A note in distress: unpublished Saint Mother Theodore
Editor’s note: This letter from Saint Mother Theodore was written to Sister St. Francis Xavier Le Fer and Sister Mary Cecilia Bailly. These two sisters were very close to Mother Theodore and assisted her in leadership and in training new sisters. The note was written during a trying time for Saint Mother Theodore and for the Congregation. Their bishop (referred to in this letter as Monseigneur and his Lordship) was making the sisters’ lives and work very difficult. At the point that this letter was written, the sisters had planned to leave the diocese for another, though it broke their hearts, because the bishop refused to approve their rules and deed them the land at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. He was also asking for written apology from sisters who had written truthfully to their superiors in France of their situation with him. To learn more about this turbulent time in Saint Mother Theodore’s life, read Chapter 6, Years of Sorrow, in the book “Mother Theodore Guerin, A Woman for All Time” by Penny Blaker Mitchell.
What I love about this letter: I love how human Mother Theodore is. I love how a stressed Saint Mother Theodore can be slightly snippy with those closest to her, just like I can. I love the strong leadership she shows, protecting the Congregation from ambiguity. I love her faith, her strength, her candor. I love that she had close friends like these two sisters in whom she could confide. And I love that in the end of this whole ordeal, Saint Mother Theodore stayed strong and determined and it eventually paid off.
28 May, 1846
My very dear St. Francis,
I received your two letters which for date have only this word: Sunday. This is not their only defect, — it is surprising, my dear child, that you give me no details upon what you mention about the promises of Monseigneur; it was so essential for me to have them. I was told during my journey that what his Lordship was doing was nothing but a snare set for our simplicity, that we ought to be on our guard, etc. We had resolved not to give him the lines drafted by our father; neither Sr. St. Vincent nor Sr. Ligouri would sign them. This is for you two alone. Now what shall I do, not knowing what these promises are, nor to whom they are addressed, nor in what terms? It is much to be feared that I shall make a false step, and a false step in the state in which we are may ruin us. Pray very much for me to the Spirit of Light that He may direct me in all things.
Send me by mail the Act of our Incorporation; Monseigneur wants us to ask him by a writing signed by all the Councilors for the approbation of this act; he pretends that it can be of no use before that; he also will have the act of apology signed by all the other Sisters who signed the other letters — this will give me time to receive a copy of the promises made by his Lordship; if they are still ambiguous, we will not give this writing. Do not fail to send me all that on Monday.
I will try to write to you again at my return from Jasper and St. Peter’s, for I must not return to St. Mary’s without having something more positive.
I went to see Monseigneur upon my arrival last evening. I returned this morning; that interview was more than enough to make me quite sick. My God, have mercy on me! Sr. St. Vincent was with me.
I can say no more to you today, I have not the courage to do so. Believe me, my dear and beloved Sisters, you at least console me by your pity and affection.
All yours in our Lord,
Thank you for reminding us of what Mother Theodore and our early sisters suffered. May it give us courage in moments of uncertainty and heart-ripping challenges.
It also reminds me how important our support is for our sisters who generously and courageously offer themselves for our Leadership Team in these challenging times.
Your reflection was wonderful. Thank you.