Sisters of Providence Glossary of Terms 

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ARCHBISHOP: The title given to a bishop who is the head of an archdiocese. 

ARCHDIOCESE:  The chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province.

ASSOCIATES: See Providence Associates.

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BEADS: See: Costume Beads.

BEATIFICATION:  The second step in the process toward canonization of a saint.  Emilie Gamelin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 7, 2001.  Before a person is beatified, the Church must determine that God has worked a miracle through an individual’s intercession.

BISHOP: The title given to the head of a diocese.  Bishops are responsible for the pastoral care of their diocese.  In addition, they have a responsibility to act in council with other bishops to guide the Church.

BROTHER: A man who is a member of a religious order, but is not ordained or studying for the priesthood.

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CAMAIL: The hood and collar portion of the Sisters of Providence traditional habit.

CANDIDATE:  A person in the early stages of discerning a religious vocation.  Today, the steps of religious formation generally are: candidate, postulant, novice, professed with First or Temporary vows, professed with Final or Perpetual vows.  In some communities, candidate refers specifically to the first period after an individual has formally “entered” the religious community.  That phase of preparation would then be called the postulancy.

CANON LAW: Code or norms designated as Church laws, from the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome.

CANONICAL: According to, or ordered by canon law.

CANONIZATION:  The third and final step in the process towards sainthood after the declaration of venerable status and beatification.  Before a person is canonized, the Church must determine that God has worked a miracle through an individual’s intercession.

CAPE: A part of the Sisters of Providence traditional habit.  The cape is worn over the shoulders, ending at the elbow.  It is worn over the dress and under the camail.

CHAPTER: A meeting of vocal sisters at a provincial or general level in order to make changes of governance, and to elect governing councils or teams. Thus, a General Chapter addresses matters of the religious community as a whole; a Provincial Chapter addresses matters of a province.

CHARISM:  A gift or grace freely given by God to a person or community, for the good and service of others and the Christian community. Religious communities seek to live the charism which is received through their founders as God's gift to the Church.

CHRONICLES:  An annual narrative account of activities of a specific ministry, institution, region, or individual.  The Chronicles are sometimes referred to as the annals.

CLERGY: Those men within the Church community who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders, such as deacons, priests and bishops.

COADJUTRIX: [co-ad-ju-tricks] A member of the Sisters of Providence religious community who had a formation program and took vows but did not hold full rights or could not vote in the religious community.  The members were set apart through a habit different from the professed sisters and they were employed in more manual labor and humble tasks.  After Vatican Council II (1962-1965), coadjutrix sisters were merged into the religious community with full rights as a final professed sister.

COMMUNITY MEETINGS: Distinct from Chapters, Community Meetings are held to discuss spiritual and social justice issues which the community wishes to address, such as environmental stewardship, peace, or human trafficking, and may involve speakers from outside of the religious community.

CONVENT: In common usage, the term refers to a house of women religious, but may also refer to the living space of women religious within a larger institution where they work, such as the convent wing of a hospital.

COSTUME BEADS: Rosary beads, chaplet or other sets of large black beads worn at the belt as part of the religious habit.  The Seven Dolors beads were worn as part of the Sisters of Providence traditional habit.

CROSS/CRUCIFIX: An object is a crucifix only if it depicts the body of Christ on a cross, otherwise it is a cross.

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DIOCESE:  A fully organized ecclesiastical jurisdiction under the pastoral direction of a bishop.

DISCERNMENT: A process of prayerful reflection which leads a person or community to an understanding of God's call at a given time or in particular circumstances of life. It involves listening to God in all the ways God communicates with us: in prayer, in the scriptures, through the Church and the world, in personal experience, and through other people.

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FINAL/PERPETUAL VOWS: The making of a permanent commitment within a religious community through vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

FIRST/TEMPORARY VOWS: Women in temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience spend two to nine years living in community and sharing in full-time ministry.  Temporary vows are taken after the novitiate.

FORMATION:  The time and process in the life of a person who is preparing for profession of vows in a religious community or ordination as a deacon or priest. During formation, a person is initiated into the life and ministry of the community.

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GARNITURE: A close-fitting piece of fabric, surrounding the face, beneath the camail, as part of the religious habit. The Sisters of Providence garniture was made of white linen, cut on the bias, heavily starched and ironed to form the rounded curved fabric surrounding the face.

