Sisters of Providence care for the poor

Sisters of Providence postulant Mary Truong, left, stands with Srs. Mae Valdez, Germaine Chalifoux and Elizabeth Kaczmacrzyk at Providence Centre in Edmonton.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Sisters of Providence postulant Mary Truong, left, stands with Srs. Mae Valdez, Germaine Chalifoux and Elizabeth Kaczmacrzyk at Providence Centre in Edmonton.

August 17, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

When Mary Truong first met the Sisters of Providence, her heart leapt.

After seven years of teaching, travelling the world and acquiring her own house, a car, great friends and family, Truong, now 33, wished she was called to the single life.

But having struggled with discernment as far back as her first call to be a sister as a child, she mustered up the courage to take the first step to explore religious life.

She had seen different communities, Googled congregation websites and even tried a vocation match website in her discernment. The Sisters of Providence did not come up in her match results.

Truong had not knocked on their door, stumbled upon their website or even heard about the Canadian religious congregation before.

Yet when she first encountered the order, the connection was almost mystical. Truong had never set eyes on a Sister of Providence until a vocations retreat in Calgary last year.

Yet, in this crowded room filled with women, some in habits, representing at least 10 congregations, she remembers a distinct feeling. Truong describes it as being like that of the apostles, after Jesus rose from the dead, when they saw him again.

"Their hearts just leapt - or they had this reaction in their hearts - way before they knew that was Jesus, right," said Truong. "It was kind of a similar thing (with me).

"My heart reacted even though I didn't know who they were or what this thing was called."

Truong walked straight across the room and said, "Hi, my name is Mary, and I don't know who you are," she recalls, laughing.

Sister Mae Valdez remembers the exact date. It was June 1, 2014, and it was the first vocations event the new Filipino vocations director had organized. To say she was praying for the event to be a success is an understatement.

BEGGING FOR VOCATIONS

"For me, I was really begging God because I really love my community," said Valdez. "Not because I am a Sister of Providence, but it's the way that we do things.

"I'm really convinced we have to get vocations because I really believe in the ministries and how we do things.

"So I said, 'God, you are the number one vocation promoter' - and I really believe that God is the one who calls vocations so I could be his instrument. It's really a stroke of providence how I met Mary."

In June, Truong entered the Sisters of Providence as a postulant, joining the 531 professed sisters in the entire congregation, including nine candidates and three novices.

Edmonton-based Sister Elizabeth Kaczmarczyk, known as Sister Betty K, said the women have always relied on the providence of God. The congregation was officially founded in 1843 in Montreal as the Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor.

PEOPLE NAMED ORDER

"However, the people the sisters served could not have cared less and nicknamed us Sisters of Providence because we were a group of women who relied on the providence of God to provide for the poor," said Kaczmarczyk.

"Also, through our resources, talents and gifts, we were a providence for the people, and eventually, that became our name."

Foundress Émilie Tavernier Gamelin was born in Montreal on Feb. 19, 1800 and married to Jean-Baptiste Gamelin in 1823. She had three children, who all died at an early age. Then, when Gamelin was 28, her husband died, leaving her a childless widow.

As she was grieving, her spiritual director gave her a picture of Our Mother of Sorrows, a picture of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus.

The director instructed Gamelin to pray to Mary who understands what it's like to lose a child or loved one. Comforted and strengthened by Our Mother of Sorrows, Gamelin developed a great devotion to Mary which carries on in the congregation today.

Gamelin devoted her life as a lay woman to serving the poor and caring for the aged, the sick, immigrants, orphans and the handicapped.

In 1841, Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal asked a different congregation of religious women to come to Canada. But the sisters in France sent word they would not be coming.

Led by the Holy Spirit, the bishop began the new Canadian community to pursue the work Gamelin had begun.

Blessed Émilie Gamelin died Sept. 23, 1851, one victim of a cholera epidemic. She was beatified Oct. 7, 2001.

Sister Germaine Chalifoux of Edmonton, said the sisters today, compelled by the love of Christ, pursue the same goals as Gamelin in their apostolate.

"The motto of our congregation is 'The charity of Christ impels us,'" she said. "In other words, wherever there's a need, we respond with love."

GLOBAL COMMUNITY

The congregation extended from the motherhouse in Montreal to become an international, multicultural, inter-generational community of religious women. They minister across Canada, the United States, Chile, El Salvador, Argentina, Haiti, Cameroon, Philippines and Egypt.

The Sisters of Providence have been active in Edmonton for just over 50 years; their key ministry, the Providence Centre in southwest Edmonton, opened in 1964.

Known as the Émilie Community, the congregation has about 45 members in Alberta, mostly in Edmonton.

Its ministries include: