In life, there are events that remind us of what’s important, or even shake us into a greater awareness of our core values. Recently, I spent several days with our Sisters of Providence in Santiago, Chile. As many of you know, a significant fire has destroyed much of the sisters’ campus, including an infirmary for elderly women, the novitiate building and the church dating back to 1870 that was built by Mother Bernard Morin.
While the good news is that no lives were lost, the loss of history and the knowledge that our sisters are faced with additional heartbreak and rebuilding, especially in the wake of last year’s earthquake, is a terrible tragedy.
Perhaps it is coincidence, or perhaps it is Providential, but I had already planned a personal trip to Santiago when I received news of the devastating fire. I feel fortunate to be with the sisters, to be in solidarity with them while they are suffering, but I know their grief is great and it will take time to recover from this loss.
The connection between the people of Chile and the Sisters of Providence began in 1853 with Mother Bernard Morin and four other sisters. An important difference for the sisters in Chile is that this church and residence has been the home for these sisters ever since the founding of the province in Chile.
While many sisters in North America move from place to place where their service is needed, the Chilean sisters only lived in the greater Santiago area. They have become novices, taken their vows and are even buried at this site. For the sisters in Chile, this place was indeed their entire life and represents their entire history. The magnitude of this loss is incalculable. The magnitude of the mourning is profound.
Even in the depths of sorrow and grief, there are tangible reminders of good and of hope. The sisters saw a sign in each one of the miracles of what was spared from the fire. While so many things burned, the remains of Mother Bernarda and of the many sisters who are buried beneath the church floor were left completely intact. While the rest of the church steeple burned, the Our Mother of Sorrows statue stands in the middle of the steeple, unmarred by flames.
These are symbols of perseverance and signs that Providence will provide. They are signs of hope and that even in the midst of ashes, rubble and heartache, we are certain that Providence will rise before the sun.
At times, we use the expression, “in Providence.” Witnessing this tragedy has brought new meaning to these words for me. I am reminded of the importance of history, and of the power of faith, both in times of prosperity and in times of sorrow. I am renewed in the sense that, as One Ministry Committed to Excellence, we will continue to serve those in our communities who need us, especially the poor and the vulnerable.
The process of rebuilding and healing will take time. For now, we can offer our Sisters of Providence our solidarity and our prayers, and we can help raise funds for the rebuilding efforts.
If you would like to make a donation for the rebuilding efforts, you can do so through Providence Health International online, which is raising donations on behalf of the sisters. Your donation can be directed solely to the rebuilding efforts in Chile. Providence will match all donations.
John Koster, MD
President and Chief Executive Officer
Providence Health & Services