Sr. Karin Dufault Reflects on Her Time as Congregational Leader

From developing a revised Consitutions and Rules to grappling with a worldwide pandemic, Sr. Karin Dufault, SP, who just completed her tenure as the 18th Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Providence, witnessed the hand of Providence guiding the Congregation in living the Mission in all circumstances.

Providence sister Karin Dufault

“Serving as Congregational Leader has been one of the greatest privileges of my vocation,” said Sr. Karin.  “I come away with a new sense of the importance of unity within the Providence family – Sisters, Associates, staff, family members, donors and collaborators – and our responsibility to be a sign to the world of God’s love for all.”

She’s now back in the Mother Joseph Province, transitioning from her leadership role and preparing for a sabbatical before discerning her next ministry.  She’s thankful to be back and appreciative of the many lasting relationships she developed during her ten years in Montreal and throughout all the countries where Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates are present.

“At times, leadership has been challenging but it was always counterbalanced by overwhelming expressions of support and love, especially during the difficult times, and by the expertise of the dedicated General Leadership Team members and Provincial Leadership teams. Congregational Leadership is a team sport.”

Sr. Karin, first elected in 2012, is quick to point out that the work of Providence during her two terms began with initiatives set forth by her predecessor, Sr. Kathryn (Kitsy) Rutan, SP, and the previous Leadership Team:

“The first was a Congregational wide retreat that emphasized contemplative listening, dialogue and discernment,” she explained.  “The retreat took place in every Province.  It was facilitated by Sr. Nancy Sylvester, IHM, and was the springboard for many things to follow.”

The second initiative involved the requirement for Sisters in initial formation to spend three to six months in a Province other than their own and then all together for three months in Montreal.  That time spent with Sisters of other languages and cultures, says Sr. Karin, fostered the growth of four characteristics which describe the Sisters of Providence today – international, intercultural, intergenerational and interdependent for the sake of Mission.

Sr. Karin Dufault (right) and Leadership Team at 175th anniversary liturgy.

These two initiatives combined with several other events:  the 175th anniversary of the Sisters of Providence; the development of the revised contemporary Constitutions and Rules and Congregational Initial Formation Directory; and the devastating COVID pandemic.  The sequence had a profound impact on the direction of the Congregation. [For more information: Sisters of Providence 175th anniversary year closes with a flourish in Montreal]

First, according to Sr. Karin, this confluence of the planned and the unexpected led to an appreciation of how critical are our relationships.  The 175th anniversary celebration culminated in March 2019, which was also the target date for completion and distribution of the revised Constitutions and Rules. To be inclusive, the document had to carry the same meaning in English, French and Spanish translations.  Also significant — although no one suspected it at the time — the Congregation started using video over internet so that the Providence family members who could not be physically present for the 175th anniversary celebration could participate. Sr. Nancy Arevalo and the Communication team accepted the challenge and made it happen.

As we know now, the entire world was just a few months away from relying on video communications as deaths from COVID climbed and lockdowns became the norm.  The anniversary celebration gave the Congregation crucial experience in maintaining relationships when participants could not be together physically.

“That early use of video kept us connected through Congregational Zoom gatherings,” said Sr. Karin,  “which became particularly important for all the Sisters throughout the Congregation who were isolated during the pandemic.  Also, we made a special effort to stay in phone contact with the senior Sisters.  Each of us on the Leadership Team tried to keep in touch with Sisters on one of the floors of the Emilie Gamelin Province Infirmary, Providence Pavillon.”

The importance of nurturing a sense of unity came from another unexpected source for Sr. Karin: the inability to hold funerals for Sisters who died during the lockdowns.

Srs. Karin and Marie-Thérèse Gnamazo with “The people of the forest” in Cameroon.

“Cremation was mandated in Canada for anyone who died during the pandemic, no matter what the cause.  Until we could hold a funeral liturgy, we held the remains of our sisters in small wooden boxes in our second floor chapel. 

“I came to a new appreciation of the Communion of Saints and to the work of the thousands of Sisters who paved the way for us in the current reality,” said Sr. Karin, who also kept a copy of the obituary of every Sister who transitioned to eternal life during her terms, in a place of honor in her Montreal office.

When she became Congregational Leader, there were 619 Sisters of Providence.  When her term ended in late 2022, there were 315.  Sr. Karin points out that other congregations are facing the same reduction in numbers.  But God is still calling vocations to our Congregation.  In 2012, there were nine women in temporary vows.  When Sr. Karin’s second term ended, there were 11.

Those numbers and her work with the International Union of Superior Generals taught Sr. Karin how important unity and collaboration of the Sisters are – not only within the Congregation but globally.

“We are not going through our transitions alone,” she emphasizes.  “Others are with us.  We can and are learning from each other.  I have come away from my ten years with a sense of a true global sisterhood.”

As for the future, Sr. Karin demonstrates a compelling sense of optimism grounded in facts and confidence in the Sisters.

“Our Sisters in formation are amazing women.  Our formators and Sisters living with those in initial formation are preparing a way for them to flourish, just as the Sisters who have already died prepared the way for us and continue to inspire us.

“We are gifted to one another, but we are also a sign to a world that is badly in need of healing,” says Sr. Karin.  “The international, intercultural, intergenerational and interdependence qualities we strive for and demonstrate are part of God’s plan for the wider world. We can show the world a different way by sharing that richness with others as well as by sharing our concern for those who are poor and marginalized.”

Sr. Karin in Chile with students

A new leadership team has begun. The Journey to Oneness imperative aims toward a unified governance as ONE entity by the end of 2024 and is among the challenges from the 2022 General Chapter.

“It is not just the Congregational Leadership Team who is responsible for this journey,” emphasizes Sr. Karin.  “It is up to each of us in the Providence family to ask how we help bring the vision forward into reality.  Leaders have to live and demonstrate that unity, but each of us plays a role.”