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Providence Prayer Origins

by Mary Paynter, OP

“Providence can provide, providence did provide, providence will provide . . .”

Sr. Teresita Hession painted this scene of Pont de Lessoc, Fribourg, Switzerland.
Powerful Declaration of Faith. Sr. Teresita Hession painted this scene of Pont de Lessoc, Fribourg, Switzerland.

The first recorded mention of our Providence prayer is in the 1918 annals of the Villa des Fougeres, Fribourg, Switzerland. Teresita Hession, OP (1867–1936), was the annalist, having been one of the four Sisters who arrived during the war in the fall of 1918. She stated (regarding a gift of a meal on the train trip from Portugal to Switzerland), It was truly another instance of the goodness of the Merciful and All-Provident God—a repetition of the loaves and the fishes—and came, perhaps, in response to Sister Evelyn’s [Murphy, OP (1881–1955)] pet prayer—”Providence can provide, Providence did provide, Providence will provide,” for those who ask and trust Him.

Teresita wrote these annal entries long after the incidents recorded (stating, we learned some months later . . .) in the section subtitled “Providence did provide” where she described the difficult war-time travel of the four Sisters on their way to Fribourg.

Much later, in 1976, Myra Mahoney, OP (1897–1979), recalled that At a small church two miles away from Fribourg, Mother Evelyn would often walk this distance. Mother Evelyn would go there to pray, and there was a small diner adjacent to that. Similarly, an interview with Angelina McNamara, OP (1894–1987), recorded the following: Another devotion Mother Evelyn held was to Divine Providence. While assigned earlier at Fribourg, Sister Evelyn often went to Mass at a nearby shrine. At a food counter near the Chapel was posted what later became the Providence prayer: Providence can provide, Providence did provide, Providence will provide; all merciful and all Provident God, hear our prayers and grant our petitions. Later, Mother Evelyn shared this prayer with the Congregation in a letter.

The “nearby shrine” is the famous Sanctuaire de Notre-Dame de Bourguillon—a place of pilgrimage often visited by the Sisters and students at Fougeres. It originated as a shelter/hospital first founded in the 13th century by the citizens of Fribourg for lepers. In 1438, a famous cure from leprosy of Duke Frederick IV was the result of a large-scale pilgrimage to the site. Another famous pilgrimage occurred in 1476, and from that time on, The flow of pilgrims remains uninterrupted to the present . . . and a large pilgrimage of the sick is organized each June (www.ndbourguillon.ch/). From Angelina’s comment, one could assume the Providence prayer (in French) was in the little refreshment place near the famous chapel.

In 1949, at the time of building St. Dominic Villa in Dubuque, Mother Samuel Coughlin, OP (1868–1959), sent an appeal for donations (Evelyn was on Council at that time). In a letter to Sisters Feb. 5, 1949, she included this request: Aim to recite with great fervor our prayer for our building projects. Our trust in Divine Providence must be our chief help. . . . Here at Home we recite this prayer after supper. I wish you would also recite it:
Superior says: Providence can provide, Providence did provide, Providence will provide.
Sisters say: O Almighty and All-provident God, hear our prayers and grant our petition. [recite 3 times]

In December 1951, Benedicta Larkin, OP (1900–1999), wrote to Sisters asking for a “crusade of prayer” for the renewal of health of Mother Evelyn: Will you say the Providence prayer after grace each evening, especially for Mother’s need.

The St. Clara annals for October 1967 record that in a conventual chapter, the Sisters voted on continuing or discontinuing prayers said in common at St. Clara: It was decided that the following prayers would be discontinued from community prayers: the Morning Offering and the Providence prayer. However, the Providence prayer was later resumed at the Motherhouse at the time of evening prayer, and it remains a powerful declaration of faith, of gratitude, and of hope.

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