ST. MARY-OF-THE-WOODS —
The Fillenwarth sisters are sisters in more than one sense of the word.
Both were born two of the eight children of city cop Henry and his wife Catherine Fillenwarth. Both grew up among a large and giving Catholic extended family in inner-city Indianapolis in the 1940s.
It was a decision that older sister Mary (now known as Sister Joseph) made as a teenager: that she wanted to become a Sister of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, and that Patty (now known as Sister Patty) made four years later that made them sisters in a second sense: both members of the same Congregation of religious sisters.
Thus for the past 55 years the Fillenwarth sisters have lived not only as blood sisters, but as religious sisters as well.
A fun sense of camaraderie livens the area when Sisters Patty and Joseph, now both in their seventies, are together: a teasing humor, a warmth, a playful bantering.
“She was spoiled,” Sister Joseph taunts Sister Patty.
As the two sisters work together cleaning dishes after preparing treats to share with family members, Sister Patty mentions, “I was one of the youngest, so I used to sneak out when they were doing dishes at home.”
“See, she was spoiled! It came from her own mouth,” Sister Joseph says.
“I was not just a youngest, I was the smartest,” laughs Sister Patty.
“There’s one in every family,” laments Sister Joseph, shaking her head.
Both sisters know the teasing is all in fun. They say their parents taught them that you could be different and still get along, and that has served their relationship and that of their siblings well.
“Since we’ve been in the community, we really haven’t been in proximity all that much. But we’re always happy to see each other, and we always seem to love what we do,” Sister Patty said.
Despite the lack of proximity, plenty of similarities exist in the sisters’ life paths. “We both started as teachers, and then we were both principals, and then she went to the foreign missions in South America and I went to the home missions, so we were both missionaries in different senses,” Sister Joseph said.
The sisters say they are both full of energy and determined. They point out plenty of differences as well: Sister Patty is more laid back than Sister Joseph; Sister Joseph is more of a neat nick than Sister Patty.
But both share a similar life’s passion: helping others, especially those who are poor.
That passion has sometimes stretched them beyond their comfort zones: to the South American country of Peru, to areas in the U.S. where only one half of one percent of the population was Catholic or to the big, intimidating city of Chicago.
Today, both sisters live out that passion full-heartedly in the work they do.
Sister Patty is the founder and director of Providence Family Services in Chicago, where she also serves as a counselor to Spanish-speaking and often low-income individuals who would not have access to such help elsewhere.
Sister Patty’s journey to Chicago started in Peru when she volunteered to go as a foreign missionary with a group of Sisters of Providence in the early 1970s.
“That changed my whole life,” she said.
Sister Patty returned home after six years due to political unrest that caused the Congregation to deem it unsafe, but she didn’t want to lose her Spanish. A sister in her Congregation’s leadership suggested she go to Chicago; that did not excite her.
“I said, ‘Oh no, too big and chaotic and busy, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. And the other sister said, ‘Just go and try.’ So, here I am 37 years later. So it is big and busy, but it also has a lot of wonderful people,” Sister Patty said.
Sister Patty served as a teacher and then principal at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Chicago for more than 15 years. During that time she noticed among the people in her Humboldt Park neighborhood an unmet need for affordable, bi-lingual counseling. So with the support of her congregation, Sister Patty set out to fill that need to a struggling population. She returned to school to get a counseling degree and then opened Providence Family Services. Now, 18 years later, PFS also offers English as a Second Language classes, citizenship classes, computer classes and an afterschool homework club for students whose parents may not speak English well enough to help with homework.
“I love doing it. It gives me energy in itself. People say, ‘You’re always running around, up and down, up and down, up and down all day.’ And I get tired from it, of course, but I’m energized by it because I know we’re doing good work, and people are being helped. It does my heart good to see people helping themselves. “
“I wanted to do some kind of missionary work with the poor,” Sister Joseph said.
So she spent 27 years working with the Glenmary home mission priests in small, impoverished rural parishes in Oklahoma and Kentucky.
Upon her retirement six years ago, Sister Joseph stepped right into her current role as director of Providence Food Pantry in West Terre Haute. There she works with agencies and various churches in the area to offer food to people in need.
