Sisters of Providence: Architects of Hope and Care at Providence Village

We had the privilege of speaking with Sister Sandra Shannon and Sister Frances O’Brien, members of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul Leadership team, about the origins and development of Providence Village. This unique and visionary project embodies the Sisters’ commitment to serving the community’s evolving needs.

Founded in 1861, the Sisters of Providence have a rich history of providing compassionate care and addressing social injustices in our community and beyond. As the congregation faced demographic shifts and changing needs, they embarked on a journey to ensure the continuation of their mission. This led to the founding and establishment of Providence Village, a project that seeks to provide holistic care, support and empowerment for vulnerable populations in Kingston.

During our conversation, Sister Sandra and Sister Frances shared the Sisters’ inspiration behind Providence Village, highlighting their unwavering commitment to their mission and the community. They also discussed key moments and experiences that shaped the vision for Providence Village, emphasizing how it reflects the Sisters’ core values. Additionally, they provided insights into the future growth and adaptation of Providence Village.

Their words offer a compelling look into the transformative impact of Providence Village and the Sisters’ enduring commitment to serving the vulnerable with dignity and compassion. Read on for the full interview or watch the video below.


Thank you, Sister Sandra and Sister Frances for joining us today on behalf of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul to speak with us and provide some insights into the origins of Providence Village. 

What inspired the Sisters of Providence to establish Providence Village?

Sister Sandra: In 2011, the Sisters of Providence took a long, loving look at our reality. We knew that our demographics were saying that our numbers were declining and our ages were going up, and that there had been no one entering for the past 25 years.

And so we knew that we just could not carry on the way we were.  So we looked at ourselves,  And our primary  objective was to be sure that our mission could carry on in the future.  And so, um, we looked at our properties and we looked at that mission going forward. Those were the two things.  And out of that,  we  decided we needed some kind of a plan.

And so, we developed a plan through what? [Looks to Sister Frances]

Sister Frances: Well, we hired a planning consultant, Dale Kenny, in 2014, who assisted us in developing a long-range plan that continues today to guide us. So it was right on the mark for where we needed to be thinking and making decisions for today. I’m going to give you the five points of that long-range plan, because they still mean a great deal to us:

The Sisters of Providence will: Provide ongoing holistic care for the members of our congregation; we will ensure our mission will continue into the future; we will ensure there’s ongoing governance, leadership, and administration for the remaining sisters; and we will ensure our financial security. And the fifth [point] was a real desire to mitigate the impact of our changing life on our staff and the other two congregations of sisters whom we care for here at Providence Mother House. Those are the five pillars of our long range plan.  


How did the Sisters envision Providence Village contributing to the community when the idea was conceived?  

Sister Sandra: Well, Sister Frances just finished reading the long-range plan of the Sisters of Providence and we now look and can see how Providence Village has indeed carried out at least three of those five long-range plan goals. 

The first one was to provide ongoing holistic care for the members of the congregation. Well, in fact, Providence Village will continue to look after the healthcare and all needs of the Sisters who are living within the motherhouse and beyond.

The second one was to ensure that our mission will continue. For me, this is the primary goal of Providence Village, because of the work, the vision and the mission that it has, it is, in fact, carrying on the mission of the Sisters of Providence. And that was one of our primary goals. The third long-range plan goal that I believe Providence Village is carrying too, is mitigating the changes that have occurred over the last several years. [They have] mitigated the changes that affect the staff and our and the other two congregations that live with us, as well as ourselves [the Sisters of Providence].

So, for me, Providence Village has indeed helped us to accomplish at least three of the long-range goals that we had back in 2014-15.

Sister Frances: We then had to commission another consultant. We were advised by our planning consultant, Dale Kenny, to have someone carry out a community needs assessment in the Kingston region, because our history [the history of Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul] has always been about meeting the unmet needs of the people wherever we have lived and worked. To do that, you have to identify what the unmet needs are. The study was carried out by Julie Bessant Pelech, a consultant who did this community needs assessment and drew up a master program for us.

We learned through this that the primary unmet needs of the Kingston region were caring for and providing for older adults, for adults [living] with disabilities, for people living with mental health issues, and a more general group of need is women and children. So the study then made recommendations on how the site here – Providence Motherhouse and its property, which we now call Providence Village – might be developed to serve these various needs that were identified.

