The Republican premiered its newest heritage book “The Power of Women” at a festive book launch held October 18 at the Log Cabin, Holyoke, MA. Edited by regional historians Wayne Phaneuf and Joseph Carvalho III, the book showcases over 1,000 women the two regard as standouts from among the legions of women who helped shape the region’s society since the 1600s until today. According to Phaneuf, “This book was written mostly by women, for women and to women” and celebrates what was a long and trying struggle for equality.
Among the women featured within the book’s 278 pages of detailed text, eye-catching photos and graphics are six Sisters of Providence—Foundress Mother Mary of Providence Horan and Sisters Julie Crane, Mary Caritas Geary, Margaret McCleary, Mary Peter Meckel, and Kathleen Popko.
Author and journalist Anne-Gerard Flynn’s chapter on Women in Healthcare commended Mother Mary of Providence for the guidance she gave the SPs in their establishing “…in the late 1800s, hospitals in Western and Central Massachusetts, along with nursing schools, homes for the elderly, the orphaned and unwed mothers.” Noting that, “In the last 100 years, members of the congregation have brought their work into the 21st century,” she directs readers’ attention to a 1969 photo of Sister Mary Caritas and to a lengthy presentation of her past and continued health care contributions. She identifies Sister Caritas as a woman who “has dedicated her life to advancing the health care ministries of her congregation and to advocating for affordable and accessible health care for all.” She highlights Sister Caritas’ 17 years of leadership at Mercy Medical Center that modernized the Center’s delivery of care, particularly in the area of cancer.
Other Sisters of Providence included in Flynn’s writing are Sister Julie Crane, who established Healthcare for the Homeless; the late Sister Mary Peter Meckel, who founded Open Pantry’s Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen, the Jefferson Street Shelter, and the Calhoun Street Shelter; and Sister Kathleen Popko, who laid the ground work for the Sisters of Providence Health System’s integration, with two other health systems, “into a more collaborative and pioneering model of delivering care, known in 1998 as Catholic Health East.”
Another, Sister Margaret McCleary, founded Providence Ministries for the Needy in Holyoke with its Kate’s Kitchen (serving community meals), Loreto House (providing transitional housing for men), and Broderick House (offering single room occupancy housing for men).
Flynn told Tracings, “When asked to do this piece on health care I knew right away the ministry of the Sisters of Providence would be its core. Their hospitals and other facilities cared for many families through generations.”
She continued, “My great aunt was a Sister of Providence and I viewed these religious women early on as women actively involved in life beyond their own Community. This perspective was reinforced when as a writer I came to meet the Sisters of Providence I mentioned and the legacy of their founder Catherine Horan. I saw firsthand how Sisters Julie, Mary Peter and Margaret made sure that those who had nothing had food, shelter and other care.”
She added, “It is not that these women are alone in their accomplishments but it is the continuum of ministry they represent in the communities they served. A continuum that Sisters Mary Caritas Geary and Kathleen Popko extended at the institutional level so what was SPHS helped form what is today one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the country.”
Concluding, Flynn reflected, “I suspect none of the congregation’s early members—many immigrants without much education—could envision how their ministry would evolve. But they had a vision that empowered them to preserve against all odds at times, and to succeed.”
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