One day before the Sisters of Divine Providence left Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Solomons, Maryland, a Mass of Thanksgiving on June 17 at the church honored the women religious for their nearly nine decades of service there.

“All of us have received a call from God, and today we want to express our gratitude to the Sisters of Divine Providence who have heard the call of Christ to come and have responded with the humility of selfless giving,” said Msgr. Michael Wilson in his homily at the Mass. The priest retired last July after serving for eight years as the pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea.

The Sisters of Divine Providence, whose motherhouse is in Kentucky, came there in 1933 to serve at the newly opened Our Lady Star of the Sea School, after being invited by Father Maurice Alexander, the parish’s first resident pastor, and they first taught children in the basement of the church. Over the years, sisters from that congregation also served in a variety of ministries at the parish, with the last four members of their community serving in ministry to the sick and hospital ministry and by tutoring children.

In his homily, Msgr. Wilson thanked the sisters for their witness of faith and love to that Southern Maryland parish and community for generations.

“Collectively and individually, you and your predecessors have helped to shape and sustain the faith of our parents, grandparents, ourselves and our children,” he said. “You have taught in our school, nursed the sick, visited the homebound or hospitalized, brought Communion to countless elderly and those in institutions in the area, participated in our fundraisers, cooked for our gatherings, helped clean up our messes, brought us closer to God, and been our friends. Thank you!”

The priest added, “You have done all this, and much more, because of your love for Christ, His Church, your community, and because you have loved us! Thank you!”

The Sisters of Divine Providence leaving Our Lady Star of the Sea marked the end of an era, not just for that parish, but for the Archdiocese of Washington. 

The congregation was founded by Blessed John Martin Moye, a French priest who lived from 1730-1793 and was beatified in 1954. The Sisters of Divine Providence first arrived in the United States in 1889. From 1893 to 1957, the sisters served at Caldwell Hall at the Catholic University of America, and for decades at the university’s Graduate Hall and Curley Hall. They also served at Theological College in Washington, D.C., from 1918 to 1986, and at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception from 1925 to 1972. 

The sisters’ service at Catholic University included cooking, dining room service and domestic laundry and cleaning services for the priests and seminarians, and their ministry at the National Shrine included sacristy service. According to the congregation, the income from their services at the university and shrine supported the education of other sister teachers who later served in various schools throughout the United States. 

In addition to serving at Our Lady Star of the Sea, the Sisters of Divine Providence served at four other Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington over the years: at the now-closed Our Lady of Sorrows School in Takoma Park from 1950 to 1977; at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington from 1951 to 1967; at St. Bartholomew School in Bethesda from 1961 to 1982; and at St. Matthias School in Lanham from 1961 to 1981. 

In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the sisters served over the years at St. Louis School in Clarksville and at St. Mary’s Seminary.

An archival photo thought to be from the 1950s shows Sister John Martin Herzog at right with students from Our Lady Star of the Sea School. (Photo courtesy of the Congregation of Divine ProvidenceO 

At the Mass of Thanksgiving that was livestreamed on the parish’s Facebook page and on YouTube, Father Ken Gill, the pastor, welcomed those in the church and watching the Mass online, saying, “Today we come to give thanks for the community of Divine Providence, the sisters who have served not only in our parish… but for all the sisters who have served in the Church of Washington and the state of Maryland.”

In a later interview, Father Gill said the coronavirus pandemic caused changes to the parish’s ability to minister to the community, and two of the sisters are retiring, while the other two sisters who served at Our Lady Star of the Sea are discerning other ministry opportunities.

In his homily, Msgr. Wilson acknowledged “the hard truth that there is a lot of hurt and pain at the sisters’ leaving.” He encouraged parishioners to witness to Christ as the sisters did.

“The future, our future, your future, depends upon our willingness to be humble, hopeful, helpful and healing,” he said. “…The greatest gift we could offer the sisters, our four friends and those who have served before them, is that we live as they taught us, as they witnessed, as they sought to share with us, as they do tomorrow when they continue to serve God faithfully, leaving what they know and venturing out into an unknown but exciting future full of faith.”