That was a very big step for us to take and has helped us continue the development of Providence Village. 

Sister Sandra: We can’t be all things to all people. So we saw through Providence Village that it would be able to serve the people. All we can provide is space. I just really want to make it clear that even Providence Village is not doing the programs to the people that we’ve just mentioned, or to whomever Providence Village can partner with. It’s more that Providence Village provides a space, either within the Motherhouse or on the grounds, for other organizations to develop their programs and to be able to provide whatever it is that they bring for the vulnerable of the city [of Kingston]. So that’s how Providence Village is contributing to the community; it will provide space for others to provide for and meet the unmet needs of the people of Kingston and beyond.


I thought there’d have to be a lot of explanation [of the concept, considering the extent of the Sisters’ gift and the change on their lives]. And they [all the Sisters] just all said “Yes!” right away. “Yes, we want to do this,” “Yes, this is how our mission will go forward.” So, yes! And actually it was a unanimous yes. It was just such a heartfelt moment. – Sister Sandra Shannon

Can you share any specific moments or experiences that shaped the vision for Providence Village?

Sister Sandra: Well, for me, there was one very important moment, and that was when our consultant, Dale Kinney, presented to the Sisters of Providence General Chapter [a meeting of all the Sisters] the long-range plan that we mentioned and a bit of a blueprint of what Providence Village could be. I thought there’d have to be a lot of explanation [of the concept, considering the extent of the Sisters’ gift and the change on their lives]. Andy they [all the Sisters] just all said “Yes!” right away. “Yes, we want to do this!”, and “Yes, this is how our mission will go forward.” So, yes! And actually it was a unanimous yes. It was just such a heartfelt moment.

And in fact, they [the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul] continue to say “Yes” every day, because every day right now, we are experiencing the construction on the property, so there’s disruption [to our daily lives], and there’s noise, and so every day they need to say “Yes, this is what we believe in, because we realize that this is how our mission is going to be carried forward,” and “This is how the people of Kingston and surrounding areas will be served in the future.” So that moment of yes was so important to me. 

Sister Frances: So in 2017, we were able to gather this inaugural Board of Directors. It was fledgling because, while they all had board experience, it was nothing similar in the sense that we were creating this as we went along.

But the original people on that board, by and large, are still there, about to finish their terms. And they’ve continued to grow, in our experience, into a real governing board. That was, that was their purpose. In the beginning, I think it was much more hands on or trying to grasp and steer the details of things. But they are much more a governing board at this point, and they are definitely recruiting new members now from the community at large with diverse backgrounds. So, we’re very proud and pleased with what has been accomplished since 2017 to this point as far as the Board of Directors goes. 

Sister Sandra: I think another pivotal moment in the development of Providence Village was the celebration we had in 2019 when the Sisters of Providence turned the [Providence] Motherhouse and the property, which is about 30 acres, over to the Catholic Health Sponsors of Ontario. They are really the sponsors of Providence Village, who then leased the land to Providence Village, and then Providence Village runs the Village. 

So that moment of the Sisters having given up – and the symbol of the Sisters giving up – the land and the buildings was very powerful. We had a lot of people at the celebration and it wasn’t a sad celebration. You know, you could say, “Well, weren’t the Sisters a little bit sad? I mean, they don’t own the property anymore. They don’t own the building, which they have owned since the early 1930s. Aren’t they sad about that?” Well, no, we weren’t sad about that! Because now we see a future for the property; we see a future for the Motherhouse. And we know it’s a good future. It’s to serve the people and that’s what we have always been about. 

Sister Frances: Another specific moment for me was when the Providence Village Board [of Directors] went through the exercise of a search committee to find a president and CEO who would take on the operationalizing of the vision and the mission [of Providence Village] under the direction of the Board [of Directors]. And that was an exciting process because we had candidates from basically all over the world that the board was interviewing. The process of going through headhunting was very exciting. And the quality of candidates that were interviewed was amazing. It was a long process and the board finally settled on hiring one of the candidates, who has been the President & CEO since she was hired, Laurie French. Laurie is working very diligently under the direction of the board to help bring about this vision and mission and grasps it very well. So we’re just delighted with how Providence [God] has provided everything we’ve needed to bring this about. 


