Power, justice, charity and civil discourse
We’ve been here before. Challenges to power, justice, charity and civil discourse are nothing new to the Sisters of Providence.
We citizens and residents of the United States and the world seek to recover from a highly contentious election. We seek to restore the gaps of a highly divided society. Perhaps the experience of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and the early Sisters of Providence can provide some guidance in this effort.
From the beginning of their foundation, Mother Theodore and her followers encountered a great deal of resistance from Monsignor de la Hailandière, the Bishop of Vincennes and an authority figure to the new Congregation. He sought to implement his high ideals and noble projects through enforcement rather than collaboration. The bishop and Mother Theodore clashed often. Mother Theodore refused to back down on requests that would have caused the Sisters to violate the Rule they had vowed to live. At the height of the conflict, Bishop de la Hailandière locked Mother Theodore in a room after she refused to agree to all of his demands.
Mother Theodore did not talk about this incident. As Sister Clara Kiefer reports, “I have heard that there was some difficulty with Bishop de la Hailandière; she supported it in silence and did not show any resentment afterwards, as if nothing had happened, showing herself more gentle with him than before.”
Sister St. Francis Xavier, one of Mother Theodore’s closest companions, describes the incident with great charity: “As he understood his rights as bishop and superior in a manner contrary to the spirit of our Rules, he considered our opposition to his views as contempt of ecclesiastical authority, and as an act of the blackest ingratitude. It is necessary that this be well understood, for there are facts in the history of our Congregation which could be imputed to Monsignor as acts of tyranny and which will be more easily explained when one reflects that he regarded as criminal disobedience what we considered to be our sacred obligations.”
It is true Mother Theodore would not back down from her highest ideals, those things she considered non-negotiable. Yet she continued to work with Monsignor de la Hailandière, seeking always the good of her Sisters, their students, and those they were called to serve in the areas surrounding their missions.
In this moment
Today, we find ourselves in a society in which disagreements are often treated as character flaws or seen as evil. We determine a person’s views as evil without seeking to understand what’s behind them. We block ourselves off from discussion and even from family members with whom we disagree. We argue and yell instead of seek to understand.
What do the examples of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and Sister St. Francis Xavier have to offer a world in pain today? We cannot deny that they stood up against tyranny and oppression. They stood up for those things deemed most important to their vows of obedience to the Rule. Still, they sought compromise and charity and collaboration whenever possible.
How can we seek to imitate their efforts to treat others with charity and see the good in their hearts?