Sisters of Providence in the time of coronavirus

For the 104 Sisters of Providence in Mother Joseph Province, the coronavirus pandemic has given the sisters an imposed contemplative period, become a catalyst for rapid change, and challenged them to connect in creative and compassionate ways for community, spirituality and ministry.

Under the thoughtful guidance of the new Leadership Team – only a few months into their term – the sisters are rising to the occasion within physical boundaries and public health requirements. Because the Provincial Administration Office and many sisters of Mother Joseph Province are located in the Seattle area – an early epicenter of the virus – life as they knew it was upended in early March. The Leadership Team moved quickly to ensure rigorous health and safety measures were in place for the most vulnerable sisters and caregivers at the Sisters of Providence retirement facilities in Seattle and Spokane.

It was quite a change from retired life as usual. Health checks of sisters and staff were conducted daily, visitors were no longer permitted, chapels were closed, TVs delivered Mass, dining services were adjusted to minimize contact, and activities were restructured so sisters spending more time in isolation could enjoy some community time, though at least six feet apart.  

As the pandemic swept through the world, more changes swept through the province. On March 12, Provincial Administration staff began their work-from-home routine. By late March, sisters throughout Washington, Oregon, California, El Salvador and the Philippines were under strict stay-at-home orders as well.

The sisters adapted to the new realities as best as possible. They turned to laptops, tablets and mobile phones for connection – even some of the most technologically timid have a new appreciation for these tools. Zoom, Teams, FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp have become indispensable for facilitating continued community, ministry, spirituality, leadership and support throughout the congregation.

Though their usual modes of engaging were reset, the sisters in Mother Joseph Province have a long history of “responding to the needs of the day,” inspired by foundress Emilie Tavernier Gamelin of Montreal. Blessed Emilie and later Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart, who brought the congregation to the western U.S., spent a lifetime modeling this in their service to the poor and vulnerable – and bearing witness to how Providence provides in even the most desperate situations.

In this same spirit, sisters continue to approach the challenges of the pandemic with innovation, generosity and patience in their ministries. They offer counseling, tutoring and ESL instruction online; prepare sandwiches for the homeless; make wellness calls; deliver supplies to struggling families; minister as hospital chaplains to COVID-19 patients and their families, and sew masks. As this apostolic congregation adjusted to social distancing and more contemplative time, remote prayer groups became a source of meaningful connection – together but apart.

Although many of the health and safety requirements are relaxing and changing this summer, the new normal is unfolding slowly and thoughtfully in Mother Joseph Province. To date, there has been only one known case of COVID-19 in the province, and the sister recovered in quarantine in her home (see Confronting COVID).

“We continue to experience the need and the power of prayer for all those who have contracted the COVID-19 virus as well as the many heroes we are privileged to see daily on the news caring for the sick,” said Provincial Leader Barbara Schamber, SP. “It is hard, at times, not to be able to reach out and tell each one that we are praying for their safety and return to good health. The reality is that many continue to die, even with the finest health care. We can pray for those who are caregivers, those who are sick, those without a paycheck to support their families, and for an end to this pandemic.”

Learn more about the lives of the Sisters of Providence during the pandemic in our special weekly publication, SP Messages of Hope and Healing,, filled with reflections, poetry, prayers, quotes, scripture, photos, and other inspirational messages from the sisters. Or visit us on Facebook and Instagram.