Sunday, May 13, 2012

May 13, 2012 - The Sisters of Providence - France!

There truly are no words which can convey the meaning of today---the heartfelt expressions and connections made with the Sisters of Providence in Ruille-sur-Loir, France, are indescribable.

Statue at Mother House in France

Sisters of Providence - France

lights reflected on floor through stained glass of Holy Family Church

Arch of Holy Family Church

Stained glass depicting SP history

We arrived at Ruille-Sur-Loir in the morning to sing as part of the morning mass in the large Church of the Holy Family (built after Saint Mother Guerin's time) and the Sisters of Providence chanted and sang responses throughout the service. President Dottie King did a reading as well. Following the mass, we were taken on a tour of the Holy Family Chapel, which is where Saint Mother Guerin said farewell, cried as she looked out over the gardens, and left for the United States. To stand there, looking at the chapel and then out the door to the very gardens still being tended today, felt like such a privilege.
View toward gardens from Holy Family Chapel
Holy Family Chapel where Mother Guerin left for U.S. 

We then went to lunch, served by the Sisters and it was a 6 course meal, if you count the wonderful coffee at the end! The menu included 1) mixed vegetable salad with kiwi (from their gardens)--very good! 2) small potatoes with white legumes 3) chicken and pork with mushrooms 4) variety of cheeses (the brie was incredible!) and fresh lettuce from their gardens 5) dessert of apple tarts and eclairs (caramel and chocolate, respectively), and finally 6) coffee! The meal was served with either water or a red Bordeaux wine. Truly the best meal of our trip so far...and served with great care and love. We were all touched, too, when Sister Martine (General Superior of French order) led the sung blessing, followed by Sister Henri Dominique leading a song written by a fellow Sister. Very touching. At the end of lunch, the students passed out small gifts from the SPs in the U.S. to the SPs in France.

Following lunch, Sister Henri-Dominique took us to the church dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, but the SPs consider it the Church of Father Dujane (who used his own money to restore the church, which had been nearly decimated during the French Revolution. He then went on to begin the order of the Sisters of Providence). This church is where Sister Guerin took her vows. The students began an impromptu singing of The Ring Song, as they were overwhelmed with feeling and singing is how they needed to express the history, the compassion, and the generosity of spirit which were felt in that church.
Where Mother Guerin took her vows

We headed back to rehearse in the Holy Family Chapel and while we kept shutting the doors leading to the larger church, they would not stay closed! We had hoped to sing there, but the crowd was too large to fit in the smaller space, so the concert was held back in the larger Church of the Holy Family. Most of the French Sisters of Providence sat in the front rows and throughout the concert, many held their hands to their hearts, others smiled, and all applauded with enthusiasm. Before "La Providence" was sung, Michael Boswell asked Sister Martine to translate his words....among them were "We are honored to be here to sing for you....we understand that without you, we would not be here..." The SPs were very moved and following the concert they spoke excitedly in French (many speak little to no English) with phrases like "Tres Beau!" (very beautiful). During one conversation with Sharon R. Boyle (music therapy faculty member on tour, singing with the choir), two SPs were speaking quickly and she said, "Je ne comprends pas" (I don't understand) and they tried again. Again, she apologetically smiled, shook her head and said, "Je ne comprends pas....mais, la musique!" (but, the music!). The nodded, threw their hands in the air and said, "Oui! La Musique!" It is true that "Where words fail, music speaks" (--author unknown)!
window from Holy Family Chapel

There was a small reception with the Sisters following the concert with coffee and small desserts. Sister Martine was asked if any SMWC students have ever come to visit the SPs in France and to her recollection, this has never happened. This may explain the numerous newspaper articles written about the choir and Michael Boswell in both Etables-sur-Mer and Ruille-sur-Loir.

We then all piled into the bus to visit Le Petit Providence (Little Providence), the original structure where the SPs started. It was in an idyllic setting, with wild flowers surrounding the house and throughout the fields. We all took time to pick flowers, take pictures inside the little chapel, and explore the structure. We then took group pictures: 1) Madrigal students and Michael Boswell 2) Choir with two faculty and an alum who has joined the choir for the tour 3) the entire Choir Tour group and 4) all the mothers and daughters on the trip as part of Mother's Day. We dropped the Sisters back at the Mother House and we waved goodbye as they stood on the road...and Sister Martine waved her white scarf in a farewell. It was bittersweet.
The entire Choir Tour group at Le Petit Providence (Little Providence)

Le Petit Providence chapel
Mothers and Daughters on Mother's Day

Madrigal students and Michael Boswell, Director

Choir including three guests (2 faculty; 1 alum)
We headed through Tours, France for a quick bus tour (Beautiful city, with historical buildings dating back to the 4th century) and then on to nearby Saint-Pierre-des-Corps for our dinner and evening at the hotel.

Reflecting back on the day, the meaning of all we have experienced so far is again hard to describe, or even process. We are eternally grateful to the Sisters of Providence in Ruille-sur-Loir for their generosity and warm welcome. Walking the halls and gardens of this community it felt like centuries were overlaid with was easy to imagine Sisters of Mother Guerin's time walking the halls in habits and tending to the flowers, and it also felt like "home"---our Woods home. We have come full circle--and on Mother's Day of all days.


  1. Wow. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Read this with tears in my eyes. Such a wonderful experience for all of you.