I have often been in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and been inspired by the presence of individuals or groups of visitors to the interim shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and by the fact that they linger there in quiet reflection and prayer. The problem with this observation is that I am in the church as a cantor and I am there with the organist to practice for the day’s Eucharistic Liturgy. Sacristans sometimes are bustling in and out or other instrumentalists hover awaiting their turn to practice. The footsteps of the delivery person from the local floral shop may break the silence as well — hardly conducive to a pilgrim or a group’s desire to visit and spend time in prayer with God and with a saint.
Also, in its current location in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, it is not exactly tucked away in the left alcove of the church. The huge banner of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, which hung in St. Peter’s Square, demands one’s immediate attention and detracts from worship. The celebration of daily and Sunday Eucharistic Liturgy, rather than having pride of place in the church, is somewhat dwarfed by the presence of Mother Theodore’s banner and coffin — these take center stage rather than the Eucharist, probably not something our humble foundress would delight in!
These are just a few of the reasons why the permanent shrine for Saint Mother Theodore Guerin will be created in another location, a location that we believe our foundress would delight in — the area beneath the existing Blessed Sacrament Chapel. This location honors Mother Theodore’s great devotion to the Eucharist. She and her five companions wanted first to visit the Blessed Sacrament in the tiny log cabin church upon their arrival in the forests of Indiana in 1840 before greeting anyone else.
The permanent shrine will be created in this space, which is an area large enough to allow her journey of faith to be told — a journey which brought her from France to Indiana in order to establish a novitiate and a ministry of education, and from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to other parts of Indiana and Illinois to establish parish schools, orphanages and pharmacies. The space will accommodate visitors to the shrine who currently come from all 50 states and from all continents except Antarctica, attracted by Mother Theodore’s life and faith journey.
The design of the permanent shrine will encompass three main areas.
The heritage area (Figure 1, left side) will depict our foundation and early missions, highlighting Mother Theodore’s indomitable trust in Providence and the way she was able to blend the ordinary with the extraordinary as she lived each day.
The tomb area will be a sacred space of simplicity, conducive to quiet reflection and prayer (Figure 2). The sparseness of furnishings will invite pilgrims to immerse themselves in the holy, free from distraction. Mother Theodore’s earthly remains, housed in a simple coffin fashioned from walnut trees at Saint Mary’s, will rest upon a raised platform and will be accessible to pilgrims who wish to pray there and touch the casket.
The witness area (Figure 1, right side) will orient the pilgrim to the witness of Mother Theodore’s life and how her spirituality, zeal for mission, and trust in Providence inspire the current ministries of the Sisters of Providence, Providence Associates and all who partner with us in God’s mission of love, mercy and justice. The witness area will invite all who visit the shrine to consider their own faith journeys and the ways in which they are called to emulate Mother Theodore’s humanness and holiness.
The Congregation is currently involved in raising $1.2 million to create this permanent shrine of Saint Mother Theodore, which includes landscaping to make a handicapped accessible entrance directly from the outside and adjacent to the shrine. Since Mother Theodore’s time, the sisters have never been able to accomplish any good works without the assistance of others. Her journals and letters are replete with references to benefactors who came to the aid of the sisters. We anticipate that many of our readers will want to be among those numbers by assisting us in bringing the shrine project to completion.