GENERAL COUNCIL: The governing body of the entire religious communty, including all provinces. Usually serving for a period of five years, a General Council is composed of vocal sisters.

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HABIT: A religious garb worn by members of a religious community as a sign of dedication to God and the mission of Jesus.  Usually, the parts and color of the habit changed through the levels of formation to indicate which stage a woman was in the formation process. The Sisters of Providence traditional habit consists of a dress, headband, garniture, camail, cape, pectoral cross, silver ring, and costume beads.

HEADBAND:  In the Sisters of Providence traditional habit, the headband is a piece of white linen worn to cover the forehead, just above the eyebrows.

HOLY HABIT: In the formation process, the rite of transition from a postulant to novice.  Also known as Entrance to the Novitiate.  As a novice, a Sister of Providence wore a black habit with a white camail.

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LAITY/LAYPEOPLE: Commonly, any church member who is neither ordained as a priest, nor a member of a religious community.

LOCAL COMMUNITY: The basic unit of the religious order; each sister is a member of a local community where she finds personal acceptance and support even if she must live or work in another milieu. When sisters were living in common spaces (usually convents connected to schools or hospitals) the local community was built into this structure; as ministries changed in the 1960s and 1970s, local communities became a more abstract grouping of sisters who might live in different locations. Some Local Communities are based on a geographic area whereas others are based around a theme or shared interest, such as Peace Community or Marian Community.

LOCAL COORDINATOR: The liaison between the local community and the provincial council.

LOCAL SUPERIOR: The superior of the house, ministry or institution responsible for directing the sisters and all persons of the house for which she was charged. Until the 1960s, the local superior was appointed by the general superior. The 1967 Constitutions allowed for the provincial council to name local superiors after getting input from the sisters of the house. Local superiors exist only for canonical houses.

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MAJOR SUPERIOR: According to canon law, the provincial and general superiors.

MARY, MOTHER OF SORROWS:  Mary, Mother of Sorrows is a principal patron of the Sisters of Providence.  Devotion to Our Mother of Sorrows calls to mind the seven sorrows Mary silently suffered during the life of Jesus.  They are: the Prophesy of Simeon; the Flight into Egypt; the Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple; Meeting Jesus Carrying His Cross; the Crucifixion; Receiving the Body of Jesus from the Cross; Placing the Body of Jesus into the Tomb.

MINISTRY: 1) In the context of religious life, an individual’s life work or occupation. For example, a woman religious who works as a nurse may be said to have a ministry in health care. Just as a lay person may change careers, a religious may have several ministries throughout life.  2) May also refer to a particular institution or work of a whole religious community, such as a ministry to the homeless.

MONSIGNOR: An honorary ecclesiastical title granted by the Pope to some diocesan priests.

MOTHER: The title given to a sister who leads a group of women religious administratively, as superior, or as foundress of a ministry. The Sisters of Providence used Mother to refer to Provincial Superior, General Superior and the any sisters on the General Council. The director of the novitiate would be called Mother by the novices. This practice was abandoned in the 1970s.

MOTHERHOUSE: The original house from which a religious community is established.  Usually the seat of the administration of the religious community from which the superior general and her council govern.

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NECROLOGY: account of a sister’s life written after her death similar to an obituary.

NOVICE: Novice means new or beginner.  Following the period of postulancy or candidacy, the candidate is received as a novice and becomes a formal member of the community, but has not yet taken vows.  During a period of one to two years, the novice continues her study of prayer, religious vows, the spirit and charism of the religious community, and continued discernment of her life calling. This phase of preparation is called the novitiate.

NUN:  In general, all women religious, even those who are more properly called sisters. While both Nuns and Sisters are addressed as "Sister," there is a distinction made in the Catholic Church which is generally not made by the public. Nuns take solemn vows and are cloistered, that is, they reside, pray and work within the confines of a monastery. Sisters take simple vows and live a life governed by the particular mission, vision, and charism. The Sisters of Providence, for example, actively engage in ministries that take them out to serve the people in hospitals, schools, parishes, and social services.

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PECTORAL CROSS: A cross or crucifix suspended on a chain or black cord and worn around the neck as part of the religious habit.  The Sisters of Providence traditionally used a black cord.

