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Sister Olympiade Boyer : a founding Sister of Providence

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Aside from Mother Theodore, Sister Olympiade is the only founding sister of which an image exists. The undated photo above is one of two photos the Sisters of Providence archives has of her.

The sister who had, by far, the most physical labors at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods was Sister Olympiade. She came on the mission at Mother Theodore’s suggestion. The two had worked together at Soulaines, where Sister Olympiade served as cook and assisted Mother Theodore on visits to the sick.

Born in 1806, Sister Olympiade entered the congregation of Ruillé after several years of hospital experience.

From the beginning of her time in Indiana, she undertook the most arduous tasks. No phases of the pioneer labors were accomplished without her.

Although she had imperfect English, she had many medical skills. She offered these to the sisters and the surrounding communities.

Sister Olympiade was in charge of the washing, ironing and mending of boarders’ clothes, baking bread for more than 40, caring for the livestock and for supervising the pork salting and curing.

From her pioneer neighbors she learned the value of the herbs in the woods. The beams of her little log pharmacy were hung with carefully tied bunches waiting to be dispensed to the sick of the surrounding area.

She was known in the area, as she accompanied or replaced Mother Theodore in errands of mercy around the village. She was a welcome figure to settlers, who long after recalled her making her way through the woods on foot or on an old white horse, braving perils of bad roads and inclement weather.

Sister Olympiade had remarkable skill as a seamstress. She created cassocks for the bishop, clothed all the workmen at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and the orphans at the seminary.

She is credited by some as extending Mother Theodore’s life during her many illnesses.

Sister Olympiade was well-loved by the students of the Academy, who sought her out at the pharmacy to listen to her stories.

Despite the very hard labors of her life, Sister Olympiade lived to the oldest age of the foundresses, dying at age 87.

(Originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Rosie Blankenship

Rosie Blankenship is a graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She previously served in positions for the Sisters of Providence as the web site manager and annual giving manager.

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