Kingston Sisters attended the anniversary celebration in Holyoke. l to r: Sisters Una Byrne, Gayle Desarmia, Frances O’Brien, Sandra Shannon, Pauline Lally and Irene Wilson.

By Pat St. Amand
Months after the Canadian Sisters of Providene of St. Vincent de Paul wrapped up their 150th anniversary year, their U.S. counterparts celebrate their remarkable journey.

Kingston Sisters made the trip to the U.S. as the Sisters of Providence of Holyoke held three major events over the weekend of October 13-14 to celebrate two significant milestones in their congregation’s history: the 120th anniversary of their years as an independent congregation in the Springfield Diocese in 1892 and the 140th anniversary of the first Providence Sisters’ arrival in western Massachusetts in 1873.

The weekend opened Saturday morning with a Prayer Service and Procession to the statue of Mother Mary of Providence, the community’s foundress, located in front of Providence Place. After reflecting on Mother Mary’s “life, courage and zeal for God’s people,” the procession moved to the “Kingston tree,” a gift of the Kingston Sisters at their 150th Anniversary in 2011. The procession paused to commemorate the shared heritage binding together the Canadian congregations represented in the procession— the Sisters of Providence of Montreal, Quebec, and the Sisters of Providence of Saint Vincent de Paul of Kingston, Ontario — with their descendants, the Sisters of Providence of Holyoke. The procession then moved to the Holyoke congregation’s newly planted anniversary tree for a blessing ceremony and closing comments by Sister Kathleen Popko, President.

That afternoon the Holyoke SPs, Associates, and Canadian SPs gathered with local city and state dignitaries, board members and leadership of their sponsored ministries for an anniversary celebration at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield. Among the program’s highlights were a brief review of the congregation’s history and the announcement of three initiatives the Holyoke Sisters are funding in support of three community priorities – Women, Earth, and Those Who Are Poor. Also copies of the Sisters’ new book, entitled 140 Years of Providential Caring were distributed to the guests.

The weekend closed following a Sunday morning Liturgy of Thanksgiving celebrated by the Most Reverend Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell in the Sisters’ chapel at Providence Place. The congregation presented Offertory gifts emblematic of their history and heritage including a portrait of Mother Mary of Providence and the community’s original Constitution and official Congregational Seal.

Sister Kathleen Popko, SP President, Holyoke, accepts an anniversary gift from the Sisters of Providence, Kingston.

Both the Kingston and Montreal SPs were a major focus at two of the procession’s three stop sites including the west side of the building where the tree the Kingston Sisters gave the Holyoke Sisters as their remembrance of Kingston’s 150th Anniversary in 2011. At that site Sister Kathleen Popko said: “We pause in our procession at these two symbols: The first, representing the Sisters of Providence of Montreal, is this poster of Mother Emilie Tavernier Gamelin, which was printed at the time of her beatification on October 7, 2001. Her words on the poster say: ‘I pray that you would always love the poor and that peace and unity would always be with you.’

“The second symbol is this tree planted a year ago,” she continued. “It was a gift of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul from Kingston given on the occasion of their 150th anniversary celebrated in May 2011.

And here we are one year later, celebrating our 120th and 140th Anniversaries. This has been a tradition among us, with the Sisters from Montreal and Kingston attending in 1973, the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters (in Holyoke) and in 1992, our 100th anniversary of our foundation as the Sisters of Providence of Holyoke. We Sisters of Providence, too, travelled to the Anniversary celebration in Montreal in 1986 and in Kingston in 2011.”