As we celebrate the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Sisters of Providence in Montreal, it seems appropriate to turn the spotlight on the continuing legacy of the sisters here at Providence High School. The Sisters of Providence were pioneers in the areas of healthcare and education and founded PHS in 1955. Through the years, the daily presence of the Sisters of Providence has dwindled, however they are still very much a part of the PHS community and we are fortunate to have Sr. Rosa Nguyen, SP work in the finance department.
Growing up in Vietnam, what was your childhood like?
Was religion a big part of your upbringing? I grew up in a big Vietnamese family of five sisters and three brothers and I am proud and blessed to be the youngest in this strong Catholic family. I do not have the words to express how blessed and happy my early childhood was. My siblings kept telling me I was spoiled. But I quickly responded, “Not really, I’m just well loved.”
Every day after school, my mother and sisters took me to church with some snacks, which kept me still at church. Each day I could not wait for classes to finish, so I could go to church with them because I liked the snacks. When I was seven years old, I became more aware of how meaningful it was for my family to attend Mass and receive the Blessed Sacrament daily. When I received First Communion, the Blessed Sacrament became my spiritual food each day. I became involved in church activities such as participating in CCD class, children’s choir and, later, youth camp. I became a teaching assistant for the local sisters’ Sunday school in my parish.
One day the idea was lightly planted into my mind and heart that maybe I could be a religious sister like one of our local religious sisters in my parish. I was attracted to their lifestyle because of their gentle loving care and selfless love for others. At that moment I prayed, “Dear God, I want to be a sister, please show me and help me keep it secret from my parents until I finish high school.”
God had a plan! I was sent to a boarding house to stay with the Sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross in Saigon, South Vietnam where my aunt, who was a sister in this congregation lived and served. She was my angel because she accompanied me on my spiritual journey to discover my vocation. I adapted to religious life quickly even though I was not an official member in the congregation. I started to love praying with the sisters, spending time doing some works of charity with them, and helping children at Sunday school. God continued to stir my heart’s desire to live in religious life.
You felt the call to become a sister when you were in high school. What made you decide that might be the path for your life?
Right after finishing high school, I felt a strong call to religious life. I felt my world view shift. I wanted to do something meaningful with my life. I took time to pray and meditate on God’s invitation to be a religious sister.
The more I discerned the more I recognized that I was most fully myself when I was in tune with God. It just so happened that way for me, I believed I was meant to live the lifestyle of a religious sister. For others, they may hear a call to married life, being a parent, becoming ordained or choosing the single life. Whatever lifestyle God calls us to is IT, the best one for us. I realized that to be true to myself it meant that I had to let go of something and let God do the driving. I am in the back seat. I am able to say, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” I see religious life not as a choice anybody can make on their own; it is a response to God’s choice.
What about the Sisters of Providence appealed to you the most, above other religious orders?
Before entering the Sisters of Providence, I looked into a couple of congregations of religious women, but I decided to join the sisters of Providence. Religious life is a call and an invitation for me to love and to serve God and His people selflessly no matter where I am.
First, I chose the Sisters of Providence over the other religious orders because it was my personal taste. My personal preference is more active and the Sisters of Providence are an apostolic community, which means we practice loving God by serving others directly. In contemplative orders, they have communal prayer in the chapel several times a day, work in the garden or make altar bread to practice loving God by loving one another. This is very good work and a special call. However, personally, I know that being a Sister of Providence I can be me and serve God and the world.
Second, I chose to be a Sister of Providence because of the mission. The mission calls each member to proclaim the mysteries of Providence by our compassionate love and creative, prophetic solidarity with the poor. After living with the Sisters of Providence for 13 years, the mission of Providence has gotten into my veins, and it flows constantly through my daily actions.
Third, I chose to enter the Sisters of Providence because I love the community life. The strength in my vocation comes from living in community with the sisters who have made the same life commitment. Our communal life is about sharing, about giving of self, about praying and working together, and about supporting one another.
If you hadn’t chosen religious life, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
I never thought I would not be a religious sister. I felt God had a plan for me even before I was born and called me by name through my baptism and asked me to respond when I could speak freely, “Here am I Lord, I come to do Your will.” God has called and invited me every day to love and to serve. I could not run away from His loving invitation. Being a Sister of Providence allows me to continue to grow fully into who I am called to be. The sisters support me and encourage me to discover all the gifts and talents that God has given me.
Reflecting back as a Providence sister, we each try to live life fully and treasure respectfully the gifts of each member, some have the gift of being a nurse, a social worker, a teacher, or a lawyer. We are not different from other people in our society, but the lifestyle is different. We commit to live our vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, to serve God and His people, that makes us who we are. If I had not chosen religious life, I believe I would be doing the same ministry that I am doing now to be truly me.
Currently, you are the only Sister of Providence who works at Providence High School. What does it mean to you to carry on this legacy?
Doing ministry at Providence High School is a gift and a blessing each day for me. Although I am the only Sister of Providence in this mission, I am not doing it alone because I have more than one hundred Sisters of Providence with me in spirit. Any time I go home to Seattle, which is like a “mother house” for us, the first thing the sisters ask me is how am I doing. The next question is how is PHS doing? The sisters keep saying “Surely, I keep my eyes on you and keep the PHS mission in my prayers. I ministered there many years more than your age.”
As a member of the Sisters of Providence, when we are sent on mission, as one sister or as ten sisters, we do it on behalf of the Congregation. We serve with all our hearts. I believe each staff and faculty member working at PHS has a call. A call to work together to bring the heritage and mission of the Providence legacy alive. Sr. Lucille Dean, a former principle at PHS had said “We need to read the signs of time. We need to trust and open opportunities for the lay people to carry the Providence mission and make it come alive in them.”
Doing my ministry here at PHS has helped me to become more aware of the real presence of real people in our school. I hope each staff and faculty member as well as each student continues to be nourished by God’s love with an open heart for serving others and bringing about the kingdom of God to our broken world. We are called to stand together with the Sisters of Providence in living the Providence mission and values: compassion, dignity, justice, excellence and integrity.
This February will mark the one year anniversary of your final vows. What did it mean to you to profess your vows among your community of Sisters and members of the Providence High School community?
My perpetual vows celebration is a meaningful and significant memory for me. It filled me with a great joy to experience the support from staff, faculty and students at Providence High School and to see familiar faces of my own Sisters of Providence who traveled from different places and countries to be with me. It was a very special and tangible way to bond and unite us as a Providence family, which gives me courage and hope for the future. Committing to living a lifetime of chastity, poverty, obedience, and service to the others is not a career choice, but a way of life. It is who I am and what I am called to be. I want to strive to be a witness to the love of God. And He has called me.
We are Sisters of Providence; we share a common heritage, a common call, a common life, a common mission and common vows. In living these vows we become Providence for our world. My perpetual vows celebration was not only for me and for the Sisters of Providence, but also for the whole Church. As Pope Francis has said, “the consecrated life is a precious gift to the Church and to the world. Do not keep it to yourselves; share it, bring Christ to every corner of this beloved country. Let your joy continue to find expression in your efforts to attract and nurture vocations, and recognize that all of you have some part in forming the consecrated men and women of tomorrow.” (Pope Francis spoke in Korea 8/16/2014). Religious life is a special call, God continues to invite me to this life style to manifest Providence and to serve His people in unity, holiness and love. I continue to say, “Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.” With all of that I would like to say Providence of God, I thank you for all.