There was a time when a woman entering her candidacy with the Sisters of Providence was likely to meet Sister Alice St. Hilaire during the process. Today, Sister Alice has a ministry of prayer and presence at St. Joseph Residence in Seattle.
A former music teacher, Sr. Alice has had a role in formation, helping introduce the community to women who are exploring their charism. She does spiritual direction and retreat work and is coordinator of the Intercommunity Vocation Committee.
In her spare time, the Yakima, Washington, native enjoys walking, talking, flower arranging, crafts and friendly games of Scrabble. Her sister, Lucy, is also a Sister of Providence.
We spoke with Sr. Alice about formation and her reflections on community.
How does the Formation Team help women who are entering as a candidate?
We give them an opportunity to experience what religious life is like. They get a good idea of what it’s like living in community with the sisters. They learn the importance of community involvement with other sisters so they experience full participation, not as a guest but as a member. We invite them to explore opportunities and ask questions. We also have a candidate class once a week.
I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to journey with people and coming to know them well. Each person is unique, with much to offer and much to learn. It is a privilege to assist in the introductory year of Providence community life.
What else do candidates experience?
Coming in as a candidate is simply the next step in the discernment process. The women may know that God has given them something special, but they may need to explore it. We help them with that and help them to be honest with themselves. They need to know that if they enter and begin to have doubts or decide not to stay, that isn’t some sort of infidelity or a letdown. You don’t become a candidate and the decision is made. The decision to enter is made with an openness to continue to discover what God is calling you to do.
How was community life different when you entered the Sisters of Providence?
When I entered in 1948, our life was very highly structured and we all lived together in a large convent. For the most part, those who lived in the same convent were engaged in a ministry together. We prayed together and had spiritual reading out loud. Except for special feasts, breakfast was eaten in silence.
How would you describe the experience of living in community?
Sister Josie Ramac used to say religious community is the source of the greatest joys and the greatest challenges. I think that is accurate. The joy of community is very life-giving and enriching
What are some of your gifts?
I think I’m a lot like my mother. She was very balanced and ‘?m blessed with an even temperament. I don’t experience extreme highs and lows, and to me that simplifies life a lot. I have a great zest for life. I believe that when you say God provides what we need, it’s true. Our gifts may not be just for ourselves. We share our different gifts. Specifically, my gift of hope and joy and optimism is also a gift for others who need it. Someone else gifts me, for example, with her ability to translate a vision into reality.
What are your best memories of community?
My best memories of community include long walks and discussions with my sisters, praying and singing together, sharing stories, experiences, treasured happenings, impromptu fun times, celebration of vow ceremonies and Jubilees, and much more.
What do you enjoy about the Yakima community?
I truly like this community. At the present time, there are 11 of us living in four houses plus two apartments, and one Sister lives with her elderly mother. We represent several generations. We do a lot of things together. After our last chapter meeting, we began weekly faith sharing as a group. It’s really good to be able to share that love of God.
The decision to enter is made with an openness to continue to discover what God is calling you to do.