Living the Mission Day to Day

The mission of the Sisters of Providence is to proclaim Providence as the loving presence of God, active in us and through us, watchful over the created universe and attentive to the needs of all.

It seems that when people experience that mission – often through working with the Sisters in a medical setting, a school or other ministry – they want more.

And so, in the 1970’s, the Sisters of Providence recognized the desire to continue living the mission in their lay partners and formally organized the Providence Associates.

To be sure, Sisters have worked with lay people since the founding of the congregation when they ministered to the suffering people of Montreal with the help of the Society of the Ladies of Charity. 

The Providence Associates are heirs to that work and take it to an entirely new level.

“Associates are women and men, married, single, widowed or divorced committed to joining hands with the Sisters of Providence in faith, prayer, spiritual growth and solidarity with the poor and marginalized people of society,” explains Kathe Boucha, PA, executive director of Providence Associates of Mother Joseph. (A separate non-profit organization from the Province.)      

“Associates live in a freely chosen commitment to be in communion with vowed members as companions on their spiritual journey,” she explains. 

“Together with the vowed sisters, associates are called to be prophetic witnesses in our society, seeking truth, recognizing that justice and service to the poor are baptismal imperatives,“ she explains.

Many congregations have associates or an equivalent and Kathe estimates that there are more than 55,000 associates in communion with vowed communities around the world.

About 1,000 of them are Providence Associates in four Provinces (Montreal, Calgary/Edmonton, Alberta, Mother Joseph and South America) who come from various ethnic, educational and faith traditions.

Mother Joseph Province has about 250 Providence Associates in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Georgia, Central America, Tanzania (yes, where Mt. Kilimanjaro rises) and the Philippines.

The Call to Become an Associate

Lisa Wolf, PA, has been a Providence Associate for seven years.  She worked at Providence Alaska Medical Center beginning in 1981 and retired in 2009.

The thing I enjoyed the most,” she relates, “was the mission and the core values that we followed through our workday.  We began each meeting with a prayer and reflection to center ourselves and ask for guidance on the issues we were dealing with.  I appreciated the values of social justice and compassion very much.

“When I retired after 28 years, I found that I missed the mission.  I looked for volunteer opportunities that allowed me to continue.  Then I learned about the Providence Associates,” Lisa said.  “The members really showed how to be of service to the community in their own unique way.”

Mardy Lower, PA, also from Alaska, echoes the sentiment of being part of the mission as her reason for joining the Associates.

“Separation from the hospital and not being part of the mission was really hard,” explains Mardy.  “I was asked to join the Providence Foundation and was able to participate in the opening of Alaska Cares, for children who have been abused, then invited to join the Providence Associates.”

Mardy Lower, PA

Working for the Foundation helped, explains Mardy, until she found a more permanent “home” with the Associates.

Many Providence Associates mention the invitation.   In Alaska, Srs. Kaye Belcher, Pat Hauser and Claire Gagnon invited many people to discern whether a commitment to the Associates was right for them. (See page 8 for the “first” invitation in the Northwest.)

Others, especially since video conferencing skyrocketed with the COVID pandemic, have found their way to the Associates through the internet.  Venance Mmassy, PA, lives in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

“People who live in Tanzania and East Africa are learning about Catholic organizations on the internet and in African news,” Verance says.  “People who want to help the poor now have access to training via the internet.”

“Three of our regions meet monthly by Zoom,” explains Kathe.  “We are developing online orientation and a new E-Region to welcome associates who are not geographically close to others.”

Venance was one of the first who experienced our online orientation program.

Joining the Associates

After a period of evaluation and discernment, candidates formalize this association with the Providence community by making a commitment that challenges them to live out the Providence spirit of prayer, service and hospitality to the poor.

Someone interested in becoming an Associate must participate in an orientation that consists of mutual sharing and reflection as well as an exploration of Providence’s heritage, charism, mission, prayer, ministry and community. A sponsor accompanies the candidate on this journey.

After a period of evaluation and discernment, candidates formalize this association with the Providence community by making a commitment that challenges them to live out the Providence spirit of prayer, service and hospitality to the poor.

The initial process culminates with a formal covenant ceremony including Providence Associates and Sisters of Providence. Associates continue their covenant commitments by deepening their relationships, building community with each other and with the sisters, and engaging with one another in prayer and ministry.

The Ministries of Associates

There are certain expectations for life as an associate, such as regular involvement in associate committees, leadership positions meetings and activities and anticipation in various meetings, spirituality days and celebrations.

Absolutely central, however, is living out the mission through some form of ministry.  And those ministries vary widely, fully living up to the words of Mother Joseph: “Whatever concerns the poor is always our affair.”

Ministries include working in shelter, hospice and housing centers; volunteering in schools, jails, nursing homes, hospitals, community services, eco-centered organizations and churches;  coordinating spiritual retreats; donating food, clothing and gifts to those who are underserved; actively serving in peace and social justice organizations; raising funds to support youth scholarships in developing countries; and much more.  (See page 8 for a particularly creative ministry in Anchorage, Alaska.)

As Karel Atkinson, PA, relates, those volunteer opportunities provided some very special and endearing memories:

“Providence House was available to anyone who had to travel for treatment at Providence Hospital in Anchorage. And the nuns lived in the convent next to it,” she explains.  “Sr. Yvonne would call me sometimes and say ‘Karel, I have some food for you to bring to the house for the guests.”

What she really learned, recalled Karel, was that Sister wanted her to go to the house right away.

“I learned to just put everything on hold and bring food for the people at the house.  It was a special place for all the guests because most were Alaskans, and they would sit and visit in the kitchen and share their food.  Having the nuns next door was very nice,” remembers Karel.

The Future of the Associates

Like all congregations and associate-type organizations, the average age is growing.  Both the Sisters and the Associates are discerning what the future might hold.

The Associates are collaborating with both Providence High School in Burbank, California, and the University of Providence in Great Falls, Montana, to plant Associate seeds among young people.  With a type of junior-associate program, the goal is to encourage young people to join the Providence Associates later in life.

“The associate way of life is evolving,” explains Kathe, “and what may be is not yet known. If we believe that Divine Providence brought us together, then we must believe that Divine Providence will continue to guide us into the future.”

View the Providence Assoicates on YouTube as they discuss their commitment to the mission and their journey to becoming an Assoicate.
Kathe Boucha, PA, reports to the 2022 Provincial Chapter on the status of the Associates.
Lisa Wolfe, PA

The Mission Is the Common Denominator

Susan Denison, PA

Every Associate is in some kind of ministry or volunteer situation.  Susan Denison, PA, who worked for Providence in long-term care, said that even though she worked at a time when health care was rapidly changing, the Providence Associates always understood the mission.  “Somehow the mission always stuck,” she said.  “Any organization has to have leaders and employees who truly understand the mission.”

Venance Mmassy, PA

Some Are ‘Born’ to be Associates

Lillian Rouzan, PA, says she has been “a Providence person since she was three and lived in Holy Rosary Parish in Sun Valley, California.

“Sisters Lucy Villanova and Eugenia O’Brien used to visit my family often. I wanted to be just like them, so I entered the community in 1967, but our Provident God had other plans for me. I left the community but not the Providence Family,” Lillian says.

Lilian remembers her late father at the 2023 Provincial Chapter.

She and her husband went on to have six children and eight grandchildren.

On You Tube, Primitivo Verania, PA, explains that little things mean a lot.
Karel Atkinson, PA