Following years of discernment and planning for the future of their community governance, Our Lady of Victory Missionary (OLVM) Sisters formally transferred leadership on Sunday, Aug. 28, with Sister Jenny Howard of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods stepping into the role as OLVM Congregation Leader.
A special service was held in the Archbishop Noll Memorial Chapel at Victory Noll in Huntington to celebrate the new leadership and offer blessings for the future.
In her remarks during the service, outgoing OLVM President Sister Mary Jo Nelson reminded those gathered that this transfer of leadership does not represent an ending, but the beginning of a new chapter in the 100-year history of the Victory Noll Sisters.
“This is not a completion of our community or the ending of our charism and mission,” she said. “It is not fulfillment, a sense that we have done everything and can now bask in the goodness of our life. Rather, it is a call to live in the evolution of all life, to live in the deep change and a new consciousness of our universe, of our earth, of the world community, of our country, of our Church, and of the bigger picture and reality of religious life. Our journey is a little seed of what is happening everywhere.”
The Sisters of Providence in Terre Haute selected 70-year-old Sister Jenny to be the new OLVM Congregation Leader in April. She has been meeting with the Victory Noll Sisters and staff the past few months in preparation for her new role. In addition, she will serve as President of the new OLVM Corporate Board, which is also part of the new governance structure.
“I’m really humbled by the opportunity,” said Sister Jenny, who has been a Sister of Providence for 39 years. “I really admire the courage of the Victory Noll community. They have not denied the sense of loss that they feel, but they’ve also been so good about establishing ways in which the legacy can continue. It’s a great gift to be able to be part of that journey with them. It’s a great model for the future of religious life.”
Sister Mary Jo was confident that Sister Jenny would be a good steward as the OLVM community enters its second century. “Sister Jenny comes with lots of leadership experience and pastoral experience. I think she is a perfect fit for this transition time in our community,” she said.
The Victory Noll Sisters, who celebrated their 100th anniversary earlier in August, have faced their reality in recent years that no sisters would be willing or able to serve in leadership. Most of the 31 sisters are older than 80 and there have been no new members in the past 25 years.
They began the process of finding a commissary congregation … another community to provide them with a congregation leader. In 2020, OLVM Sisters began conversations with three communities about their willingness to become a commissary congregation. OLVM voted to suspend their current governance structure in 2021 and petition officials in Rome for a commissary. In January of 2022, OLVM Sisters recommended the Sisters of Providence to provide the new congregation leader.
Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, Superior General of the Sisters of Providence, said her congregation promises to provide the loving support the OLVM community needs at this time and into the future.
“In order to assure this will happen, our community has called forth Sister Jenny Howard to walk with you as your congregation leader,” said Sister Dawn. “We Sisters of Providence know Jenny as a faithful daughter of Providence, someone whose life experiences, like your own, have called her to let go in order to let something new come. Thank you, Victory Noll Sisters, for inviting us into your lives. We accept this invitation with great hope for the future of religious life.”
Sister Jenny, a native of Indianapolis, graduated from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and earned a Master’s Degree in Biology from Ball State University. She also has a Master’s Degree in Guidance Counseling in Secondary Schools from Northeastern Illinois University.
In her time as a Sister of Providence, she has ministered on the Congregation’s Leadership Team and as Vocations Director. She has also ministered as a teacher at North Central High School in Indianapolis, as well as Providence-St. Mel School in Chicago and Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. Sister Jenny also ministered on the Congregation’s Leadership Team from 1996 to 2001 and from 2011-21. With a strong passion for justice, Sister Jenny also serves in part-time ministry at Providence Housing Corporation in West Terre Haute.
OLVM has been addressing their current reality and making plans for the future dating back to 2016. They partnered with Saint Anne Communities to build a new health care and residence facility to care for retiring sisters and lay residents. Natural lands on the Victory Noll campus were sold to ACRES Land Trust to preserve them in accordance with the Victory Noll Land Ethic. Most recently, the remaining campus buildings were sold to Huntington County to be used by Community Corrections in a restorative program for low-level drug offenders and to support their healing and wellness.
“The Victory Noll Sisters are filled with great gratitude for the hard work of change, transition, and transformation,” said Sister Mary Jo. “We are also being given a new opportunity to share our lives in a new way with the Sisters of Providence, to offer learnings and wisdom to the whole of religious life to many others who will follow us in some way. And our mission and charism continues in our numerous partnerships throughout the United States.”
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