The Barque of Providence
Sister Catherine Casey shares two writings on Catherine McKinley, founder of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul, also known as Mother Mary Edward.
I walk down to the shore of the lake and see a weathered rusty boat moving to the rhythm of the easy lapping waters. From my right I see you coming along followed by a variety of people. You look in my direction; wave your arm calling me to follow you down, to accompany you once more. There is a wind, but for the moment it’s just blowing a steady breeze and the soft blue water laps in pattern on the beach. I call back, “OK. I’ll be right with you,” and speed my steps. My energy seems to have picked up since I arrived at the Villa cottage. The stillness and quiet have been so restful and healing.
Before I know it, you reach out from the centre of the craft to steady me as I step ahead. The vessel rocks, but I know it’s still tethered firmly until we are all in place. My eye catches the subtle change of the skies hues and my thoughts stretch back to watching how forceful these waters can be. I look around and find him already in the stern, reclining in to the bunched sacks and curled ropes. He settles, closes his eyes and peacefully falls asleep. We push off. The waves increasingly are slapping against the weaving boat. I sit and secure my hold on the sides, but a huge wave rises overhead soaking me and everything around. Confusion reigns as we attempt to keep afloat. I run stumbling from my seat only to fall on him, shaking him and shouting. “Wake up, we will drown!,” while the din of other screams completely encompassed me. In my deepest depth I really feared. His eyes were opened bright for one who dozed so deep and his voice filled the skies, “Be Calm!” The frantic ditching, rocky boat settled. In the lightening breeze, I heard him say to me, “Where is your faith? Look around!”
As the still serenity of the lake resumed, a figure familiar to my mind’s eye made way toward Jesus and I. The wind-tossed veil still not revealing a face was gently folded back by strong work-worn hands. The figure sat across from me and smiled. Here to my disbelief, I found myself in the company of Jesus and Catherine McKinley! She held a long deep look upon me before she spoke. “It’s so good to meet with you. I’m pleased you chose to step into the Barque of Providence with us. Much has happened in these 155 years with changing times to challenge our small Band of Women of Providence. It looks to me as in my time, you are smaller, but still have so many needs to meet. I watched the day you stepped into the threshold of “Heathfield’s” door and felt my heart beat as you sensed deeply that you were home. I’ve been with you all these years in your Ministry of care. I heard your words of comfort, strength, and seen your eyes and actions speak of a deep Compassion.
I know things have been hard at times, laced with loneliness. But, your love comes forth in who you are and I know you try your best. I had my share of not being up to par for what I wished to accomplish. Be assured, your efforts are valued, your commitment so steadfast. What deeply touches how you are for me is your smile, welcoming, accepting those who cross your path. It’s large in its simplicity. We not only share a name, but you live what I desire, a Woman of Strength and gifts poured deep and long with love. You reach out to touch the poor.
Jesus sat quietly in our midst with an attentive gaze. I felt the lifeblood mingle as we moved closer. We three sat still and motionless for what seemed an endless mile. I looked at them in speechless awe. “Thank you,” the only words I voiced! Next thing I knew the boat had come to rest upon the shore, and as we made to debark, a precious moment held in embrace upon the beach. I turned and walked the path towards the cottage and tomorrow.