The Daughters of Divine Providence from Italy landed in the United States 50 years ago, and on Nov. 15 their impact on the Archdiocese of New Orleans was applauded in a Mass and reception at Our Lady of Divine Providence Parish in Metairie.
Father Mike Mitchell, pastor at Our Lady of Divine Providence Parish, welcomed the Daughters who returned to the parish for the celebration and thanked them for coming here a half-century ago.
“Without them, there would not be us,” he said about the nuns and the parish named after them by Archbishop John Cody, who invited them to the
U.S. in 1964.
Legacy in America
Six Daughters – Mother Alessandrina Lauri, superior; Sisters M. Ernestina Murasecco, M. Loredana Cavatassi, M. Flaviana DiGialeonardo, M. Bernarda DiDomenico and M. Tiziana D’Eugenio – arrived in New Orleans in July 1964, knowing only one word in English: okay.
They quickly adjusted to New Orleans culture and climate and learned English at St. Mary’s Dominican College. By 1969, five more nuns had arrived from Italy and were serving in school and parish ministries at St. Mark in Chalmette with Sister Loredana as principal beginning in 1966, and at Our Lady of Divine Providence with Sister Alessandrina as the first principal in 1967.
The Daughters were fondly remembered by former students and parents at the anniversary.
Dr. Rebecca Maloney, now associate superintendent with the Office of Catholic Schools, remembers being an inquisitive student and how patient the nuns were with her.
“People aren’t remembered by what they say but what they do,” Maloney said. “Sister Tiziana made me feel loved, not just by her but by God and the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Another former student, Erin McGuinness Plauché who attended Divine Providence School with her siblings, is now a teacher at Ursuline Academy. She also thanked the sisters for what she learned and for helping her recognize that every student has potential.
“The sisters were such great role models for all our teachers,” she said. “They had such grace to be so patient and realize that we might not get something the first day, but we would get it.”
Current principal Elvina DiBartolo said the school is a testament to what the nuns gave the parish.
“We have a true belief in Divine Providence and that God will provide,” DiBartolo said. “We still care for and love all children in our care.”
Divine Providence colors
During the homily, Father Ronald Calkins, now pastor at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie, recounted his experiences with the Daughters of Divine Providence, starting at St. Mark when he was a seminarian and then at his first pastoral assignment as a priest at Our Lady of Divine Providence.
He conveyed the legacy of the Daughters – compassion, joy and trust – by using colors in a portrait of Our Lady of Divine Providence on the altar. Red, the color of compassion, reveals the compassion of the Daughters beginning in 1832 when their foundress, Sister Elena Bettini, reached out to the poor girls in Rome.
“She wanted to bring the compassion of Christ to them,” Father Calkins said. “The compassion of Elena Bettini continues today.”
The color of joy is rose.
“In my experiences with the Daughters of Divine Providence since 1970, I have always found them to be women of great joy, filled with the love of Christ,” Father Calkins said. “Their joy comes from the love of Christ they experience in their hearts.”
Father Calkins said the color of trust is blue. “That’s perfect because that is the color we associate with our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Divine Providence,” he said.
Father Calkins said the Gospel reading of the wedding feast at Cana illustrates Mary’s total trust in the Lord when she told the waiters to do whatever Jesus told them so the wine wouldn’t run out at the wedding.
“We couldn’t find a more positive statement of trust in God,” he said. “The Daughters of Divine Providence put their trust in God when six young sisters came to America. (Just like Mary), they trusted totally in God’s love and care for them. They trusted totally as God continued to call them in their new mission … that God would be with them. Inspired by their example, we can look toward the future and trust totally in Divine Providence.”
Mother Carmen Perri, superior general of the Daughters of Divine Providence, accepted a plaque to hang in the Metairie parish in memory of the Daughters’ contributions and another to take back with her to Rome, as well as $1,000 check collected by current students of the school. She expressed gratitude for the many wonderful people the nuns have journeyed with over 50 years in America.
Christian education of youth and service to the poor are core charisms of the Daughters of Divine Providence, who firmly believe that all aspects of their lives are in God’s hands.
In addition to schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the Daughters of Divine Providence opened and served at schools in New Jersey beginning in 1974 and in New York. In 1986, the Daughters began serving in school and parish ministry at St. Anthony of Padua in Bunkie, and then in 2003 opened the Damiana House of formation in Covington run by Sisters Bernardetta D’Archivio and Barbara Dichiara.
They were also active in several parishes on the northshore. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed their convent at St. Mark in 2005, the Daughters began working at St. Joan of Arc School in LaPlace.
In 1993, they also formed the Bettinian Laity association. The Daughters of Divine Providence also have missions in Oxkutzcab and Progresso, Yucatan, to serve the poor fishermen families and have opened a boarding school there.
The Mass for the Daughters kicked off the yearlong 50th anniversary of Our Lady of Divine Providence Parish. Other events will include a Festival of Lights Dec. 9; a 50th anniversary dance on Jan. 23; an evening of music on Feb. 26; its official parish 50th anniversary Mass March 16 at 6 p.m. with Archbishop Gregory Aymond and a reception; its 50th anniversary fair April 24-26; an art auction June 4; apple pie and ice cream after all Masses in July; family bingo Aug. 21; Family Day breakfast Sept. 13 after the 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Masses; movie night on Oct. 16; and Feast Day of OLDP on Nov. 19 at 6 p.m. Mass followed by the parish Thanksgiving dinner.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.