140 Years of Caring – Sisters of Providence Honored for Work in the Community

The Sisters of Providence, who created the Sisters of Providence Health System, which includes Mercy Medical Center, have been honored by BusinessWest magazine as one of its Difference Makers for 2013.

They and the other winners for this year — Michael Cutone, John Barbieri, and Tom Sarrouf, organizers of Springfield’s C3 Policing program; John Downing, president of Soldier On; Bruce Landon, president and general manager of the Springfield Falcons; and Jim Vinick, a long-time supporter of the Jimmy Fund, the Basketball Hall of Fame, and other organizations — will be honored at the Difference Makers gala on March 21 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke.

The magazine said the Sisters of Providence, who this year are celebrating the 140th anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters of Providence’s foremothers — today’s Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent De Paul in Kingston, Ontario — in Holyoke, are being honored for a long tradition of work within the community, especially in the areas of healthcare, education, and social work.

Sr. Kathleen Popko, president of the Sisters of Providence, told the magazine that the the 700-odd Sisters of Providence, present and past, “share some DNA” with Sr. Mary Providence Horan, the first mother general of the congregation. And by that, she meant that those who worked beside her or followed in her footsteps have possessed both her many character traits and her broad operating philosophy.

As for the former, these include vision, compassion, determination, a large dose of innovation, and a very strong sense of mission.

“Mother Mary of Providence has always been an inspiration to me,” Popko told the magazine. “She had a lot of foresight and was very innovative; she established 20 works of charity within the first 15 years of her becoming head of the congregation. She crossed boundaries — she worked with the Jewish community and the Protestant community to help establish the board at Mercy Hospital — and she was willing ,to collaborate and ask for help from others to support the work she was doing, whether it was in Worcester or Pittsfield. And she had a great love of learning; those are qualities we like to think we possess today.”

As for the latter, well, that’s perhaps best summed up in a quote often attributed to her: “never rest on what has been accomplished, but continue reaching on to what needs to be done.”

The sisters have never done any such resting. Instead, they have, over the decades, responded to changing societal needs with the same zeal and desire that were firmly in evidence when two members of the Sisters of Charity of the House of Providence from Kingston, Ontario, Canada, came to Holyoke on a so-called begging tour in 1873 and were invited to establish a mission there to help the waves of immigrants struggling to carve out a living.

They eventually did, creating a legacy of providence that is captured in the statue of Mother Mary near the entrance to Providence Place in Holyoke, with a commanding view of the valley below. She is depicted holding hands with two young children — a boy carrying a schoolbook and a girl with a broken arm — artistic touches designed to spotlight the two basic tenets of the sisters’ work over the past 14 decades: education and healthcare.

Those two foundations remain, especially healthcare, through work carried out within the broad Sisters of Providence Health System. But the modern work of the Sisters of Providence is quite diverse, Sr. Mary Caritas, vice president of the congregation, told BusinessWest, listing everything from programs to provide healthcare to the region’s homeless population to groundbreaking initiatives in the broad realm of senior living, such as the ‘small house’ concept created at Mary’s Meadow.

“The one constant is need,” she said. “When the sisters came in 1873, it was in response to a need — they saw a need, and they responded. We’re doing things differently in this day and age, but we continue to have that same spirit.

“But they also recognize the need to change as society does — we’ve never been afraid to let go and move on from something because society has changed,” she went on, citing, as just a few examples, the transition of Providence Hospital from acute care to behavioral health; the repositioning of the former Farren Hospital in Montague into the Farren Care Center, a provider of services to people with severe behavioral disorders; and new uses for the facilities at Brightside for Families and Children.

For more information on Difference Makers or to purchase tickets to the March 21 gala, contact BusinessWest at (413) 781-8600, ext. 100.