Home » Biography & Memoir » Mary Christine MorkovskyCDP » Living in God's Providence: History of the Congregation of Divine Providence of San Antonio, Texas, 1943-2000

October 12 , 2010

Living in God's Providence: History of the Congregation of Divine Providence of San Antonio, Texas, 1943-2000

History of the Congregation of Divine Providence of San Antonio, Texas 1943-2000


In 1943 the bell attached to a rope on both floors of a plain box-like convent in Houston, Texas, rang at 5 a.m. The nine Sisters of Divine Providence stationed at the grade school arose, reciting aloud the traditional prayer that began “Live, Jesus, in my heart! My God, I give you my heart. Mercifully deign to receive it and grant that no creature shall possess it but Thou alone.” Continuing to pray aloud for five more minutes, the Sisters who shared small bedrooms began to dress. All had developed in their novitiate a rhythm for this process, which launched each day in a uniform way.
 Over 20 items of dress had to be donned in a certain order. Before Morning Prayer at 5:25 in the small chapel on the first floor, the Sisters also stripped their single beds, flipped the thin mattresses, and replaced the bed linens, trying not to invade a companion’s limited space. Usually it was still dark outside when they started to recite morning prayers unique to the Congregation. This was followed by chanting in Latin on one tone Matins, Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, and None from the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then the superior read aloud some points for reflection, and the Sisters meditated in silence for half an hour. This was the first time of the day they had some relatively unstructured time, and they sometimes experienced “distractions.” Perhaps they planned how to teach something better or recalled problematic students.
 At 6:30 one of the parish priests offered Mass, which was followed by breakfast. The Sisters ate in silence while one of them read passages from the Imitation of Christ. By 8 a.m. they were leading their pupils across the playground to the children’s daily Mass in the parish church.
 In sharp contrast, in 1990 Sister Mary Walter Gutowski, CDP, one of two Sisters living in a small apartment, was the administrator of Our Lady of Guadalupe clinic for low income Latinos and African Americans in Rosenberg, Texas. Sister Walter, who was credited with having delivered more than 3,000 babies under difficult rural circumstances, once remarked, “When someone knocks at my door in the middle of the night, I get dressed in two minutes flat because I never know what will be waiting for me outside.”1
 What explains this dramatic change of style and ritual in the routines of Catholic Sisters living in mission houses? How did the Sisters move from cloisters to apartments? How did the rigid routines of the nine Sisters of 1943 transmute into the singular and unstructured life of Sister Mary Walter? What are the connections between the bell that rang at five in the morning and the one that sounded at any hour?
 This history examines the period of 1943 to 2000, an era during which the Sisters of Divine Providence redefined their perspective and practices within the context of a changing American Catholic church. It demonstrates that the Sisters were well situated to embrace the shifting demands of religious mission because their very heritage was grounded in ongoing transformations. Those transformations were played out on a highly charged stage of oppression concerning multi-racial relationships, one that further prepared the Sisters for the intense dynamics of modern church life.
When the Sisters celebrated in 1966 the centennial of their arrival in Texas, they were staffing their own college, high schools, and numerous grammar schools in several states as well as hospitals, clinics, and neighborhood centers. They had incorporated a group of women from Mexico and encouraged the independence of a new Providence congregation in the U.S. Responding to Vatican encouragement, after the second Vatican Council they began experiments to update structures and customs so as minister more effectively. The most visible were in the areas of community living and governance and were accompanied by greater collegiality, subsidiarity, variety in prayer
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