Pére Michel Guthneck
In the 163 years since the founding of the Congregation, countless lay people have worked side-by-side with the Sisters of Providence to bring love, mercy and justice to others. One of those dedicated employees was Pére Michel Guthneck. Like the sisters of that first generation who followed Saint Mother Theodore Guerin into the Woods, Pére Michel helped mold a solid foundation upon which the Congregation would flourish.
Originally from Alsace, France, where he was a forester, Pére Michel emigrated to the United States and settled in Saint Marie, Ill., before moving to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. In order to lift some of the burdens of the new Congregation from Mother Theodore’s shoulders, Bishop de la Hailandière suggested Pére Michel to be the farm’s overseer. After giving the position some thought, Pére Michel became the superintendent of the farm Sept. 22, 1842.
Sister Mary Borromeo Brown, author of the voluminous “History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods,” wrote about Pére Michel, “He was skillful, faithful, and devoted and relieved Mother Theodore of much concern for the management of the crops, the supplies, and domestic animals.” (p. 211)
Pére Michel was responsible for building the first greenhouse on the motherhouse grounds. He was also one of several men to oversee the building of Providence Convent. According to Sister Mary Borromeo, Pére Michel cut most of the stone used in the building, giving freely of his time in this endeavor.
Pére Michel was in the employ of the Sisters of Providence until his death in 1856, a fateful year that witnessed the passing of Sister St. Francis Xavier LeFer and Mother Theodore. Sister Mary Borromeo poignantly described the day Pére Michel died, Sunday, Jan. 27, 1856: “[T]he Community lost a tried and faithful servitor. Pére Michel, the father of three Sisters of Providence and grandfather of two others, was found on the morning of the twenty-seventh quietly sleeping his last long sleep. ‘He has been attached for twelve years to our house,’ wrote the Foundress in the diary, ‘where he worked with the utmost devotedness. He has gone to receive in heaven the reward of his labors, of his love for the Community, and especially for the Christian values which he practiced like a saint.'” (p. 769)