“I think the most important thing is the support that we give from the pantry. It’s nice to see all the churches working together and trying to help the needy in the community,” Sister Joseph said.
People who come to the pantry are treated with dignity. They get to choose foods they like, and they get three different kinds of meat, and eggs and fresh produce, she said.
Sister Joseph said that she is thankful for the good health and energy that keeps her so active despite her 76 years. In addition to running the pantry every Thursday morning, the rest of the week she keeps busy with tasks such as traveling around Terre Haute and West Terre Haute to pick up donated foods from Catholic Charities or local grocery stores. She also works to keep the area from which they operate clean and organized and to keep all the paperwork in order.
Sister Joseph also volunteers two afternoons a week tutoring a child at Educational/Family Services in West Terre Haute. She staffs a phone room in one of her motherhouse buildings on Monday and Wednesday mornings. When she’s not doing those things, she is writing thank you notes and encouraging people to keep on giving to the pantry.
Like her sister, Sister Joseph is always going, always pouring her energy into helping others.
“I think we’re here to be of service, and Jesus didn’t go to the wealthy. He went to the people who needed help. Not that you overlook the rich, but there’s such a great need,” Sister Joseph said.
Sister Patty agrees.
“I’m happy here. I’m here because I want to be here. Nobody ever made me come. Nobody ever made me stay. And that’s why I stay, because I like it,” Sister Patty says of her ministry at Providence Family Services.
And though their common passion has led them to different places with similar missions, the sisters remain close.
“I’m always glad to come home and see Mary [Sister Patty still calls her sister by her given name], but she knows and I know that I do my business and she does hers. And she thinks I’m crazy sometimes, and I think she’s crazy sometimes,” Sister Patty says.
Sister Joseph agrees with her sister. “And we both know it,” she says, “… that you’re crazy sometimes.”
Sister sisters share a love for helping those in need
ST. MARY-OF-THE-WOODS —
The Fillenwarth sisters are sisters in more than one sense of the word.
- Valley Life
Longtime weatherman Jesse Walker relates well to people of Wabash Valley
While in middle and high school, Jesse Walker developed a strong interest in the weather. He thought about a career at the National Weather Service or at a storm prediction center, but the idea of becoming a television meteorologist never entered his mind.
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Keep your garden — and yourself — safe from lead
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead poisoning is the No. 1 preventable environmental cause of illness in children.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: Need something for the kids? Try these Ritzy Cookies
When we have dinners at the church, one of the ladies brings these cookies. Nancy Kahl has been making these for some time now. They are so good. Need something for your kids? Make sure that there isn’t any one who can’t have peanuts. These are so easy and extra good.
DNR stocks ponds in Terre Haute with catfish
Fishing opportunities in eight Indiana cities got a boost on Monday as part of an ongoing effort by the Department of Natural Resources to promote angling in urban areas.
Katherine Trueblood to celebrate 90th birthday
A card shower is planned to honor Katherine Campbell Trueblood on her 90th birthday.
State Park Road Rally coming up June 9-11
Participants will pilot their own vehicles, as their navigator steers them to points of interest and natural wonders during the State Park Road Rally June 9-11, with overnight stays at Canyon Inn in McCormick’s Creek State Park.
CANDLES plans film night
CANDLES Holocaust Museum will host a film night at 7 p.m. on Thursday, featuring the documentary “Porraimos: Europe’s Gypsies in the Holocaust” and its director Alexandra Isles, at the museum.
“Porraimos” premiered at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2002.
Author to lead interpretive writing workshop
An interpretive writing workshop led by Alan Leftridge, Ph.D., author of the textbook “Interpretive Writing,” will be offered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 12 at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis.
WEDDING: Published May 19, 2013
Ruth Brown and Josh Edwards were married at 2:30 p.m. on May 11, 2013, in West Terre Haute by the Rev. Paul Shelton.
Fraud and Scam Awareness Seminar is Tuesday
The Investor Protection Trust estimated that more than 7.3 million seniors (about 20 percent of all Americans 65 and older) have been victimized by a scam. Met Life Inc. estimated the annual loss by victims of elderly scams at $2.9 billion dollars.
FAMILY TIES: While searching for my grandfather, I found my mother
I remember the afternoon my mother received the chilling news from her nephew that her oldest sister and brother-in-law had been killed in a car/bus collision.
