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A Reflection for the Feast of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

feast-day-reflection-irI love these days when we are gathered as the ever expanding Providence Community – Sisters of Providence, our Associates, Sisters of Providence and Providence Health Care co-workers, and our friends from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

And thanks to the wonders of technology – we can be present with our sisters and associates in Taiwan and throughout the United States, as well as with our sisters in health care. So, truly it is a happy feast as we begin our celebration of the 10th anniversary of the canonization of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

It is rather amazing to me that it already has been 10 years come October 15, since our Servant of God – Theodora Guerin – was canonized. Of course, she has been a saint in our minds and hearts for much longer than 10 years, but it has been a blessing for us that the rest of the world is finally catching up to this fact. It has been a blessing that so many people have found their way here to our Woods to visit her shrine and to be present with her in a special way.

There is something about presence, isn’t there?

Hers was and truly continues to be a healing presence. I think about this every time I am with a group gathered around her resting place in the Shrine or when I make my way there myself. Eyes closed, hands touching her coffin, hearts lifted in prayer. The voices that get raised are usually asking for the healing of a loved one, for the healing of a troubled spot in their lives or in our world. We all seek healing of some kind of another.

Mother Theodore probably learned to be a healer early on in her life. We know that as the result of the death of her brothers and her father, she became a healing presence for her mother and sister. But it could have been otherwise. She could have become bitter toward her mother about being forced to delay her own life’s choices by staying to care for them.

And that’s when I hear the words of Sirach, given to us as part of the scripture for this feast:

Accept whatever is brought upon you,

and in changes that humble you be patient.

For gold is tested in the fire,

and acceptable people in the furnace of humiliation.

Trust in god, and God will help you.

Certainly, Theodore’s life brought many tests, but I would like to reflect a bit upon her time in Soulaines (Sue-lan), her last mission before she came to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Various accounts tell us that Sister St. Theodore was sent to Soulaines as the result of a misunderstanding, as somewhat of a punishment.

She was, in fact, falsely accused of condemning the procedures of her Superiors in regard to a decision made that impacted Father Dujarie, the founder of the Sisters of Providence in France.

The Positio for Mother Theodore’s cause tells us that she “accepted the humiliation and repaired to Soulaines,” a very small and poor mission, where she “gave herself to her apostolate with the same zeal and devotion that she had manifested in Rennes,” her previous and somewhat more prestigious mission.

We know that it was her work with the children in Soulaines that brought her honors from the Academic Inspector of Anger. It was here that she was awarded a Medal of Honor.

“Trust in God, and God will help you.”

We also know that a focus for the mission in Soulaines was to care for the sick poor, for which she was not prepared. So she made the most of her time in Soulaines by taking lessons in medicine and pharmacy.

Later, Sister Joseph Alphonse, who succeeded Mother Theodore as directress at Soulaines, testified:

‘I have heard it said that the intelligent care that Mother Theodore lavished on the sick, and also her reputation for kindness and holiness had inspired in these poor people such confidence that they preferred her visit to that of the doctor.’

They preferred her visit to that of the doctor.

Anne Therese Guerin treasured others. And, as Luke’s Gospel reminds us: “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” This saint of ours did not let the sufferings or the losses of which St. Paul speaks keep her from being present to others in ways that were healing, that made a difference. She was motivated by her love of Christ Jesus her Lord. Sister Mary James, one of those early sisters who knew Mother Theodore, writes of her, “Our dear Mother was always walking in the Presence of God.”

I could regale you with lots more examples of the healing presence of Mother Theodore’s life. But I bet you know where I am going with this.

What about the quality of our presence? As daughters and sons of Saint Mother Theodore, are we attentive to the call to be the presence of Providence in our world? Providence as understood as God’s loving care for all.

Here’s what I like about presence – we all have it. Being present to someone is something we all can do.

There is something about presence, isn’t there?
I am never going to be able to administer medicine or care for the sick like doctors or nurses, or even Mother Theodore, but I can be with someone who is sick – of body or spirit. Who needs me to listen? Who needs me to be the healing balm of understanding? Who needs me to keep vigil with them in an hour of need, maybe even in their final hours?

In 1990, I had the privilege of traveling to Kaifeng, China, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of our mission there. A highpoint of the trip was entering the simple home of the Providence Sister Catechists, who had to remain in China when the Sisters of Providence and other Catechists escaped to Taiwan at the time of the Communist Revolution.

Though accompanied by Native Chinese Sister of Providence Celeste Tsai and Providence Sister Catechist Theresa Wang, Sister Nancy Nolan and I could not speak one intelligible word to the Catechists there. We didn’t need to. Our presence was enough. How did we know that? In this tiny village in the interior of China they had managed to find a white linen tablecloth and silverware for us to use in place of chopsticks for the dinner they had waiting for us. And they told our Chinese companions, “We are orphans no more.” There is something about presence, isn’t there?

It is about treasuring each other. What could be more healing?

I think about the positive side of social media. I can be present in the lives of my family and friends in ways simply not possible without those posts on Facebook or tweets, even emails and texts. Perhaps more importantly, through social media, we can, almost immediately, express our concern, sign a petition, make a donation, and make a difference in response to such grave concerns as racial violence or environmental degradation.

Because of social medial, our presence is not limited to the friendly confines of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods or wherever we call home. Truly, we can be a healing presence within the world community of which we are a part.

So, on this Feast Day of Mother Theodore, let us ask her to help us be open to whatever it is we need to be: A more loving, healing presence, wherever we may be, however we may at this time in our lives. And in this way, I believe we may accomplish her fondest hope for all of us:

“That all who dwell in this house may love God much and may love one another.”

May we never forget why she came here.

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Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski was elected General Superior of the Sisters of Providence in 2016. She has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. Previously she ministered as a teacher, as communication and development director for the sisters and their ministries and as a member of elected leadership on the general council of the Sisters of Providence.

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