Sister Jessica Taylor, age 39, grew up in Burien, Wash., and made profession of perpetual vows in Seattle in June 2012. She currently is studying for a master’s degree in pastoral counseling at the School of Theology at Seattle University. She lives with four sisters in Seattle.
Sisters of Providence is an international, intergenerational and intercultural religious community, what we have come to call the “3 Is.” But what exactly does that mean?
That we are intergenerational is a given because we live with older and younger sisters of different generations. So is intercultural, because we live with sisters of different cultures. And, of course, we are international. The key is that the “3 Is” are lived out in everyday life. It is what you do and how you orient yourself.
Awareness grows with experience
I have learned to make papusas and Vietnamese spring rolls, and I have learned other culture’s holidays and been exposed to their languages by sharing and living with sisters from other cultures. But more than that, three months of an international formation experience in Montreal last spring gave me an awareness of where other sisters are and what that means for them. So when we left Montreal, we celebrated that some of the sisters who had just taken final vows were returning to their countries – Haiti and Cameroon – to become superiors of their houses.
There is a definite attitude that the sisters in formation bring because of the “3 Is.” It is commonplace for us to see others as just others; as people rather than generalizations. That allows us to support each other. Embracing the “3 Is” allows me to know how significant it is to be able to celebrate with them and understand what that really means to me.
Forward momentum a gradual awakening
We have a long ways to go in fully embracing the “3 Is” in our congregation, but we are making great strides. At an International Peace and Justice Center (IPJC) workshop, I came to realize just how far ahead the Sisters of Providence are on this journey. That really opened my eyes. We are actively seeking to gain information and are proactive, which will make a huge difference. The forward movement is important. It has been gradual, not a leap, but more of a slow awakening.
Becoming truly international, intergenerational and intercultural will happen, so we’d better be ready so we can be prepared to truly serve all of God’s people. When we achieve that, we will be the model of how to do it for other religious communities and the world.
No longer just a French-Canadian community
It can be done, but not without struggles and hurts as we learn and grow. We are challenging the status quo and saying we are no longer a French-Canadian religious community. Everybody is welcome and has a vital part to play. To be part of us, you have to share every part of you, your culture, yourself and the things that mean most to you. And we have to be open to receive you as you are. There is no excuse for ignorance that leads to thoughtless comments. We all have to be aware of what we are saying and how others are hearing it.
This is a great time to be a religious. Everything is new and everything is changing, but we have our traditions, our Constitutions, to guide us. We recognize that change is here, and that we must choose how to live it out, where to stand and how to interact with other sisters and with lay people. The religious community is seeing the importance for the younger sisters of being allowed to step out and do things differently. The only doors that are closed are the ones that you and the community choose to close.
I feel truly blessed. I have been allowed to get an education and I am theologically grounded in my faith. That gives me understanding behind what I say and what I believe. That is the gift of religious in today’s world. People are hungry for that gift but they don’t even know it. All they recognize is that they have a spiritual void.
Today there is conflict once again about what religious life means, but even that is a gift because it has brought an awareness that sisters still exist. We are still out there, alive and well, and people’s eyes are open to that. A lot can be done. This is when the spirit moves and it is exciting. That is where new life is.