Historic mural of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin unveiled
A large mural featuring the life of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin that soon will have a permanent home in the rotunda of the Vigo County Court House was unveiled Friday (May 6) in Providence Center at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Saint Mother Theodore, foundress of the Sisters of Providence, was canonized Oct. 15, 2006, in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI. She came to the United States in 1840 to establish the Sisters of Providence.
The five-foot-by-ten-foot mural was created by well-known Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe, who was assisted by Terre Haute artist Becky Gropp-Hochhalter. The frame for the mural was made by Keith Ruble of the Vigo County Park and Recreation Department. About half of the lumber used for the frame came from the same walnut stock that was used for Saint Mother Theodore’s coffin. The coffin rests for public veneration in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
The mural shows Saint Mother Theodore as a baby, then as a young woman walking on the Breton Shore in France. A map of France locates the French motherhouse for the Sisters of Providence.
The central image shows Saint Mother Theodore kneeling in prayer at the ship’s bow as she and her companions prepare to arrive in the United States. Other images show LeFer Bridge at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Saint Mother Theodore welcoming students to the Academy, now Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, the sisters’ journey by stagecoach across swollen river waters to their new home, a sister carrying firewood to a log cabin and a map of Indiana documenting the state’s only Catholic saint.
Also shown is an authentic replica of Saint Mother Theodore’s handwriting from her journals.
“I’m happy it’s completed and I’m honored to have had this opportunity to document history, not only for Mother Guerin, but also the other parts of history in Vigo County,” Wolfe said about the three-month project.
Wolfe also will create three other murals about Vigo County’s history for the rotunda project.
“I am impressed with her strength and resilience and what she had to go through to make that trip from France, but it was more than that too. She had to care for her mother and sister at age 14. She lost her father and brothers tragically. I think people overall were more sturdy then because their life was a struggle. Certainly, she had a hard struggle,” Wolfe said.
Gropp-Hochhalter also said working on the project was an honor for her.
“I’m honored to have had this privilege. It was a pleasure to work with Bill again. It was interesting to see how Bill looks at things and how he approaches his artwork. It was very educational. It was an honor to work on something that shows history, but also will become history when it is placed in the Court House,” she said.
Sister Denise Wilkinson, the Congregation’s general superior, hosted the unveiling reception in the Providence Center lobby on behalf of the Congregation.
After talking about Saint Mother Theodore’s fondness for Indiana, once an unknown land to her, Sister Denise said, “It gives us tremendous joy that this mural depicting her life will be part of the historical visual history of our county. All of the murals, no doubt, will convey to all tourists and visitors to the Court House the gifts and talents, the generosity and the sacrifices that are the foundation of our history as a county and as a state.”
Before he started on the mural project, Wolfe said, “I didn’t care so much for history when I was in school, learning dates and everything. But now, the older I get, the more interested in history I become. I’m interested in more local history than United States history. I’m interested in what has happened right here on the very land that we walk on.”
Saint Mother Theodore “walked on” land at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for 16 years before her death in 1856.
The mural will be on display at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods through May 22.
About the Sisters of Providence
The Sisters of Providence, a congregation of 214 women religious, with 300 Providence Associates, collaborate with others to create a more just and hope-filled world through prayer, education, service and advocacy. The Sisters of Providence have their motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, located just northwest of downtown Terre Haute, Ind., which is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840. Today, Sisters of Providence minister in 13 states, the District of Columbia and Asia, through works of love, mercy and justice. More information about the Sisters of Providence and their ministries can be found at SistersofProvidence.org.