Human Rights Day and Saint Mother Theodore
Saint Mother Theodore Guerin knew the violation of human rights in an up close and personal way in her home country, France. The French Revolution was a time of great social and political upheaval to abolish the injustice of the feudal system and absolute monarchy. During this time Catholic churches and schools were closed. Despite some gains in human rights, the French Revolution failed to condemn slavery or to uphold the equality of women.
In America, she witnessed the selling of slaves in New Orleans and wrote: “The most painful sight I saw in New Orleans was the selling of slaves. Every day in the streets of appointed places, Negroes and Negresses in holiday attire are exposed for this shameful traffic. … This spectacle oppressed my heart. Lo! I said to myself, these Americans, so proud of their liberty, thus make game of the liberty of others. Poor Negroes! I would have wished to buy them all that I might say to them. Go! Bless Providence. You are free!”
She also was keenly aware of gender inequality in this country. It was not common for girls to be educated. Today we can be confident that Mother Theodore would be championing Malala’s efforts for the right to education for girls in Pakistan. In Mother Theodore’s relationship with Bishop de la Hailandiére, she knew the lack of respect as time after time, he violated her right to administer the Congregation she founded. She noted also that businessmen were surprised at her expertise because “Women are not employed in any kind of business in America.”
Mother Theodore’s legacy has continued through the years as the Sisters of Providence have dedicated themselves to human rights in a wide spectrum of issues through their ministries of service and advocacy. Despite the advances, sometimes it seems that human rights are at an all time low.
Last week we experienced the death of Nelson Mandela, a man who made an exceptional contribution to human rights. ‘Sometimes,’ Mandela said, ‘it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.’
Following the example of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and Nelson Mandela, “Let your greatness blossom.”