The Story on the Walls of Shells
“For some minutes there was absolute silence, then suddenly it was broken asunder. The ship had, in fact, been thrown upon the beam and was now under water. The keel was above the surface and the tops of the masts below.The water was rushing in through every opening. It found its way into the hold, the cabin, and indeed everywhere. Soon our little bunk was almost submerged…
“The wind, which blew furiously from the southwest, veered around with the quickness of lightening (that was the captain’s word) and blowing with the same violence from the northwest, reversed the wave which was engulfing us and saved the ship. A few minutes more and it would have been too late.”
This was Saint Mother Theodore Guerin’s account of her second journey back across the Atlantic Ocean. She and Sister Mary Cecilia and two postulates had gone back to France to seek financial assistance for their struggling young community back in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind. As their ship was nearly “engulfed” by a furious storm at sea during the return to America, she prayed fervently to Saint Anne, the patron of the sailors in Brittany, France. That was when the ship was miraculously turned upright and passengers of the ship were suddenly safe.
During Mother Theodore’s prayer, she promised a procession and a chapel to be built in honor of Saint Anne in her little community if they would be spared. So when her prayers were answered, she returned to her Woods and sought out to fulfill her promise right away.
In 1844 a small log chapel was built. It was rebuilt in 1875 and that is when the walls were paved with shells that were brought from the Wabash River. The designs represent the story of Mother Theodore’s journey across the Atlantic. Mother Theodore sorted and traced out the shells herself. She had also brought with her from France a statue of Saint Anne. This is the statue that resides in the chapel today. With the help of the novices, Sister Mary Joseph Le Fer began to embed the story on the walls of what is now known as Saint Anne Shell Chapel.