Sister Frances O’Brien was one of three Sisters from the Leadership Team that participated in the annual missioning service for Providence Care this past September 25. This is part of Sister Frances’ reflection on the Charism of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul presented during the missioning service.
In the late 1970’s, after Vatican Council II, religious orders were asked to identify their founding charism, their special gift in the Church. After a long process and many workshops, we articulated our special charism as “Serving with Compassion, Trusting in Providence, We Walk in Hope”.
Notice this is not a mission or a vision or a values statement but more of a statement of our identifying characteristics. I would like to reflect on what each of the 3 parts of our charism has come to mean for us.
Serving with Compassion
I think we always understood that our calling was to a life of service to others, especially to the poor. Over the years this has come to mean that we attempt to transcend ourselves and our own needs for the sake of the other whose need is greater or for the sake of the common good. But service to others also gives meaning and purpose to life and can be very rewarding. I’m sure that your own calling to be Board Members and leaders of Providence Care rewards you with meaning and purpose as you serve in this way.
Our call to serve was qualified by the notion of compassion. Literally translated “com passio” means to suffer with another, or suffer together. It demands a deep empathy, an ability to put oneself inside the experience of another and stand in solidarity with them. Providence Care has developed our charism even further. Your vision is “that Providence Care will lead the way in compassion”. Compassion is one of your values: “We are sympathetic and conscious of the needs of others, and have a deep desire to respond.”
Trusting in Providence
From the beginning days, our Sisters trusted in Providence for everything they needed. They had no resources to carry on the work of the House of Providence to care for the poor, the elderly infirm, the orphans, or the sick in their homes. But somehow God always provided what they needed for the work and for themselves. They even went on begging tours to sustain the ministries they had. Over time as new missions were opened across the country and new requests were made for them to branch out, they learned that Providence always provided for them in one way or another. Today we have come to understand that Providence is a name for the divine, for God, that means much more than provider. In the light of the new cosmology, we understand that Providence was there before the creation of the universe, before the Big Bang, that Providence cares for all creation.
We are called to be channels of God’s Providence in a world that is suffering a crisis of meaning, a world in chaos. We are beginning to understand that Providence is that name of God which holds the tensions and polarities of human life and gives them meaning. Providence as meaning undergirds everything!
We walk in Hope
Over the approximately 130 years that the Sisters of Providence were directly involved in founding and sponsoring 12 institutions of Catholic Health Care from Montreal to Vancouver (for acute care, continuing care and long-term care), we faced many challenges and even trials. But it was this charism of serving with compassion and trusting in Providence that nurtured our hope.
When so many people suffer from lack of hope for the future, our charism is to walk in hope. “Hope” in Scripture means “a strong and confident expectation; it is akin to trust. Hope is a firm assurance regarding things that are unclear and unknown. If Providence is in the future, luring us forward, and if we have complete trust in Providence, then we walk forward with great hope/faith/trust that God who cared for us in the past (indeed did such great things for us) will continue to care for us as we go forward.
Now when we see Providence Care living our mission and values in your services to the vulnerable in this community and doing it with excellence and innovation, we are so very proud of being your founders.