Our immigrant saint: Saint Mother Theodore Guerin moment
Mother Theodore Guerin came to the United States from France in 1840, an immigrant. Like many immigrants today she did not speak English, she knew very little about the United States and its customs. She needed to find means of support for her small community in the middle of a wilderness. She had no legal status, yet her mission was to start a novitiate and an academy.
A law at the time required that the alien “shall make an oath of affirmation in writing … to be recorded that he is a resident of the state,” and that “he would become a citizen … as soon as he can become naturalized” before becoming eligible to hold land. This act was repealed Jan. 13, 1846, requiring from that time forward mere residence in the United States in order to own land.
True to form, Mother Theodore did not waste time. The Articles of Incorporation for the Sisters of Providence are dated Jan. 14, 1846! With those articles, the Congregation could now own property.
The next hurdle for her was to convince Bishop de la Hailandiere to give her the deed to the property, a move he had resisted and said was contingent upon their incorporation. He finally relented and gave the property to the sisters May 15, 1846.
Due to laws concerning women at the time and the omission of keeping official records on women, we cannot prove that Saint Mother Theodore became a citizen.
We do know, however, that Mother Theodore loved this country and she loved Indiana. In her Journals and Letters, she writes, “This land was no longer for me a land of exile; it was the portion of my inheritance, and in it I hope to dwell all the days of my life.” And of Indiana she said, “I love Indiana with my whole soul.”
Indeed, she and all her sisters poured their whole hearts and souls into God’s mission for the United States. Her legacy lives on today and all of us are better for it.
(Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of HOPE magazine.)