Le Fer Hall in the summer

A Conversation about the Future

Onyx Online | 06.12.2019

Interview by Dee Reed ’08

Sister Tomaszewski walking with President King
Sisters of Providence General Superior Dawn Tomaszewski ’74, walks with President Dottie L. King, Ph.D., in Le Fer Hall as they share conversation.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College’s ongoing partnership with the Sisters of Providence is crystal clear in SMWC President Dottie King’s mind.

“Together, we shape The Woods to advance positive change. And the culture of the College and the SPs is enriched each by the other,” said King.

King and Sisters of Providence General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski ’74 recently engaged in a spirited conversation regarding the future and momentum of the College. This conversation was an insightful look into embracing change and creating meaningful opportunities to work together to strengthen the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods community.

What do you think are SMWC’s and SP’s strengths?

Sister Dawn

One of the greatest gift we Sisters of Providence offer the world is also one of the greatest strengths of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College: community. SMWC is definitely a strong learning community, but it is also a strong loving community. The individual attention that is given here, the lifelong relationships that are born and nurtured here are among the hallmarks of this institution throughout its history.

We Sisters of Providence call this place home but so do students and alums. The education on this campus reflects that. There is an intimacy here. And in a world that prizes individual achievement, community can be somewhat countercultural. So, we need to continue to nurture that here.

We have many common bonds with the College not the least of which is this place and our common heritage. But we also have a common mission. We both seek to do what Saint Mother Theodore did in her time—respond to the needs of the time.

Keeping in mind Saint Mother Theodore’s mission of education, how do you see the College living out her legacy?

Sister Dawn

Mother Theodore had a very definitive educational philosophy. ‘Love the children first, and then teach them’ is one of her often quoted expressions of that philosophy. This goes back to that idea of community as one of the College’s strengths.

In remarks to the attendees of the President’s Christmas dinner, I referred to the renaissance that the College is experiencing. The building of the Knoerle Center, the establishment of the nursing program as well as the decision to go co-ed have resulted in a renaissance—a rebirth, resurgence, revitalization of this institution. These have been among the ways the College has strived to ensure the future of the College, respond to the needs of the time and thus keep alive the legacy of Mother Theodore. I think both the SPs and SMWC have this personal conviction not to let her down. We need to continue to keep ourselves open to the spirit of God and the spirit of Mother Theodore for guidance.

President King

I agree. She indeed responded to the needs of society in her day. And so, an academy for girls doesn’t make sense anymore. The Woods has been blessed to continually change and evolve in ways that meet society today. I believe we are still doing that. However, we must never think we can do it detached from God and from the way God has used this institution and His plans for this place, which ties us directly to the Sisters of Providence.

How does the recent land sale support SMWC?

Sister Dawn

How exciting that at this moment in its history, the College needs land! This need for land is a visible symbol of the growth and new life evident at the College right now. It represents years and years of dreaming, taking risks and trusting in Providence. It is as if everything is coming together for good and for the future of the College. There is new energy, new life and the campus is abuzz. I love it! And I believe the decision to sell SP land to the College is a sign that the Sisters of Providence love it as well!

President King

Indeed, this is an incredible opportunity that benefits us both. Additional revenue will strengthen Sisters’ efforts and help us to establish new growth strategies which could include an expansion of our equine offerings and athletic facilities, among other possibilities.

Sister Tomaszewski and President King standing in front of SMWC banner
President Dottie L. King, Ph.D., and Sisters of Providence General Superior Dawn Tomaszewski ’74, at the press conference announcing SMWC’s purchase of land from the Sisters of Providence.

How are you building on the commonalities of the Sisters of Providence and SMWC?

The Sisters of Providence and SMWC partner together with intentionality in a variety of meaningful ways:

  • The new SMWC Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Agriculture provides farmers, agriculture educators and citizens with the skills to be responsible growers and the knowledge to make sustainable farming choices. The intensive three-week summer term, is delivered at the SP-sponsored White Violet Center for Eco Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence.
  • SMWC and the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods announced the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Historic District, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The district consists of buildings and structures owned by each individual entity. Together, SPs and SMWC are planning events to share the history of the district.
  • Woods Core 100, a required course, focuses on the concept of communities, and how they have influenced societies and education. It introduces the concept of the SMWC community and its mission and values. This course integrates SPs by sharing spirituality and wisdom.

Sister Dawn

Both entities are being intentional about inviting the other into each other’s space and lives. For example, I love that the SMWC drama and music productions are available to SPs as if we were faculty or students. And I love that the Sisters ask students to attend Taizé [a prayer service offered every second Tuesday of each month].

We just have to keep talking to one another. When we’re making decisions, we need to ask ourselves how will this impact the other. We cannot act in isolation; we must be attentive to all communities connected to this campus. For us that includes Sisters, Providence Associates, Providence Health Care and, of course, the College. Soon, we hope to add those who will join us at St. Mary’s Senior Housing.

President King

We deliberately put ourselves in meetings with each other and to make sure opportunities to work together happens. It is indeed worth the effort. Many interactions happen with a lot of planning on our part and some occur naturally and we are excited by it.

We have a healthy respect for the fact that we can’t do everything together. There are different needs in an educational facility than in a religious community. We communicate those needs and offer help in different ways.

I know we are all operating out of a deep trust in Providence. One of the ways we trust in Providence is in our willingness to dream, innovate and take risks – that is trust in Providence. We are trusting what we heard in the dark can be seen in the light and will come to a good fruitful end. God isn’t sending us the plan. God is sending us the strength to be co-creators. And we need to use the gifts we have been given by this Provident God and get it done.

We hold fast to our mission and values. Who we are also includes how we treat one another and the value of community. As the College continues to respond to the needs of the society around it, we are evolving and moving through challenges. I believe it is a difference maker in how we deliver education.

Together, we continue to put The Woods on an upward trajectory. Making it a place of distinction and greater consequence is vital. We have such opportunities to share our story and the love of the Sisters of Providence for years and years to come. The Woods can reach its potential through active engagement, giving back more than we have taken and taking actions today to ensure abundance tomorrow.

And in challenging times, you cling to your core beliefs. You cling to your faith and the Providence of God. It proves who you are because what you do next is everything.

Dottie L. King, Ph.D., is a distinguished scholar and an influential leader and serves as the 16th president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics and a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction/educational leadership from Indiana State University. King often speaks on the topics of leadership, strategic visioning and transformation, and empowering women through education.

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, has been serving as the General Superior of the Sisters of Providence since 2016. She graduated from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in communications, and also earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina. In addition, she has a master’s degree in theology from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Sister Dawn dedicates her life to love, mercy and justice to create a more just and hope-filled world through prayer, education, service and advocacy.