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Struggling to speak out against injustice with Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

(Editor’s note: Happy Feast of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin! In today’s blog post we hear from Emily TeKolste, the newest woman to follow in Saint Mother Theodore Guerin’s footsteps by entering the Sisters of Providence, the Congregation she founded. The passage from Saint Mother Theodore’s Journals and Letters below speaks to Emily. In what way does Saint Mother Theodore Guerin inspire you?)

handcuffed-1251664_1280Saint Mother Theodore Guerin journeyed home to Indiana after a fundraising trip to France in 1844. Returning from a trip prompted by prejudice and poverty that the sisters were facing in Indiana, Mother Theodore fell ill in New Orleans. She had to rely on the charity of the Ursuline sisters there to nurse her back to health for seven weeks. Despite all the challenges that she had faced and all the challenges that she knew she would be returning to, Mother Theodore responded only in compassion when she saw the selling of slaves at a port in New Orleans, an act considered legal and acceptable at that time.

“The most painful sight I saw in New Orleans was the selling of slaves. Every day in the streets of appointed places, negroes and negresses in holiday attire are exposed for this shameful traffic. This spectacle oppressed my heart. Lo! I said to myself, these Americans, so proud of their liberty, thus make game of the liberty of others. Poor negroes! I would have wished to buy them all that I might say to them, ‘Go! Bless Providence. You are free!’ But such feelings must be concealed from the Louisianians, as this is a point on which they are sensitive.”

In the midst of her own pain and struggles, Mother Theodore still considered the most painful sight to be that of the injustice of owning other human beings. She looked upon her fellow human beings with compassion, saw clearly the results of an unjust structure, and yearned to end the suffering. She also saw clearly the social context which made this possible: “Louisianians are sensitive to being called out on the injustice of slavery.”

Like Mother Theodore, we today struggle to find the ways to speak out against injustice in a society that’s sensitive to the topic. How can we see the world more clearly? How can we respond in compassion?

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Sister Emily TeKolste

Sister Emily TeKolste is in formation with the Sisters of Providence. She is a native of Indianapolis and has a degree in sociology from Xavier University in Cincinnati. Emily is passionate about justice with special interest in environmentalism and sustainability. You can follow her blog at solongstatusquoblog.wordpress.com. She currently ministers with the NETWORK lobby for Catholic social justice.

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7 Comments

  1. Donna Butler on October 3, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Thank you, Emily. I know you also have a passion for justice. I think all efforts for justice begin with awareness and compassion. Experiential awareness is probably the most powerful motivation. We take it in, reflect upon it and in time, hopefully act upon it. This SP congregation is far from being the perfect model of anti-racism. However, there is evidence in both our past and current history of yearning, striving and acting to bring about racial justice as well as failing in this endeavor. May we continue to learn and grow and become a vibrant part of the kind of world Mother Theodore desired where all people are treated with respect and dignity.

    • Peggy Balensuela on October 3, 2016 at 3:55 pm

      AMEN!

  2. Paula Damiano, SP on October 3, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    “Without distinction of persons, do good to all for the love of God.” This is another quote from Saint Mother Theodore that can be found in her shrine. It’s next to a picture of Chinese children playing in the courtyard of a school begun by Sisters of Providence. Yes, as you say Emily, “She looked upon her fellow human beings with compassion, saw clearly the results of an unjust structure, and yearned to end the suffering.” My prayer is that every Sister of Providence and Associate come to follow her path of justice. Glad you’re one of those followers!!

  3. Patti Burris on October 3, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    “As we come to know the seriousness of the situation, the war, the racism, the poverty in our world, we come to realize that things will not be changed simply by words or demonstrations. Rather, it’s a question of living one’s life in a drastically different way.”-Dorothy Day

    I often ask myself, how I can make a difference in a world where there is so much oppression and injustice. I am only one person. I have discovered that when one person joins another person who is just as passionate about justice, then they can make a difference. I am honored to be following Saint Mother Theodore’s path of justice and I am so glad that you are following that path too. You are a blessing!

  4. Paula Modaff, S.P. on October 4, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks for keeping this essential element of our Christian and and congregational obligation in our awareness, Emily. You demonstrated how our passion for justice is rooted in our heritage and personally in our Mother Theodore.

  5. jean on October 5, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    I’d like to compliment the graphic artist who created the stunning image used in the article. Beautiful and quite moving.

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