Sister Mary Phillips of the Sisters of Providence has made her final profession as a religious sister at Providence Centre. Sister Mary joined the Sisters of Providence in 2012 and is now a permanently professed member of their order. Archbishop Emeritus Sylvain Lavoie preceded over the profession and Mass on Dec. 10.
Sister Mary shared with us her journey to religious life, including her experience of being previously married, that marriage being annulled, and then hearing Christ’s call to serve the poor through a religious vocation.
Sister Mary grew up in a fishing town on the east coast of Newfoundland “where poverty was common but faith and charity were in abundance.” She has lived throughout Canada, but moved to Edmonton to join the Sisters of Providence in 2012. In Edmonton, there are 23 Sisters of Providence and globally there are 320 members of the community.
What drew you to religious life? Why did you choose the Sisters of Providence?
I was drawn to religious life by a strong desire to serve God in His poor.
God had given me a gift of compassion for His poor that was present in childhood and the more I worked and volunteered with God’s poor and vulnerable, the stronger the desire and the call became to give my life fully to Him in religious life in a community whose charism and mission connected with my call.
When I was 20, I met someone who also desired to give his life to God in service to His poor. We were married and had two sons. When the boys were in college our marriage was annulled. My sons, who are very dear to me and whom I am quite proud of, are married and each have two beautiful daughters, gifting me with four wonderful granddaughters.
While doing mission work in India, I once again felt the call to religious life and this time I knew I needed to answer it. I discerned with my spiritual director and looked at different religious communities in search for a charism and mission that would connect with my call.
On Dec. 8, 2010, during a vocation retreat with the Sisters of Providence at Providence Centre, I was blessed with an evening with our international sisters in initial formation who were together for a program in Canada. They shared with me their vocation stories. . . and I knew at this time we were a congregation with a charism and mission for the poor and vulnerable.
In the months ahead I listened to the stories of our elder sisters, of working with the poor in the North and in our international missions, saw their gift of hospitality, and connected with their charism and mission.
I knew God led me here and that this was the community to which he was calling me. The confidence came with the peace I received and how deeply the charism and mission resonated in my soul. I spent fifteen months getting to know them and entered the community in March 2012.
What is the spiritual significance of your final vows? How does your final profession feel different than your temporary vows?
The spiritual significance of my final vows is that my yes to live these vows is a perpetual yes to my God. There will be no more temporary renewals.
Through my perpetual vows to God, I become a full member of our Congregation of the Sisters of Providence. I will live out the rest of my life, with God’s grace, these vows, through the charism and mission of our community and according to its constitutions.
My final profession feels different from my first vows in that I have grown as a person.
God doesn’t wait for us to be perfect before he calls us. He looks at the desire of our heart to love and serve Him and our openness to allow Him to mold and heal us according to His will. The molding is a lifelong process. Even though I knew when I professed my first vows, I desired to serve God in these vows forever, today I know myself more deeply and my yes comes from a more intimate relationship with my God and a loving acceptance of who I am before Him because He loves me as I am.
How would you describe community life with your sisters here in Edmonton?
In Edmonton, we have three houses: a Come and See House, a Novitiate House and Providence Centre, which is our Provincial House. I live at Providence Centre.
Community life here is unique as a religious community. We have sisters living with us from many congregations. We have shared morning and evening prayers, attend daily Mass here together, share meals in the dining room, share festivities and social events such as celebrating monthly birthdays.
Sisters take turns in serving at the liturgy as readers, communion ministers and we have sisters directing the choir and playing the organ. The sisters living here are international, intercultural and intergenerational.
We also have Providence Renewal Centre, a retreat center that has its staff. It is like belonging to a large extended family. I would say community life here is one of hospitality, welcoming, presence, interdependency, compassion, openness, and love. Our sisters live this coming from a profound faith in our God of Providence and the compassionate love of our Mother of Sorrows.
What is the charism of the Sisters of Providence and what makes them unique?
The charism of the Sisters of Providence is the manifestation of the mysteries of the Providence of God and Our Mother of Sorrows in compassionate love and creative prophetic solidarity with the poor.
I believe that our charism is so needed in our society and the global world today. Our world today needs hope! Global warming, the wars that continue to develop, injustices to the poor, vulnerable and voiceless, the migration of people looking for a safe place to call home, and the drought and natural disasters taking place in different parts of the world, calls for a prophetic voice to proclaim Providence.
In today’s world with so much suffering, we need the tender compassionate love of a mother who understands our pain, who loves us, and desires to walk with us. We find this love and compassion in our Mother of Sorrows, who understands suffering in watching Jesus, her Son, although innocent, go through a horrific death of crucifixion. We are to imitate her compassionate love and to bring people to her, especially those who are suffering so that they may experience for themselves her compassion and lead them to the healing presence of Jesus.
To learn more about the Sisters of Providence: www.sistersofprovidence.ca/
Jenny Connelly – Archdiocese of Edmonton