Commitment to justice, peace, and integrity of creation is another core value that the Sisters have, but it is also a deep core value of Providence Village. Right from the beginning, one of the goals [of Providence Village] was to preserve as much green space as possible. And so, to that end, the Village is being developed in a way of preserving as much green space as possible. – Sister Sandra Shannon

In what ways does Providence Village reflect the core values and mission of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul?  

Sister Sandra: The first core value of the Sisters of Providence is ‘Trust in Providence.’ And I think every board member, and every staff member too, have heard that phrase – Trust in Providence – since the day they became associated with the Sisters of Providence. And, over time, they actually live out of that. So I think Providence Village has had to trust in Providence over many, many things since its beginning, because it was such a brand new thought, a brand new concept. In fact, I think it’s the only one in Ontario. So we [the Board of Directors] had to trust that what they were developing was going to be what was needed [for the community]. 

A second core value would be service with compassion, and that truly is what Providence Village is also about. Although, as I said earlier, Providence Village doesn’t actually provide the service that is being offered on the land and in the building, but it does oversee that those programs are given to the people in a spirit of compassion, in a spirit of humility, simplicity, and charity – that’s part of the Board’s mandate. So, yes, again, the Board does follow the core values of the Sisters in that respect.

Commitment to justice, peace, and integrity of creation is another core value that the Sisters have, but it is also a deep core value of Providence Village. Right from the beginning, one of the goals [of Providence Village] was to preserve as much green space as possible. And so, to that end, the Village is being developed in a way of preserving as much green space as possible.

So I think that Providence Village, again, is following one of the core values of the Sisters of Providence. They may not have even realized this, but that’s what’s happening! 

And our last core value is a contemplative stance in life, which really means that we take time –  time to ponder, time to pray, time to see the best way forward. And I do believe that that’s how the board [of Directors of Providence Village], reacts to and responds to [the growth and evolution] of Providence Village. Providence Village is a faith-based organization, so taking the time to reflect is very important. And I do believe that the board does do that too. 

So I think that’s how the core values of the Sisters line up with the values of Providence Village.


How do you see Providence Village continuing to grow and adapt to meet the evolving needs of the community in the future?

Sister Frances: I think one of the ways that we are trying to grow and adapt to understand evolving needs and to meet them is to expand the Providence Village Board to include more diverse representation from the community at large, so that we as a board, have a better understanding of what the evolving needs are in this area. Certainly the President & CEO, Laurie French, has been holding community engagements to promote understanding of Providence Village and to invite potential partners in the future to think about if this is a place where they would want to bring their programs to serve the vulnerable and to partner with the Village. Education of the public at large is important in whatever way we can do that, and then engaging with potential partners for the future. That’s a major piece of her work that is ramping up even more now at the present time.

Sister Sandra: It’s also continuing to grow and adapt by operationalizing the Sister’s commitment to protect the environment. And so in making decisions, as I said earlier, that is one of the goals. And it’s a lens through which the board looks at construction and those who wish to partner with PVI using the land. Providence Village needs to continue to look at who would be the best partners to help fulfill its mission, so they have to look at the reality of today – and not be stuck back in what we [the Sisters] had decided a long time ago.

And I do believe, too, that Providence Village is a place of inclusion, a place of equity and diversity. And that’s a goal that Providence Village wants to develop even further into the future. 


Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share with us? 

Sister Frances: As I think about the journey we’ve been on as a small congregation of women who are coming to completion, who had a mission and wanted  to continue with a legacy in the future that would serve the needs of the vulnerable, there’s a real sense of pride.

Sister Sandra: Good pride. 

Sister Frances: Good pride, yes. Good pride in the fact that now, after we’ve  been on this journey so long, we see it coming to fruition. In that sense, I am really proud that we have been able to leave this legacy behind to serve the vulnerable when we are no longer here.

Sister Sandra: Our charism could be sort of summed up in “Trusting in Providence, we walk in hope.” So I think the trusting in Providence piece we have done – we do put our trust in Providence that [Providence Village] will be the [Sisters] legacy that Francis spoke about going into the future. And I do believe that we walk in hope. We have great hope that Providence Village will be that vehicle for the people of Kingston to be able to come to and receive services with compassion and dignity and respect. So, going forward, I have that sense of pride and sense of hope.