Happy Foundation Day!
We celebrate with deep gratitude the six Sisters of Providence who arrived here 172 years ago today!
I know you can name them – Mother Theodore Guerin, Sister St. Vincent Gagé, Sister Basilide Sénéchal, Sister Olympiade Boyer, Sister Mary Xavier Lerée, and Sister Mary Ligouri Tiercin. These six ranged in age from 42 to 22 years old. Sisters Mary Xavier and Mary Ligouri, the two youngest in the company, respectively 24 and 22 years old.
Because these six women risked all for the sake of the Gospel, because they burned with a passion born of faith, we are here to today!
These six heard proclaimed to them the same Gospel proclaimed to us today. They not only heard but they heeded the words of Jesus to lay aside all worry and anxiety about feeding and clothing themselves and trust in God’s prodigal and providential love for them.
Like us, these six heard that their own basic needs would be met while they were striving “for the realm of God.” Like us, these six understood that the realm of God, the kin-dom of God comes about through the creation of inclusive table fellowship. Like us, they recognized the kin-dom of God present when “the blind see, the lame walk, the hungry are fed, and the prisoners set free.”
Because Mother Theodore, Sisters St. Vincent, Basilide, Olympiade, Mary Xavier and Mary Ligouri took seriously Jesus’ admonition to “strive for the realm of God,” they left all who were dear to them, all that was beloved and familiar and came to establish a school and to found a religious community.
Again, I repeat, because these six women risked all for the sake of the Gospel, we are here today!
Remembering them now, perhaps we’d rather limit our response to gratitude for them and not in imitation of them. I certainly have some of that feeling in me.
We Sisters of Providence have called ourselves to refounding in order to respond to the urgent global needs of our day, especially those issues affecting women and Earth. But certainly our refounding won’t take the kind of radical “leave all that’s dear and familiar behind” to move to what is unknown and distressingly unfamiliar – will it?
For all of us here called to live the Gospel, what do these six have to teach us? The six foundresses were extraordinary women. We here today are of a more ordinary sort – aren’t we?
To consider that question, I want to read a portion of a letter Mother Theodore wrote to the superior general of the Ruillé community, Mother Mary Lecor.
I read this letter because I wonder if it isn’t a convenient illusion to believe that we’re not called to do the extraordinary as they did.
The letter, dated November 14, 1840, was written only 23 days after their arrival at St. Mary’s.
Listen to how Mother Theodore describes her five companions. I read/quote from Volume One of The Positio:
“I must say first that our good Sister St. Vincent has not given evidence of great ability. She is pious but that is all. When leaving France, she had no idea of what she was undertaking; she acknowledges this herself. She had seen America only in the fervor of prayer; now it is something else. She is, besides, very sensitive, and does not get along with Sister Basilide. There is nothing serious in all this, only little miseries. I act toward this good Sister as though she could render me all sorts of services. I share with her all my projects and opinions, and I have conducted myself towards her with all the frankness of my disposition; but I must be very discreet about what troubles me for she becomes so discouraged that she can neither eat nor sleep. I shall be obliged to speak only to God of my pains and anxieties, and to encourage the others when I myself am dejected and overwhelmed.
Sister Basilide has a very lofty and imperious temperament; she is casual with everyone. This wounds not only Sister St. Vincent but almost all the others whom her manner offends. She has been a little discouraged and is still so. She has told me many times that if she had known what she was doing, she would not have come. She has lost all her strength, physical and mental. The poor child has been very ill, but is a little better now, and I hope her health will become established and her character formed. Her mental ability and her disposition give me more hope than does Sister St. Vincent.
The two postulants from France are doing passably well; but I thought Sister Ligouri had more education. She does not show the same irresolution we observed in her at Ruillé. Little Sister Mary [Xavier] seems to have some talent, but she is quite reticent, and is always ill. Of Olympiade, I shall say nothing. If she performed miracles, you would not credit them. I have suffered and still suffer from her presence here. I cannot explain why but I have taken somewhat of a dislike to her. Certainly I have given her a hard novitiate since we left France, and she has become, in consequence, like a piece of wood. Sister St. Vincent has often told me that I treat her too harshly; truth compels me to acknowledge that she endures this severity with courage and she is very useful to me.”
I don’t know what you conclude when you hear this, but I conclude that these very ordinary women – with all their gifts and talents, all their quirks and foibles, all their struggles to get along with one another did extraordinary things.
These six women of Providence, are the foundation we celebrate today and the foundation we build upon daily.
Because they loved God and allowed God’s love to flow through them, they accomplished what Providence intended.
So celebrate them, Sisters of Providence and Sister of Providence Associates. Their embrace of their new country and its citizens models loving inclusivity and ministerial partnership for us – all done to “honor Divine Providence and to further God’s loving plans [through] works of love, mercy and justice in service among God’s people.”
Celebrate them, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College – especially Sister St. Vincent and Sister Basilide, the first Head Mistresses of the Academy. May they serve as loving intercessors on your behalf as you continue the work begun so well by them. May they, with Sister Mary Joseph who is now in their company, invoke Providence to bless your Pomeroy Pride Campaign with abundant and speedy success.
Celebrate them, all sponsored institutions, sponsored ministries and all ministries of Sisters of Providence. You are the heirs of women whose lives were spent in service to the Gospel mandate to bring about the kin-dom of God. How these six women must understand your challenges, your joys, your hopes and your sorrows. Place yourselves in their care and ask for their assistance. These Sisters of Providence have walked the ministerial path before you.
All of who share the charism of Providence celebrate these six brave and faithful women. Let us ask their continued intercession as we pray this simple litany:
Sister St. Vincent Gagé, pray for us.
Sister Basilide Sénéchal, pray for us.
Sister Olympiade Boyer, pray for us.
Sister Mary Xavier Lerée, pray for us.
Sister Mary Ligouri, Tiercin, pray for us.
St. Mother Theodore Guerin, pray for us.