers are all lined up to go in the same direction, and are later used for different projects. I am also trying my hand at needle felting, which is a process for shaping fleece into different ornamental objects, such as figures, shapes, etc., by using a special felting needle and a mold.
This is a beautiful place as well. In a peaceful setting amid the woods, one can walk around and immerse oneself in meditation, day-dreaming, or just nature watching. There are sculptures of religious figures, scattered throughout, little shrines tucked inside alcoves formed by shrubbery, places where one can sit and just relax, There is a chapel made of shells (St. Anne’s Chapel); there is a replica of the Lourdes Grotto, and there is even e labyrinth. I hope the photos below will give a glimpse of the beauty of these grounds.