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A family pilgrimage to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods


A photo of a white violet, the flower that continues to flourish on these holy grounds today.

“Are those violets, mama?” my son asked looking at the beautiful, violet colored blossoms in our neighbor’s garden.  This was our family’s first spring in the US and violets are quite alien to us, having just moved from our home in India. Our interest in violets was roused by our weekend journey to Saint Mary-of- the-Woods, Indiana.

It’s been an exciting year in a new country, with a lot of uncertainties and apprehensions, and now we have our fourth child on the way and a lot of unfamiliar ground still to maneuver.  The only constancy during these trying times is our faith in God.  Our family needed a break, a short one just to recharge our spiritual and emotional batteries.  That’s when we decided to travel from Chicago to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for an overnight pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Providence.

From the very beginning of our visit, we were wrapped in love by the Sisters of Providence. Everywhere we turned, there were genuine smiles, a goodness and vitality that exuded forth.  So what batteries power the Sisters of Providence with such liveliness?  I wondered.

We arrived just in time to attend Mass. The Church of the Immaculate Conception was awe-inspiring and the singing, glorious.   I closed my eyes and wondered if the angelic choirs were joining in with the sisters.  After Mass we made our first of several visits to the Shrine of Our Lady of Providence.  Then Divine Providence stepped in and revealed a thread of the tapestry of God’s plan for us.  Our pilgrimage to Our Lady of Providence Shrine coincided with the May 14th, death anniversary of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.  Coincidence?  No Way!

Who is Saint Mother Theodore Guerin?

We didn’t know.  Sister Peggy Lynch enlightened us on the story of the foundress and the founding of the Sisters of Providence . A video, dioramas, a tour of her shrine and a replica of the first log cabin unfolded a picture of a very committed and profoundly faith-driven saint.  The story had parallels to Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, the saint who fought the good fight and braved the odds with a blind faith in Providence back in India.  When we revered Mother Theodore’s relics and prayed at her tomb, we pleaded for a piece of that bold trust in Providence so characteristic of her life and the life of Our Lady of Providence.


From left to right: Gabriel, Michael, Sister Mary Griffin (whom the Joseph family stayed with), Saint Mother Theodore, Raphael, Ruby and Sanju.

We were also introduced to the white violet, a flower cherished by Mother Theodore and one that still flourishes on these holy grounds.  The cheeky wit behind a ‘white’ violet reminds us of Mother’s humor in the most trying situations.

Mother Theodore’s trust resonates in the Biblical analogy of the lilies, when the Voice of Divine Providence bids us to “Look at the lilies in the field, how they grow”.  Perhaps a white violet was among the wild flowers when Jesus pointed them out as an example of trust in Providence.  Mother Theodore is that flower par excellence.  “Have confidence in the Providence that so far has never yet failed us.” she still says to us.

We came away with an assurance in our hearts that our trust in God and Our Lady of Providence were not displaced. Our faith has been fortified and when doubt assails me, my inner eyes draw up the log cabin and the faith of one woman in Indiana.

Our boys enjoyed feeding the alpacas and horses, the impromptu bonfire at the lake where we prayed the rosary with Sister Joni Luna, and the ‘yogurt’ ice-creams at the lunch hall.   Everywhere nature spoke to our hearts about the Providence of God. Our four-year-old, Gabriel, was all for staying and making this our new home.  We were all of the same mind.  Like Mount Tabor, the Shrine of Our Lady of Providence and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods was a place of transfiguration for our souls after which we had to descend back to the valleys of everyday life. But it’s just a three hour journey when we need to recharge again! We’ll be coming again, Mother Theodore and dear Sisters…

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Ruby Sanju Joseph

Ruby Sanju Joseph

Ruby Sanju Joseph is a native of India who enjoyed a pilgrimage to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods with her family.

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  1. Avatar Marsha Speth on June 30, 2015 at 7:38 am

    Lovely and inspiring! Thank you!

  2. Avatar Bev McGuire on June 30, 2015 at 9:59 am

    I really enjoyed reading the story about your visit to the Woods. I promise if you ever visit again, when you come through the gates you will feel like you have come home. It is truly a sacred place. God bless you & your family.

  3. Avatar Lisa Stallings, S.P. on July 1, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    We all loved your visit at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Please come again as soon as you can!

  4. Avatar Kymberli Payonk on July 7, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story! I hope your words will inspire others to come experience the beauty and blessings of the Shrine and the Sisters of Providence! God bless your family!

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