POSTULANT: Sometimes known as a pre-novice, a postulant is preparing to be admitted as a novice into a religious community.  A postulant “requests” to be admitted to a religious community; postulancy is the first stage of religious life before becoming a novice.

PROFESSION: 1) In a religious community, the act through which women and men consecrate themselves to God by making vows, usually of poverty, chastity and obedience, although there can be others depending on the community. Profession is normally made initially for a certain time and is called First or Temporary Vows, and then later for life, called Final or Perpetual Vows.

PROVIDENCE ASSOCIATES: Women or men who desire to share the mission and spirituality of the Providence religious community but do not seek vowed membership. Associates do not have monetary and legal obligations to the religious community, but recognize themselves as drawn by the same spirit and charism as the Sisters of Providence. After a period of orientation and mutual evaluation, they formally express their desire to share Providence spirituality and to collaborate in the mission of Providence.

PROVINCE: A regional subdivision of a religious community under the jurisdiction of a provincial superior.

PROVINCIAL COUNCIL: The governing body of a province, usually consisting of five vocal sisters, though in recent years lay persons have been admitted to a Provincial Council. At the provincial level. Sometimes referred to as a Team.

PROVINCIAL SUPERIOR: A major superior of a religious community acting under the order's superior general and exercising general supervision over a province.

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RELICS: The physical remains and effects of saints, which are considered worthy of veneration inasmuch as they are representative of persons in glory with God.

RELIGIOUS/RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY: A community of men or women who follow a specific tradition or spirituality patterned after the life and teaching of that community’s founder or foundress.  Many religious profess vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Prayer and ministry are part of the tradition of all communities but are accented differently so that some communities are primarily contemplative while others are more active.

RETREAT: A period of time spent in meditation and religious exercise.  Retreats may take various forms, from traditional closed retreats where an individual lives in a different setting to separate themselves from their usual routine, to open retreats which do not disengage the participant from day-to-day life.  Both clergy and lay people of all ages participate in retreats.  Houses and centers providing facilities for retreats are often called retreat houses.

ROSARY: A prayer of meditation primarily on events in the lives of Mary and Jesus, repeating the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers.  It is generally said on a physical circlet of beads.

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SACRAMENTS: The Latin word sacramentum means "a sign of the sacred." Sacraments are religious ceremonies.  The seven Catholic Sacraments are Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick.

SEVEN DOLORS/SORROWS:  “Dolors” is French for “sorrows”.  See: Mary, Mother of Sorrows.

SISTER: A vowed member of a religious community of women within the Church. She shares in the life and mission of her community.  Women religious, as Sisters, are found in the Roman Catholic as well as Episcopalian and Lutheran faiths.

SUPERIOR GENERAL: The head of a whole religious order or congregation.

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TABERNACLE: Receptacle for preserving the Blessed Sacrament, or consecrated host (bread), which for the Catholic Church is the literal body of Christ.

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VATICAN COUNCIL II (Second Vatican Council):  A major meeting of the Catholic bishops of the world convened by Pope John XXIII to bring about a renewal of the church.  It assembled from 1962-1965 and produced profound changes in liturgy, ecumenism, communications and religious community life.

VATICAN COUNCILS: Councils called by the pope of all bishops of the Church.  These councils are usually called to discuss specific matters of interest to the Church.

VESTMENTS: Liturgical garments and articles associated primarily with the Christian religions, especially the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican Churches.

VICARIATE: A subdivision within the province of a religious community which constitutes a regional grouping of houses normally to foster communication and cooperating in the mission of the community.  The Vicar General or Vicar Provincial exercises authority over the vicariate.

VOCAL SISTER: A vocal sister is one who participates fully in the religious life of the community, can vote in community meetings, and who can hold positions in governance and administration.

VOCATION:  The word stems from the Latin verb vocare, which means to call.  Thus a vocation is a calling to a way of life (rather than to a particular job). Examples of vocations include marriage, religious life, or single life.

VOWS: Men and women commit themselves to God and to the service of the Church through public promises called vows. Ordinarily, members of religious congregations profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, although there can be others depending on the religious community. They are usually promised for a period of one year and renewable for a certain number of years before Final or Perpetual Vows are taken.

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Other sources for religious community and Catholic Church terms:

Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Catholic Glossary
New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Glossary of Church Terms