Final Chapter of the Sisters of Providence


In late October, the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul took a monumental step in our 162-year history by convoking our final General Chapter. For almost 3 years, we had been meeting regularly with facilitator and Canon Lawyer, Sister Bonnie MacLellan, a Sister of St. Joseph of Sault Ste. Marie. Bonnie helped us to understand various options we could take if we could no longer elect a Leadership Team according to our Constitutions. Much prayer, deep listening and discernment went into all of the meetings held over this time. It was paramount to ensure that all of the sisters had a good understanding of the reality we were facing and the options available to us. At an Extraordinary General Chapter on June 16, 2023, the delegates voted 100% in favour of petitioning Rome to appoint a Pontifical Commissary to fulfill the canonical leadership responsibilities of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul. Over the course of the summer, all sisters who were able participated in a process of discernment to decide one or two possible candidates we could approach to be a Commissary for us. The end result was a 92% consensus to invite only one person to consider serving in this ministry. That sister also entered into personal discernment as well as discernment with her congregation. She agreed to have her name submitted to Rome after the Final General Chapter had completed its resolutions.

On October 30, 2023, the Sisters of Providence gathered for a day of Retreat before the beginning of the Chapter. The facilitator of the Retreat was Sister Mary Jo Radey, also a Sister of St. Joseph of Sault Ste. Marie, who had provided the sisters with other Retreat experiences leading up to the Final Chapter. During 3 prayer periods, the theme of Blessed, Broken and Given was developed and ritualized by breaking bread together. The concluding prayer spoke profoundly to the way we hoped to gather together in General Chapter:

  • May we hold each other’s hearts tenderly.
  • May we remember that in sharing our lives together, we enter into a sacred trust.
  • May we breathe deeply and receive the wisdom of our companions around the table.
  • May dialogue and differences be a source of growth.
  • May we be generous in speaking our truth and offering hospitality to new ideas.
  • May we be courageous in embracing and sharing our own vulnerability.
  • May we know the joy and peace that come with trust in each other.

Chapter began on October 31, 2023, with 23 voting delegates and many non-voting active participants contributing to the process. A spirit of unity and excitement for the future was tangible among us.

Sisters counting votes during Chapter.

In the end, three resolutions were passed unanimously by the Chapter.

We have petitioned the approval of Rome to

  1. suppress the requirement in our Constitutions to hold a General Chapter every 4 years and to elect a General Superior and Council
  2. appoint a sister from another Congregation selected by this Chapter to be Commissary for our Congregation and therefore our canonical leadership.

In addition we created direction for the canonical leadership to distribute to charitable organizations of our designation any assets remaining when the last Sister of Providence dies.

During the 5 days of Chapter, we also enjoyed a Hallowe’en Party, a Day of Reflection, a beautiful Closing Mass and a sumptuous banquet.

We have taken steps to assure our future governance and care of our members. Our legacy is well underway with the development of Providence Village Inc. and the planned autonomy of our Providence Associates. We have discerned together the person that we hope to have appointed as our Commissary and she has accepted the invitation. Our next step is to discern the names of 3 Sisters of Providence who will serve as an advisory team for the Commissary.

Once we have received approval from Rome for our 2 petitions, the current Leadership Team will enter into dialogue with the Commissary to create a Memorandum of Understanding regarding details of her ministry to our Congregation, along with the advisory team of three Sisters of Providence. Other business of the Congregation regarding Corporations, Investment portfolio, our own ministry staff, etc. will be carried on internally for as long as we need.

We are so grateful to Providence for guiding us through these uncharted waters. While most religious congregations in Canada are in the process of this work, we are often told that we have led the way as an example to others. As a small group of Sisters (43 members), it seems safe to say that we have experienced transformation and have great hope for the future.

Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul in attendance at the final Chapter.
Standing, from left: Sisters Margo Shafer, Avita Kilar, Lucy Kearney, Sandra Shannon, Frances O’Brien, Rita Gleason, Yvette Girard, Elaine Hogan, Ellen Murray, Dorothy Fournier, Marilyn Kearns, Sara Jiménez, Gayle Desarmia, Lucy Bethel, Jeannette Filthaut, Patricia Amyot, Alda Brady, Reinalda Kloosterman, Barbara Thiffault, Monica Whalen, Una Byrne, Pauline Lally, Diane Brennen and Josephine Doiron.
Sitting, from left: Sisters Anna Marie Willer, Rose-Marie Bokenfohr, Connie Kaufmann, Kathleen Morrell, Joanne Colligan, Catherine Cannon, Catherine Casey, Sheila Langton, Virginia Amodeo, Judith Ann Murphy and Dianne McNamara.