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Everything is Providence: Arrival of the Sisters of Providence in Chile

What was intended to be a brief stopover after a failed mission became a fruitful evangelizing presence that, over the years, radiated light and life to thousands of poor.

Vénérance Morin was born on December 29, 1832, in Saint-Henri-de-Lauzon (now Sant-Henri-de-Lévis), province of Quebec, Canada. As it is often the case, it is necessary to take a step back to appreciate the profound meaning of the events of the moment and the impact that these acquire with time. As Vénérance, once she became Mother Bernarda, said later, “the works of God are accomplished little by little.” Thus, the 96-year history of this great woman was bit by bit. This is what made her deserve the Medal of Merit, which is the highest Chilean decoration to be given to a foreigner for the excellence of the services provided. She was awarded the medal by the President of the Republic of the time, four years before her death. The same history caused her to be recalled during her funeral as “a visit that God had done to the Church and to the people of Chile.”

On May 11, 1850, Vénérance entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Providence and, at the end of that year, she took the habit of the Congregation and the name Bernarda. On August 22, 1852, she made her religious profession in Sorel; on October 18, along with four other religious, she left for Oregon, saying goodbye forever to her homeland.

The Canadian religious community was composed of Mother Victoire Larocque, superior, Sister Amable Dorion, Sister Marie-du-Sacré-Cœur Bérard, Sister Denise-Benjamin Worwoth and Sister Bernard Morin; they were accompanied by Father Gédéon Huberdeault, their chaplain, Father François Rock, and Miss Éloïse Trudeau, who would later enter the Congregation. Once they reached their destination, they found themselves facing many difficulties for their subsistence and, after a period of great hardship, they decided to leave the area and return to Montreal. To do this, they traveled to San Francisco, California, and the only alternative they had to return was to make the trip around Cape Horn in a small Chilean ship called «Elena».

After a difficult journey facing storms and threats from the captain of the ship, they arrived in the port of Valparaiso, on June 17, 1853. What was intended to be a brief stopover after a failed mission became a fruitful evangelizing presence that, over the years, radiated light and life to thousands of poor. The missionaries arrived at a crucial time when an institution was desperately needed to take care of the abandoned children who were dying for lack of basic care. The generous dedication of the religious allowed the work of Providence, which is still in action today, to spread its roots in Chile and take, with humility, simplicity and charity, the Good News to countless girls and boys, elderly and persons of all condition. All these people felt welcome and comforted with the Sisters of Providence; today, they may find it in residences for the elderly, schools, kindergartens and through the parish pastoral services.

Mother Bernarda deserves a special mention, for she was a strong figure around which the Congregation in Chile joined together. Throughout her long and fruitful life, she outstandingly remained faithful to the charism and mission of the Congregation, as one of her biographers reminded us:

In the history of the Church in Chile, she has had a symbolic significance as a missionary who delivered an inculturated evangelization, and who made hers the characteristics of the local Church. In addition, her concern and formation of the nurses who fed the infant orphans were a great contribution to the social pastoral of the 19th century, as they were also a contribution from women to Church and society. Kind, intelligent, visionary, she succeeded in making the Congregation grow, thanks to a leadership based on her three loves: God, the Church and the poor[1].

1853-2018: Walk the path, look at history with love and gratitude; different time, new challenges, Providence of God, I thank you for all.


Loreto Fernández Martínez

[1] Aliaga Fernando, interview for the Center of Spirituality, 2014