GRAPE SENSE: Same old whites getting you down? Try something different
If the same old Chardonnay, Riesling or Pinot Grigio is getting you down, try something different.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: A Rhubarb Nut Bread for the season
Last fall we went to the Covered Bridge Festival. Gene loves to go. Anyway, I got to talking to this lady, Treva Smith, at Bridgeton.
ENGAGEMENT: Published May 12, 2013
Friends of Library plans annual book sale
The Friends of the Vigo County Public Library is planning its annual book sale from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and from 1 to 4 p.m. May 19 in the Main Library Lower Level Meeting Rooms A, B, C and D.
Woman’s Press Club celebrates 100 years
On Feb. 18, 1913, a group of 13 female journalists and activists met for lunch at the Tea Room in L. S. Ayres Department Store in downtown Indianapolis to found the Woman’s Press Club of Indianapolis.
Children’s Museum to host orientation for summer volunteers
Those who are looking for a way to give back to the community and have fun at the same time are invited to attend a volunteer orientation session at the Terre Haute Children’s Museum from 4 to 5:30 p.m.
Walk for greyhound rescue
A family pet walk fundraiser open to all breeds is set for at 2 p.m. May 19 at Buggs Temple on the Canal Walk in Indianapolis.
‘Food Safety: From Garden Gates to Dinner Plates’ workshop coming up in June
There is a new law on the books in Illinois called the Cottage Food Operation Act of 2011. This new law allows for the preparation and sale of certain low-risk foods in the private home without the expense of a commercially certified kitchen and for the sale of said foods at a farmers market.
Scams are brown bag focus
The Vigo County Public Library’s next brown bag event, “Don’t Be a Victim!” featuring Amy Wardlow, is set for 12:10 p.m. Thursday at the main branch.
Countryside, Kalorama gardens celebrating opening weekend
Countryside Gardens, owned by Terry and Jennie O’Rourke, and Kalorama Gardens, owned by Steve and Linda Gard, opened for the season this weekend. Both gardens are in Marshall, Ill. Opening days continue from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.
Saturday seminar to bring nationally known genealogists to Ivy Tech
The Wabash Valley Genealogy Society is offering the public a unique opportunity to learn more about the new techniques and methods now available for individuals interested in doing genealogical research on the Internet.
Evening Thyme Garden Club to host garden fair at Clark County Fairgrounds
The Evening Thyme Garden Club will present the 15th annual garden fair from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m Saturday at Clark County Fairgrounds in Marshall, Ill., with free parking and admission.
Student mentoring program offers one-on-one technology instruction
The Connecting Generations Mentoring Program can help those who would like one-on-one instruction on how to use the Internet or other technology.
CULINARY COURSES: Clabber Girl Classroom Kitchen provides variety of cooking courses for the Valley
There are a few taste-bud-tantalizing-perks for having America’s leading baking powder producer in your backyard. For nearly 120 years, Clabber Girl has been a staple in Terre Haute. In 1899, Hulman and Company began offering up what was to become one of the oldest brands in the country, Clabber baking powder. In 1923, the company changed the baking powder brand name to Clabber Girl.
CHRIS DAVIES: Keep sodium levels in mind when sweating buckets
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YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Union Hospital creates community garden
Union Hospital will be opening a community garden on its campus in mid-May. Before they embarked on such a challenge, they looked to their neighbor Indiana State University for advice.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: Try this when you’ve got to avoid salt
I have a good friend in an assisted living complex. She went to her doctor last winter and he told her she had to leave off the salt. My mother used this when dad couldn’t have any salt.
I like to keep this on hand. In summer when it’s real hot I keep in refrigerator. Keep in an air tight container.
NEWSMAKER: May 5, 2013
Carolyn Whitcomb Jeffries was installed as president of the State Huguenot Society of Indiana on April 21 at Meridian Hills Country Club of Indianapolis.
ANNIVERSARY: Published May 5, 2013
Mr. and Mrs. Larry Abel
Larry and Rose Abel will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.
The couple will have a reception in June.
- More Valley Life Headlines
- Longtime weatherman Jesse Walker relates well to people of Wabash Valley