Sisters of Providence joined parishioners and visitors during the Oct. 7 Eucharistic Liturgy at St. Benedict Parish.

The warmth of the sun, the beauty of the fall season and the friendliness of St. Benedict parishioners set the tone for a special blessing during the church’s Oct. 7 Eucharistic Liturgy.

Sisters of Providence, guests of St. Benedict, attended the liturgy to witness a blessing honoring Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, the eighth U.S. saint and Indiana’s first, and foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. (See a slideshow of the day’s events at the end of this story.)

Kathy Sternal, liturgy coordinator, said the church’s Faith Formation and Liturgy committees worked together to plan the occasion.

‘This is the first time we have done something like this at St. Ben’s,” Kathy said, referring to the blessing of the church’s Saint Mother Theodore statue. Teresa Clark, the statue’s sculptor, was also present.

“We wanted to do something like this for Mother Theodore, especially since October is such an important month,” Kathy added.

Saint Mother Theodore was born Oct. 2, 1798, in Brittany, France. Her feast day is Oct. 3, and Oct. 22 is Foundation Day for the Sisters of Providence when Mother Theodore and her five companion sisters traveled from France to the U.S. and arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840.

Father Edmund Goldbach offered the blessing for the church’s Saint Mother Theodore Guerin statue (seen at right).

Those important events for Saint Mother Theodore and the sisters resulted in a perfect time for the church to offer the blessing.

“We wanted to recognize Saint Mother Theodore and the sisters,” Kathy said. “Thank God, for Mother Theodore and the sisters.”

The connection between St. Benedict Parish and the Sisters of Providence runs deep. Sister Marie Grace Molloy, a volunteer with the Sisters of Providence Archives Department, noted the sisters taught at St. Benedict School from 1882-1970. (The school closed in 1970.)

St. Benedict Parish’s blessing during Mass was inspiring to the Sisters of Providence, including Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior.

“I am convinced that Mother Theodore is a very ‘accessible saint’ — a saint who already has endeared herself to many — but whose life and words have the potential to influence many more ‘ordinary’ people who are trying to lead good, spiritual, meaningful lives,” Sister Denise noted.

“So when the parish community of St. Benedict’s indicated an interest in having her statue in their church, it said to me that they want to come to know her more — to let her values influence, strengthen theirs. That Mother Theodore Guerin was a frequent visitor to Terre Haute, that she came to love the people and place of Terre Haute makes her more real, more ‘believable’ to those of us in this area,” Sister Denise said.

Father Edmund Goldbach, who conducted the blessing of the statue, said, “It’s good to see so many sisters here for the occasion, as the parish honors the local saint.” He directed attendees’ attention to the place where the Saint Mother Theodore statue would be placed in the church.

Sister Ann Brendan Burget, who also attended the Mass, graduated from eighth grade at St. Benedict School in 1949. “I was baptized there, made my first communion, and first Penance there,” she said. “My family sang in the choir on Sundays and my brothers were often altar boys.”

Sister Ann Brendan’s brother, Father Joel Burget, was pastor at St. Benedict for 12 years. “He still lives there in retirement,” she said, adding, “I was very pleased that the parish wanted to honor our Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.”

To the delight of guests, Sister Sue Paweski portrayed Saint Mother Theodore Guerin during a luncheon after Mass at the St. Benedict Parish Center in Terre Haute, Ind..

Ken and Elizabeth Bormann, of Dennison, Ill., who joined the sisters at Mass, both have a strong connection to Saint Mother Theodore and the sisters.

Elizabeth, who had been a Sister of Providence from 1954-73, said, “I have been with Mother Theodore for a long time.” She also mentioned that she is a sibling of Sister Rita Lechner (RIP) and Sister Mary Ann Lechner.

Ken said he and his wife spend a lot of time at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. “We love being out there with the sisters.”

After Mass, the church hosted a luncheon in the Parish Center. Those in attendance were treated to Sister Sue Paweski’s portrayal of Saint Mother Theodore. That was something Sister Barbara Doherty enjoyed very much.

“If anything is about Mother Theodore, I want to be there,” Sister Barbara said, adding that the saint brings people of all faiths together. “I love her and would walk anyplace to hear about her.”

Annette Burch, a Terre Haute resident and St. Benedict parishioner, said she admires Saint Mother Theodore for the “work that she did and [how she overcame] the obstacles she faced at the time.”

Saint Mother Theodore’s faith, Annette said, enabled her “to do what she was sent out to do.”

Statue blessing