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Sisters fear Know Nothing agitation

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin faced the Know Nothing agitation with courage.

Anti-Catholic sentiment was prevalent in the 1800s. An especially turbulent period was during the time that Mother Theodore Guerin lived in Indiana (1840 to 1856). Slanderous stories appeared in newspapers about young women being held against their will in the convent. Adding fuel to this charged environment were several political groups that advocated anti-immigration legislation and that were anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish. Known as the Know Nothing Party or Movement, this anti-Catholic reaction was felt by the young Congregation.

Sister Mary Borromeo Brown, in “The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Volume 1, 1806-1856,” shares the following incident that made many sisters very fearful:

“The Know-Nothing agitation now rendered the utmost caution and care an absolute necessity when the most innocent procedures were open to misinterpretation. At least one violent personal attack against Mother Theodore, bringing up the old calumny of keeping novices against their will, had appeared in the Terre Haute papers. …

“… a young woman, Catherine Seip by name, arrived at the novitiate, having left home without the knowledge of her father who was attempting to compel her to marry. Aware of her destination, he arrived next day to claim her, but she absolutely refused to go with him. Early in April he returned, pouring forth threats of vengeance and legal proceedings against the Community. Many a superior would have considered the postulant a menace to the peace and security of the entire body and would have counseled her to leave at least for a time. But not so Mother Theodore. The Community was terrified. ‘At every moment we imagine we can see the Know-Nothings coming to set fire to our house,’ noted the Foundress in the diary. It was Holy Week and they had recourse to their usual refuge, prayer, and after giving them a share in His cross, their good God came to their aid. ‘On Holy Saturday,’ concludes the diary, ‘the old man went away.’ Sister Julia, innocent cause of so much anxiety and uneasiness, became a devout and faithful Sister of Providence. As a novice she was named assistant to the infirmarian, Sister Olympiade [Boyer], and in that capacity had the privilege of helping to care for her saintly Mistress of Novices in her last illness and later testified in the process for Mother Theodore’s beatification. She spent sixty-three years in the sublime and meritorious labor of teaching to little children the knowledge and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, dying at the motherhouse, March 26, 1918.” (pp. 737-738)

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Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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