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A rest for weary bones

Father Daniel Hopcus (upper left) rests his hands on the coffin of Saint Mother Theodore to bless the remains. The hand in the foreground belongs to General Superior Sister Denise Wilkinson.

“And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, ‘God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.’” (Exodus 13:10)

When Saint Mother Theodore Guerin breathed her last breath upon this side of earth on May 14, 1856, she was laid to rest in the first cemetery of the Congregation that was located near today’s St. Anne Shell Chapel. In death as in life, Mother Theodore’s weary bones have never really received much rest. A new shrine will allow those bones to find a final resting place, just like the bones of Joseph found their rest in the Promised Land.

Because the land near the chapel wasn’t the ideal location for a cemetery, a new cemetery — its current location — was prepared in the spring of 1861. Nearly three years later, on Jan. 14, 1864, Mother Theodore’s coffin was raised from the ground and reinterred in a circular plot that was once the center of the current cemetery.

With the consecration of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in 1907, Mother Theodore’s bones were exhumed and transferred once again, this time to the tomb area in the crypt of the church. Some of her foot bones remain in the cemetery below the stone Celtic cross that marks her grave. The rest of Mother Theodore’s bones remained in the crypt until 1989 when they were moved again and placed under the floor of the right transept of the church.

Did you know?

The custom of the veneration of the bones and other relics of the saints can be traced back to the earliest days of Christianity. It was not uncommon for the faithful to gather up the bones of the martyrs and give them proper burial because of their belief in the sacredness of the human body and the hope of resurrection.

With the canonization of Mother Theodore on Oct. 15, 2006, by Pope Benedict XVI, Mother Theodore’s remains had to be moved again. In September of that year, Duane Thompson, former supervisor of maintenance, and Dave Thomas, former Facilities Management staff member, removed her remains from the floor of the church back to the tomb area in the crypt. Her remains stayed in the crypt until Tony Dubois and Tim Wilson, former Facilities Management staff members and woodworkers, hand crafted a coffin made from walnut trees that once graced the motherhouse grounds. Finally, on her feast day, Oct. 3, Mother Theodore’s remains in their new coffin were placed at the interim shrine in the church during a solemn ceremony. Now Mother Theodore’s weary bones await their final resting place in the new shrine.

Last, but certainly not least, it should be noted that bones from Mother Theodore’s hands appear in a wooden reliquary near her coffin in the church. The Congregation’s Archives also has some of her bones that are used in the creation of third-class relics. Additionally, the Vatican houses some of Mother Theodore’s bones in reliquaries. These bones were required as part of the processes of beatification and canonization.

Yes, Mother Theodore deserves a quiet final resting place!

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Connie McCammon

Connie McCammon worked in the communications office for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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