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Foundation Day 2014 reflection


Sister Denise in the Church of the Immaculate Conception giving her reflection.

Welcome to each and every one here! Happy, happy Foundation Day!

One hundred and seventy-four years ago today, Father Buteux began our history at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods by saying: “Come down, Sisters, we have arrived.”

Who was it who had arrived?

Five women from France: Mother Theodore Guerin, who at the age of 42 was the superior and senior citizen of the group; Sister St. Vincent Ferrer Gagé, 40 years old; Sister Basilide Sénéchal, 28 years old; Sister Olympiade Boyer, 34 years old; Sister Mary Xavier Lerée, 27 years old; Sister Mary Ligouri Tiercin, 22 years old and a novice when she arrived.

Thirteen months later, Sister St. Francis Xavier le Fer de la Motte arrived at the age of 24. It was she whom Mother Mary of Ruillé described as “good for nothing but to love God.”

These women came to the forests of Indiana on fire for mission – the mission Jesus vividly describes in today’s gospel reading – “to bring glad tidings to the poor…to proclaim liberty to captives…recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.”

174 years later, in spite of the fact that “all appearances” are still against us, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College –students, faculty, staff, alumni and benefactors – and the Sisters of Providence – members, associates, ministries and benefactors – continue the mission of Jesus by aspiring higher and through numerous works of “love, mercy and justice.”

How can this be so? How can it be that we – who in so many ways – are not “wise by human standards, or powerful or of noble birth” have continued the mission of Jesus for 174 years?

I suspect the following explanations may play a part.

First, we stand on the shoulders of six remarkable women. Let’s learn all six of their names and imitate their willingness to venture into the unknown, to leave the familiar in order to bring God’s providential compassion to all corners of our globe, our cosmos.

Secondly, like us, they stood on the shoulders of friends, associates and benefactors. Read Mother Theodore’s Journals and Letters and learn the stories behind the names: Bishops Bouvier and Bruté; Mother Mary du Roscoät. Early and faithful benefactors included Andrew and Silvia Parmentier, Samuel Byerley, Joseph and Sarah Thralls. These good people supported the sisters and the academy because they too were faithful to the mission of Jesus. Both Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and the Sisters of Providence had our close, good friends and benefactors upon whose shoulder we stand.

Thirdly, we – like our six foundresses – know God best as the God of Providence. For whatever reason, we – like they – believe that if we place ourselves gently into the hands of Providence, we will find ourselves well supported – always.

Lastly, all of us of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, all of us Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates know we were founded by a saint – Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

Mother Theodore embraced Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and the mission here to which Providence called her from the moment of her arrival in New York. In 1855, she wrote a letter to Sister Basilide. Basile was frequently tempted to return to France – even after fifteen years here.

In that letter of October 17, 1855, Mother Theodore wrote: “On the eighth of September fifteen years ago, the day when for the first time we received our Divine Saviour in this land of America, at that very moment America ceased to be for me a stranger land. It became the land of my adoption; and there, under your own eyes, in the church of Brooklyn, I took the vow of living and dying here…. Since that day not a thought, still less a desire, of seeing France again, to remain there, has ever come to trouble my soul, even in our stormiest days.” May we remain worthy of that legacy she has left us.

May we too remain grateful to all those who, with our foundresses and with ourselves, supported and still support the mission of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and the mission of the Sisters of Providence.

That this may be so, I ask you to respond, “Pray for us” to the following litany.

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin,

Sister St. Vincent Ferrer Gagé,

Sister Basilide Sénéchal,

Sister Olympiade Boyer,

Sister Mary Xavier Lereé,

Sister Mary Ligouri Tiercin,

All you saints who share the charism of Providence,

Amen and Happy Foundation Day!

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

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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Meet Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

Leader, teacher, immigrant, healer. Saint of God.

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