A remarkable woman
This article is reprinted from the summer 2006 issue of HOPE.
Editor’s note: Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, postulator for the Cause for Sainthood of Blessed Mother Theodore Guerin, requested four articles about Blessed Mother Theodore for publication in the official newspaper of the Vatican, L’Osservatore Romano. Three articles address Mother Theodore’s charism, spirituality and missionary spirit. The fourth article summarizes the hopes for the effects of the canonization on the Congregation. The articles, which have been written by Sisters of Providence, may not be printed in their entirety until after their publication in Rome, which will be after the proclamation of sainthood by Pope Benedict XVI. However, we are permitted to share excerpts of the articles at this time.
Charism By Sister Maureen Abbott
God’s Spirit infuses human energy with exceptional possibilities, and it is these spiritual gifts that we name “charisms.” Charism is a completely gratuitous outpouring of grace for the sake of bringing about God’s reign in a world where selfishness and cruelty seem more prevalent than love, mercy and justice.
When we examine the life of this remarkable woman, Mother Theodore Guerin, we can identify her charism as indomitable trust in Providence. …
The Congregation continues to sponsor ministries whose roots can be traced to those she began and which challenge her daughters to adapt to contemporary needs by “lean(ing) with all their weight on Providence.” While it would be impossible to list and identify all the ways in which Mother Theodore’s charism continues, it can truly be said that a conversation with any Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods would reveal the vitality of her legacy that lives on through each one.
Spirituality By Sister Jeanne Knoerle
Spirituality, the fundamental, underlying way in which a person relates to God, to other people and to one’s self, is not merely an attitude toward God, an acceptable way to worship God, or a certain set of beliefs about God. Spirituality certainly flows from these relationships, but it is much more fundamental than any of them. Spirituality defines who one is at the deepest level of being.
By looking at Mother Theodore in many circumstances of her life, we intuit the fundamental spirituality that gave her the ability to lead her poor and small Congregation into an expanded and fruitful future. That spirituality was based on a deep and personal relationship with Jesus; on a pragmatic acceptance of whatever came as a gift of God; on a deep and genuine love of every one, no matter who they were; on a fundamentally common sense approach to life that saw all of life as gift, sometimes happy, sometimes not; and on a belief that the natural world carried with it powerful messages for all of us human beings.
Missionary spirit By Sister Nancy Nolan
Upon her arrival in New York where Mother Theodore and her companions had the consolation of attending Mass after a 60-day voyage across a stormy Atlantic, she wrote: “While shedding an abundance of tears, we renewed the consecration of ourselves for the mission to which God had deigned to call us.”
The mission given to her by her superiors in France was to establish a novitiate in the Diocese of Vincennes, Ind., and to open an academy for the education of young women and girls. Mother Theodore had not volunteered for the foreign mission because of her fragile health brought on by a harsh treatment of an earlier illness. She was not able to eat solid food. When her superior asked her to lead the mission, however, she embraced it with enthusiasm.
The pain Mother Theodore’s sacrifice caused was evident in a journal entry: “Oh my dear friends! Oh my country! How much it costs to give you up! …”
The house the bishop had built for the sisters in the midst of a forest was not finished when they arrived in Indiana. Arrangements had been made for them to stay with a local farmer in his small farmhouse. Mother Theodore recognized that they could not exist for long under these conditions, and she was also anxious to open her school. She consulted the bishop, and he agreed they would turn the house currently under construction for the sisters into the academy. They purchased the farmhouse from the owner and used it as their motherhouse for the next 14 years. The mission took precedence over their need for accommodations and comfort. …
Just as the little community was settling in, a devastating fire destroyed the barn housing all of their provisions for the winter ahead. They lost 150 bushels of wheat and 150 bushels of oats, hay and corn shocks to feed the animals. The barn also contained bacon, suet and extra beds. It was once again a time of throwing themselves with complete abandon into the hands of Providence. …
Mother Theodore Guerin spent only 16 years in Indiana before her death in 1856. But the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence she founded continues to be vibrant and mission oriented these 166 years later.
Hopes for the effect of the effect of the canonization on the Congregation
Compiled by Sister Ann Margaret O’Hara from sisters’ responses
The canonization of our foundress, Mother Theodore Guerin, calls all Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in Indiana to deeper union with God and each other and to new passion and energy for mission. We seek a renewed commitment to follow Mother Theodore’s zeal and pioneer spirit in selfless ministries of love, mercy and justice for those most needy in today’s world.
We hope Mother Theodore’s life of heroic virtue will aid us in articulating the meaning of religious life more clearly and in living it more authentically as a sign of the value of commitment in our time.
We hope to make Mother Theodore known as a woman for all time, a bearer of hope, faith and deep humility. She will be a special source of courage as strong women foster the gifts and take the risks needed for mission. She is a model for dealing with conflict and division with a nonviolent heart. We look to her as a model of commitment to Church and yet as one willing to speak the truth respectfully to Church officials in times of challenge and disagreement.
We hope to touch many through ministries in partnership with other women and men. We minister with our co-workers in a spirit of mutuality and justice. Mother Theodore’s vision and values of education and justice inspire us.
Mother Theodore gives us hope because of her undaunted trust in Providence. We believe that we have and can lean on that heritage of going forward with hope without all the answers, without knowing an absolutely predictable future.