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A weekend with Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and the Providence Associates

Providence Associate Joanna Dailey visits the Saint Mother Theodore Guerin prayer space during the March 2014 Providence Associate retreat focused on Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

Providence Associate Joanna Dailey visits the Saint Mother Theodore Guerin prayer space during the March 2014 Providence Associate retreat.

“Take My Hand,” a retreat for Providence Associates, based on the writings of Saint Mother Theodore, was a special retreat. It reached into the story of Mother Theodore and brought it forward to our lives in the present. Many thanks to Sisters Jan Craven and Paula Damiano (and I am sure Sister Diane Mason and Debbie Dillow) for putting it together.

Here I offer some of the personal highlights that I took from the retreat. Judging by the active participation in the retreat, I am fairly certain that others, too, reaped unique benefits from the weekend. Some of my personal highlights included:

Historical artifacts
Historical treasures were present with us. Mother Theodore’s garden shoes (“sabots”) and her actual Journal were on display. Sister Marianne Mader, staff member in the SP Archives, explained how carefully the Journal was stored and that gloves were worn by anyone who touched it. (We were asked not to—the less touching of a 175-year-old book, the better!) It was a grace to have the Journal on display with us in Riley Auditorium in Owens Hall. Sister Marianne also told how she came to work in Archives. Her expertise in medical librarianship was an invaluable help in correspondence with Rome regarding the miracle of Sister Mary Theodosia’s cure in 1909. Sister Marianne’s being the right person at the right time to advance Mother Theodore’s cause can only be called providential!

Joanna Dailey during the retreat's journaling reflective time.

Joanna Dailey during the retreat’s journaling reflective time.

Journaling with Saint Mother Theodore
After a morning discussing Mother Theodore’s life-story, virtues, and writings (along with the opinions of her contemporaries as given in the Positio paper compiled for her canonization), we were encouraged to dialogue with her on paper, in “Ira-Progroff” style. This was a great grace for me. It illuminated an incident in her life (crossing the Wabash) that had personal resonance for me, but I had never taken the time to fully reflect on it. Sister Jan encouraged us to continue to explore this kind of journal/dialogue as a tool for growth in our lives.

Prayer vigil with a saint
During the retreat, an opportunity was given to spend some time in vigil at Saint Mother Theodore’s shrine in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Some retreatants took turns keeping prayer vigil during the night. Keeping vigil is an ancient Christian practice, and those who took the opportunity found it to be a beautiful time of silent peace. I myself did not feel called to this kind of prayer at the time, but I hope the opportunity will be offered again.

Meeting Saint Mother Theodore’s best friend
On Sunday morning, we were introduced to Saint Mother Theodore’s best friend and, in the Celtic term, “soul-mate.” This special person was Irma de la Fer de la Motte, known in religious life as Sister St. Francis Xavier. (Her shoes, too, were on display: a tiny pair of slippers, hardly worn, that probably came from France.) She entered Ruillé expressly to join the American foundation of the Sisters of Providence, and did so in November of 1841. Saint Mother Theodore and the entire community considered her a true saint. Irma originally thought herself, with her independent spirit, as unfit for community life, and wanted to go to America as a lay missionary. But it was thought best by superiors in France and in Vincennes to have her join the foundation as a sister, and so she did. Always frail, she died at the Woods just a few months before Mother Theodore. Yet, Irma had fulfilled her dream of living her life as a missionary. (Her patron, Saint Francis Xavier, is patron of the missions. Later, Saint Therese of Lisieux was added as co-patron.) Le Fer Hall at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is named after Irma and her blood-sister, Elvire, who followed her into religious life as a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

The hospitality of the Sisters of Providence provided a welcoming environment for meeting old friends among the associates and speaking with those we had not yet met. While we were encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity for silence and reflection, we were also given the option of using the first floor parlor as a visiting space in the evenings. Having spotted two former SPs and band members who had traveled some distance for this retreat, I called a “band meeting” for Friday night. It was a joy to re-connect as associates and Candidate-associate.

Good food
Another happy memory is the huge tub of ice cream presented for dessert at Saturday’s noon meal, along with home-made chocolate sauce, and strawberries too! “There goes my Lenten resolution,” I said to one sister. “This is celebratory!” she replied. It certainly was. And it was delicious!

Home for retreat
Being invited “home” for retreat, in the long tradition of the Sisters of Providence, is always a special and welcome invitation. It is truly a gift and a joy to be among kindred spirits, even for a short time. During retreat, it seems that we throw a rock into the pool of our lives, and then hope that its ripples affect the future. May the ripples from this retreat last all year, at least! And may we all come together again next year!

(We hope those associates not able to make the retreat this year will be able to join us for the March 2015 Providence Associate retreat.)

View photos from the March 2014 Providence Associate retreat here:

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Joanna Dailey

Joanna Dailey

Joanna Dailey is a Providence Associate who lives in Terre Haute, Indiana. She works as an editor and staff writer at Saint Mary's Press in Winona, Minnesota. Of the Providence Associate relationship Joanna says, "I enjoy being among like-minded people to whom you do not have to explain a pursuit of life in the Spirit."

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