A group photo thought to be taken in the early 1980s shows Sisters of the Divine Providence at an anniversary celebration for Our Lady Star of the Sea School. (Photo courtesy of the Congregation of Divine Providence)

The prayers of the faithful at the Mass included prayers that God will continue to guide and bless the Sisters of Divine Providence, and a prayer for the sisters who served in the parish and the archdiocese who have died.

After Communion, Sister Peggy Jacobs -- who served at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish for the past eight years, including in ministry to the sick – spoke on behalf of the sisters, praising the faith of the parishioners, which she said inspired her to be faithful to her own vows.

She noted parishioners’ devotion to the Mass and the Eucharist, and their commitment to their marriage vows, saying she had seen the loving care that spouses offered to each other.

“I have never felt so treasured as I have felt here among you,” she said. “…This is the beauty of this parish. You are loving, devout, faithful and ever committed to our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Sister Peggy noted, “We Sisters of Divine Providence have been with you for 87 years. Now in the plan of Providence, it is time for us to leave… It is now time for us to go, and for you to carry on.”

The order’s charism, she said, includes simplicity, poverty, charity and abandonment to Providence.

“Abandonment to Divine Providence means trusting whatever happens, good or bad, God will take care of us. This is the power of the Resurrection,” she said.

The Sister of Divine Providence encouraged the Our Lady Star of the Sea parishioners to “remain faithful to the lessons you have learned. Keep the faith.”

After leading the congregation in reciting the prayer to Divine Providence, which included the words, “May God’s Providence be with you now and forever,” Sister Peggy said, “Let me remind you to whom this parish really belongs,” and she sang “Ave Maria.”

Her voice broke near the end of the Latin hymn, and after concluding, she smiled and chuckled, “Oh my!” The congregation responded with a long, loud standing ovation. Sister Peggy then said, “May Our Lady Star of the Sea be with you,” and she put her facemask back on and returned to her pew.

In a photo thought to be from the mid-1980s, Sister Charles Marie Siebeneck, a member of the Sisters of Divine Providence who served in pastoral ministry at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish, meets with a woman. (Photo courtesy of the Congregation of Divine Providence)

As the Mass ended, Father Gill said the liturgy and the parishioners’ presence there offered a testimony and witness to the “beautiful gift of the life of religious, a life dedicated to serving the people of God, out of love for God.”

In an earlier interview, Sister Barbara Rohe – the provincial superior for the Congregation of Divine Providence in Melbourne, Kentucky, who served at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Solomons from 2005 to 2014 as a pastoral associate and director of faith formation – said the sisters “are sad to be leaving, but they live abandonment to Providence.”

She added, “It’s our response to God’s call to us to let go. We’ve done this in our individual lives and as a congregation. We know God will provide for the parishioners and for the congregation.”

The Sisters of Divine Providence have 84 sisters in the United States and more than 300 around the world, serving in varied ministries, including at parishes, schools, college campuses, hospitals and in poor communities.

“Our primary ministry is to bring the Good News of God’s love, and we do this in a variety of ways,” Sister Barbara said.

In Solomons and in the Southern Maryland region, in addition to serving at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish and School, the sisters also served with the SMILE food pantry and thrift shop, an ecumenical effort, and with the Southern Maryland Community Resources outreach serving people with developmental differences.

Asked about the legacy of the Sisters of Divine Providence at Solomons and in their other ministries in the Archdiocese of Washington, Sister Barbara said, “I would say the legacy of the sisters, regardless of what ministries they were involved in, was a gift to the people of the archdiocese, and the people of the archdiocese have been a blessing to our congregation.”

Reflecting on Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish, located on a scenic spot on the waterfront of the Patuxent River, she said, “It’s beautiful, not just natural beauty. It’s the people who’ve lived there and worked side-by-side with us over the years who were also beautiful.”