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A Priceless Gift

This is the digitized image of Mother Theodore’s original journal. (Images courtesy of SP Archives)

This article is reprinted from the summer 2012 issue of HOPE.

Two years ago when I visited another congregation of women religious, I was struck by a quote of their foundress which seemed to appear every place I turned. The same quote — in the chapel on a wall plaque, on a banner hanging in the dining room, in flyers and brochures, frequently on the lips of the sisters — was one sentence. When I inquired, I was told that these were the only words they could attribute to their foundress, assumed to have been written by her own hand and discovered after her death on a scrap of paper in the back of her prayer book.

I thought immediately of our foundress, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, and of her many journals and letters — prolific writings in her own hand and not only preserved, but published and available in printed form and online for sisters, staff members, Providence Associates and for all those in relationship with Congregation members in any way. How wise was her General Superior Mother Mary Lecor when she told Sister St. Theodore as she left France to establish the foundation in the United States of America, “Keep a daily record of all that transpires.” Evidently keeping records and preserving them was valued by the congregation in Ruillé, France, and that same value was expected from the pioneer band of foundresses who journeyed to the U.S.

“Daily record” hardly does justice to the richness of Mother Theodore’s writings. Although many people acquainted with her writings select a sentence or two to quote, the overall body of her work and what it reveals to us about her spirituality — her indomitable trust in Providence, her ardent zeal for the mission, her total abandonment into God’s hands of herself, her sisters and all their works — is a priceless gift.

Without the preservation of these writings in our archival holdings and the value placed on them by future generations of Sisters of Providence, all that richness may have been lost. Indeed, the sisters who were contemporaries of Mother Theodore must have recognized the treasure they held in their hands when they received a letter from her. Perhaps they even tucked it away in a special box or case, for we are told that when the sisters wanted to make an extreme sacrifice to God for a particular need of the Congregation, some would choose to destroy Mother Theodore’s personal letters to them.

But the preservation of documents which reveal the spirituality of individual sisters or of the Congregation does not stop with Mother Theodore. The Archives has countless holdings including, but certainly not limited to, the personal letters and diaries of individual sisters, convent diaries, and the instructions/ reflections and letter circulars of all the general superiors who succeeded Mother Theodore.

This latter reference requires a bit more explanation. Each year when the sisters returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for the summer, the general superior would give weekly instructions which all the sisters would attend. Many comments were of a practical, “housekeeping” nature, but always topics of a spiritual nature were included. The sending of periodic letter circulars is a practice that continues to this day. Written by the general superior, the letters in the early years of the Congregation would actually “circulate” among the sisters, sent from house to house. Today, of course, the letter is sent to individual houses or sisters by mail.

The content of the letter circular is always spiritual in nature, as is seen from an excerpt of General Superior Sister Denise Wilkinson’s recent Advent circular in 2011 in which she references our six founding sisters, “… we are so much their sisters and they ours. Like them, we stand on the edge of a new beginning, feeling the urgency of global needs and issues facing Earth and Earth’s people. We know we have a message of hope and healing to offer, and we burn with the desire to speak it. We rejoice in the companions sent by Providence into our daily lives and ministries. Like our foremothers we have discovered in ourselves the desire, courage and capacity to let go of whatever holds us back from giving our all for ‘the sake of the future’ intended by Providence. Like them we have promised to love one another through the joys and messiness of our endeavors, knowing that we’re bound to experience the best and worst of our most human selves as we refound our precious community, our salvific community.”

Sisters of Providence historians through the years have found that the Congregation’s Archives contain all the documents they need, and possibly more than they would ever have time to research, as they delve into the lived spirituality of the Sisters of Providence these past 172 years.

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Sister Ann Casper

Sister Ann Casper, SP, retired as the executive director for Mission Advancement for the Sisters of Providence in 2018 and currently serves as minister of Providence Community Cemetery at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Sister Ann has ministered in various scholastic and administrative positions in Indiana and North Carolina. She also was a member of the Sisters of Providence leadership team, serving as General Secretary.

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