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Called to perform: Sandra Hartlieb’s Mother Theodore

Providence Associate Sandra Hartlieb performs as Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Oct. 10 at St Simon Parish in Indianapolis.

Providence Associate Sandra Hartlieb performs as Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Oct. 2 at St Simon the Apostle Catholic Church in Indianapolis.

What does it take to write and perform a one-act play about Saint Mother Theodore Guerin? For Providence Associate Sandra Hartlieb, it took a calling — literally.

“I was mad at Mother Theodore!” Sandra confesses. For years, Sandra had struggled with corneal degeneration. Prayers for Mother Theodore’s intervention seemed to fall on deaf ears. Fast forward to the day of Mother Theodore’s canonization in 2006.

“My husband, Ron, drove us to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. We attended Mass, and then I wandered around the grounds complaining,” Sandra explains. “I ‘heard’ a voice saying, ‘Tell my story.’ Well, I said, ‘I am telling MY story!’ But the voice came again, and I realized it was HER! Telling me to tell HER story! I decided to do it.”

A one woman play

Sandra, an actor, writer and performer for over 25 years, went on to create and act in a one-woman play entitled “In Her Own Words,” which she performs throughout Indiana.

She debuted the play in 2008, at the Sisters of Providence annual meeting. “I was extremely nervous,” she says, “but after the performance, Sister Mary Ryan said, ‘You got her right!’”

“Getting her right” was no easy feat. Sandra delved into the Sisters of Providence archives at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, with the support of then-archivist Sister Mary Ryan and long-time friend Sister Marie Kevin Tighe (RIP).

“All of [the play] is truly her (Mother Theodore’s) words, strung together like a necklace of great beauty,” Sandra says. The play, set in 1855 before Mother Theodore’s final illness, invites the audience into the saint’s everyday life.

“I think the hardest part of portraying Mother Theodore is getting the right blend of intelligence, humor, incredible faith and complete humility,” Sandra says.

Providence Associate Sandra Hartlieb's husband Ron packs her up and drives her to new locations so she can share Saint Mother Theodore Guerin with others.

Providence Associate Sandra Hartlieb’s husband Ron packs her up and drives her to new locations so she can share Saint Mother Theodore Guerin with others.

Friendship develops

Performing has changed Sandra’s relationship with Mother Theodore as well. “The experience of ‘putting on her habit’ has led me to a much more personal relationship with her. She is indeed like a mother to me. When I have problems, she is usually the first person I go to. What started in 2006 as an angry tirade has turned into conversations with a true friend.”

Performances are booked through Sandra’s ministry, Sisterhood Christian Drama Ministry. Her next performance will be on Feb. 27, 2017, at Fatima Retreat Center in Indianapolis. She is also working with Providence Associate Jane Fischer to give a presentation in Jasper, Indiana, in March 2017. She would love to present her play in area high schools, “but those doors haven’t opened yet.”

Reviews of Sandra’s recent performance at St. Simon’s Parish Center in Indianapolis have been nothing short of glowing. “Sandra’s performance was authentic, professional, accurate, and full of the words and wisdom of our dear Mother Theodore. One could not overlook the attention to detail in Sandra’s work — not just her delivery, poise, and command of the stage,” said one attendee.

Sandra became a Providence Associate in 2009. Since beginning this project, she has “found peace” with her health situation. “I left my ‘poor me’ attitude on the grounds of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods,” she says, “and am surprised every day at what Providence has in store for me!”

Contact Sandra Hartlieb at 317-372-5925 or beiltrah@sbcglobal.net to learn more.

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Lori Strawn

Providence Associate Lori Strawn is a Freelance writer, radio show host and editor who lives in Witchita, Kansas. A 1987 graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Lori formerly served on the advisory board for the Providence Associates.

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5 Comments

  1. florenceNortonSP on October 24, 2016 at 7:16 am

    WOW! That really made my day.Thank you! PeaceS.Florence

  2. Donna Butler on October 24, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Thanks, Lori for sharing this wonderful story and to Sandra for making MTG known to so many! May the door keep opening so that others may know her power to heal.

  3. Cathy Campbell Campbell,SP on October 24, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Sandra, Thanks for sharing the story of your ministry. When I was campus minister at Providence Cristo Rey in Indianapolis, you came to share MTG’s story with the students and left them very favorably impressed. May God continue to guide and bless your ministry.
    Peace, Cathy Campbell, SP

  4. Rita Clare Gerardot on October 25, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    Sandra, I remember well your presentation here at the Woods some years ago and how impressed I was with your portrayal of Mother Theodore. How I wish you could get into some of our high schools with your presentation.

    You’ve turned your adversity into a blessing for others as well as yourself. May Mother Theodore continue to guide and protect you.

    S. Rita Clare Gerardot

  5. Sandra Hartlieb on October 27, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Lori – thanks for doing such a nice write-up! You bless me! I was especially tickled to see my husband Ron’s pic (I think Jane Fischer took that!) He works so tirelessly for my ministry and is often the “unsung hero.” I am looking forward to making my recommitment as a Providence Associate at Miracle Place in Indy on Nov. 5 – and am always energized to be among the Sisters and other PAs. Mother Theodore continues to teach me about putting others first. Thanks to all who left comments – you made my day!

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