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Reflection

Saint Mother Theodore’s feast day

MTG walking in woods Happy Feast Day! How wonderful to celebrate once again and with one another our very own saint! We here at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods are so fortunate to walk where she walked, to have so many reminders of her all around us – the log cabin chapel, remembrance rock near the grotto, her shrine.

We have our woods, chapels in which we can celebrate Eucharistic liturgy and pray before the Eucharist. Too we have one another – her daughters and sons who carry on her life and mission.

I’ve had the joy of reflecting on her feast day Scriptures seven times now. Each year, the words from Sirach, Paul and Luke reveal something new.

This time I have to admit I’m more than a little surprised as to where I found myself drawn for this reflection.

“Provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old.”

Now I do love purses. I always look at them when I’m shopping. And I love when one of our sisters from the Boston area says, “I have to get my pocketbook.”  “Pocketbook.” What a funny word.  Come to think of it, though, “purse” is a funny word as well.

You may think this a trivial point to focus on but Jesus is clear in his instructions to his companions – they are to provide themselves with “purses that do not grow old.”

Once I got onto this purse theme in my prayer, I remembered a story one of our sisters told me. The sister was the victim of a purse snatching shortly after her mother’s death.

She was devastated not by the theft of some money, her driver’s license, credit card, medical cards. All those could be replaced – with some bother to her certainly but replaced.

What saddened her and added to her grief was the loss of her mother’s rosary that was in the stolen purse. She knew she would never be able to replace that.

Her heart was with that rosary because it evoked the presence of her mother for her, of her mother’s love for her, her mother’s faith life and practices of prayer.

With the rosary gone, she had to provide for herself a purse that could not be taken against her will and would not “grow old.”

The treasure she began to recognize was experiencing her mother’s presence in new ways – through other family members, through her own memories of her mom’s words and loving actions. Sometimes she simply sensed her mother’s presence with her in surprising and comforting ways.

Perhaps we could name the purse this sister provided for herself “renewed faith in and experience of the mystery of the resurrection – of life that never ends but is only changed.”

As we gather to celebrate Mother Theodore Guerin’s feast day, it might be fun for each of us to name the purse Mother Theodore provided for herself.

Take a moment to think about that. For you, what purse, what treasure, if you will, did she hold in her heart, her innermost self that allowed her to be who she was, to do what she did?

Take a minute…name what characteristic, value of Mother Theodore speaks to your heart, sums up who she is for you, makes you admire her or love her.

Silent time

Did the word friend come to your mind? She was certainly a good friend and had good friends. In an 1858 letter to Sister Gabriella, Mother Theodore wrote: “The heart understands the heart. As yours was speaking in your letter, mine understood its language.”

Her closest friend, Sister St. Francis Xavier, died in January 1856. To that sister’s mother, Mother Theodore wrote these words: “You can never imagine the void the death of Sister St. Francis has left in our house. I not only miss her, but it seems to me I have lost a part of my life. Day and night she is present in my mind.”

Perhaps you identified common sense. Her journals have so many examples of that. Remember reading in a letter to Sister Basilide these words: “You can never give good judgment to those persons to whom God has not given it; for [God] alone gives intelligence, and [God] will not require what [God] has not bestowed.”

When Sister Maria was worried that her confessor didn’t believe her, Mother Theodore advised: “Repent of your sins and failings; take resolutions to do better and, after that, be quiet. The more we stir up a dung hill the more it exhales bad odors…. “

No doubt, someone here singled out love. She expressed that love in such tender and homey ways. On a journey from Madison, Indiana she writes these words to the Sisters at St. Mary’s: “I am writing to you with an iron stick they call a pen, and am obliged to plunge it to the bottom of the bottle to get the ink, at the peril of my fingers – a great pity, is it not? You understand at least, my dearly loved Sisters, that I do not have to get down deep in my heart before finding the tender love that fills it for all of you….”

Mother Theodore certainly had a sense of humor – often directed at herself.

Of her friend, Sister St. Francis, she wrote: “[Sister St. Francis] is indeed a good daughter of Providence. Really, I am humiliated in seeing her run in the way of perfection while I just drag along.” We can all identify with this feeling of Mother Theodore’s: “I have already exceeded the amount of work my head can bear.”

Trust in Providence – is that the purse Mother Theodore provided for herself? For me that is of her essence. I am sure it is for many of us here.

Examples abound in her writings:  “…permit me to thank you for the charity you had in sending money to us. It was like a gift from heaven, and is a new proof of the tender watchfulness of that divine Providence, of which we are in truth doubly the children.”

“And rest assured, my dear daughters, if you lean with all your weight upon Providence, you will find yourselves well supported.”

“There is a Providence and the Sisters of St. Mary’s are truly its daughters.”

“But our hope is in the providence of God, which has protected us until the present, and which will provide, somehow, for our future needs.”

“We have gone out several times this summer to gather simples and linden blossoms. In each excursion we discover something marvelous, beautiful and useful in the magnificent forests of Indiana. At each step we admire the  grandeur, the power, the goodness of God. How bountifully [God] provides for all our wants – I would even say our pleasures.”

“Yet there is no assurance for the future of the Sisters and of the children other than that Divine Providence takes care of the birds of the air and grass of the field.”

It may be fun to share the word each of us chose to name the purse of Mother Theodore.  Sharing the word and why I chose it, may reveal a richness of perceptions and experiences that makes my choice of the purse I will provide for myself more clear, more firm, more communal. Sharing the word may help us to remember that Mother Theodore’s hope for herself was that she would be one with God – wholly and completely as she is now. She was clear that she desired the same for her sisters, her students, her friends – that we be saints.

How will we do that? We all know the way she described: “What must we do to become saints? Nothing extraordinary; nothing more than what we do every day. Only do it for His love.”

So….share your word. Let us pray to Mother Theodore and to all the saints of God that we will help one another become saints.

Happy Feast!

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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4 Comments

  1. Betsy McDonald Moore '78 on October 3, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Dear Sr. Denise—This was beautiful! Thanks for sharing! I’ve often thought of you since seeing you at Reunion, and meant to send my condolences on the loss of Sr. Jeanne. I know the Community takes comfort in knowing she walks with St. Mother Theodore and surrounds us all in spirit. As I was gathering the Class of ’78 Class Notes for Onyx, Cindy Noe mentioned that she is taking French lessons–inspired by having had you as her high school French teacher!

    I hope you are well and enjoying a beautiful autumn at The Woods. It’s stunning here in Northern Michigan.

    By the way, the word I thought of was Love.
    Sending that and hugs and prayers your way,
    Betsy McDonald Moore ’78

  2. Mary Ann Hogan Leusch on October 7, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Hey Denise:
    This reflection, as all of your reflections that I read are, is wonderful….the purse naming experience is applicable to all–not just those present to hear your delivery! My purse has been renamed “providence” today–just seems fitting.

    Hope you are well.
    Mary Ann Hogan Leusch, 1977

  3. Mavourneen Kelly on October 8, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Dear Denise, It was wonderful to see you and spend time with you at the Marywood reunion. What a special experience we had with the Sisters and our classmates at Marywood. Really enjoyed your reflection on Mother Theodore’s feast. Will be including you in my thoughts and prayers…as always. Take care. My “purse” is the love of learning. Love, Mavourneen

  4. Joann Van Horn Wieland on October 12, 2013 at 10:26 am

    The word that came to me was from her writings of their journey to America: COURAGE

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