Gaining the skills to lead ourselves

Providence Associate co-director Barbara Baker


A year ago, while the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul were at Chapter, the Providence Associates gathered to talk about their future. The Sisters were looking at the decisions they had to make and the Providence Associates knew that they had to be proactive and consider their future as well.

At the spring gathering, they challenged themselves to become more autonomous in the relationship with the Sisters and to be more responsible for their structure and finances. 

It was an exciting and uncertain time but the Associates were determined to become more mutual in their relationships with the Sisters. They created a directional statement to guide their decisions over the next four years.

From this directional statement, the co-directors created a long-range plan that called them to become “prophetic leaders in church and society.” The Associates understood that it would entail more education and support to respond to this call, so they created a leadership training committee to envision and implement workshops and educational events to prepare the Providence Associates for their new roles. The committee is made up of co-directors Sister Irene Wilson and Providence Associate Barbara Baker, with the addition of Providence Associates Maureen MacDonald and Susan Kennedy. 

Plans underway

Part of the plan is to identify the skills the Providence Associates need going forward, and to make sure they have those skills. In March, a day of workshops was held to begin this process, which Sister Marilyn Kearns led expertly and professionally. It began with a workshop on good business practices, led by Sister Gayle Desarmia and Providence Associate Marie McCartney, teaching how to take minutes, chair a meeting and meeting do’s and don’ts. 

Sister Irene Wilson and Associate Shirley Kindellan led a session on prayer and the spirituality of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul. Their focus was how to lead communal prayer in a way that emphasizes participation and draws people in. To complement their personal prayer, Associates have learned the principle devotions on the Congregation: devotion to Mary, Mother of Compassion and Trust in Providence. These various modes and kinds of prayer give the Associates options to use in their local group meetings. Indeed, a package of 17 set prayers was handed out to the Associate contacts to be used as needed.

In March 2016, Providence Associates gathered in Kingston to begin their formal leadership training. Co-director Sister Irene Wilson is already preparing for the next meeting on mutual collaboration.

Skills for meetings, elections, leading groups, leading prayer

Sister Frances O’Brien and Associate co-director Barbara Baker illustrated for the group of 32 Associates and 10 Sisters a process of communal discernment for elections to determine who is called to office. In September, the Associates will elect two members to serve on the Providence Associate Committee (PAC).

That election is another step on the road to autonomy. From the outset of the Associates 30 years ago, a Sister of Providence has sat on this advisory committee. At the annual general meeting in September, an Associate will be elected to replace the Sister whose term is up. 

Up next is a spring retreat on the theme of mutual collaboration using the biblical Emmaus story as the backdrop. The fall education meeting will focus on process facilitation skills.

Most recently, the Leadership Training Committee has been expanded to include Providence Associates Carol Groten, Karen Holtz and Wen Bogues. This new group is mandated to create a vison for the future that is in keeping with the charism, spirituality and mission of the Sisters. This committee has planned a day with facilitator Dolores Hall of the Providence Spirituality Centre to make a more concrete vision for their structure and work through how they might continue to embrace their directional statement.

Albertan Associates

The Vincentian Companions in Camrose, Alberta are taking a different path towards autonomy. They have less exposure to Sisters of Providence. They have opted to keep in close relationship with their Sister contact, Jeannette Filthaut. This past fall, the co-directors visited to introduce the new directional statement and long-range plan, with the hopes that the Camrose group would be able to join in the process of implementing the Associates’ shared vision. The Albertans have been invited to send two representatives to the 2016 fall education meeting to learn more about facilitation skills and participate in the communal discernment to elect the next Associates to sit on the PAC committee.

Associates in Peru

The hope is that our Providence Associates in Peru will also look at ways of visioning their future. 
Two of our Peruvian members, Fernanda Ruiz and Carmen Alomía Guía, were able to join us for the strategic assembly and help create the directional statement. It was so exciting to have representatives of our Peruvian Associates at the meetings. The Peruvians continue to work towards creating a vision for their future, and we continue to stay connected through our Council Liaison, Sister Gayle Desarmia.