It is hard to describe how I felt. You don’t get to meet your ancestor who is a saint every day.
First, what is complicated, in my opinion, is trying to understand what it means to be a saint. I’m not religious, and part of it is formality or ritual that belongs to the Catholic Church. The Sisters of Providence appealed to the Pope, and many Popes and paperwork later, Mother Theodore Guerin became a saint. What I discovered though is the person she was. She was a courageous, strong-willed and spiritual woman.
Saint Mother Theodore arrived in Indiana in 1840, in the middle of a forest not knowing where she was after three months of travel in horse carriages and two months at sea. What still exists is a college and a Congregation, a beautiful 1,200-acre campus with a great library, an organic farm, and a luxurious church.
The Sisters of Providence did a lot of this work after she died. The interesting thing is that she inspired other people around her, after her, so much so that her message and her actions are carried on.
Saint Mother Theodore didn’t have to preach. She simply showed the way by doing, by being there for her sisters, by fighting against the establishment when necessary, by building schools and bringing education into the “wild, wild west,” by learning to heal people with herbs, by befriending the influential people from the nearest villages, by identifying a need and stepping up to the task at hand.
The grandeur of her humility and hard work is breathtaking and hard to process.
On a personal note, she and I share quite a few life experiences; the most significant one for me is probably being an immigrant. I can relate to her experience.
Although I’m not religious, I do pray. For the first time I could pray to her in my favorite mix of English and French, knowing it didn’t matter, only she could understand my language. It felt like home. Somewhere in the Midwest, I felt at home. It was comforting to know an ancestor of mine went through what I went through before me. She had it much, much tougher of course.
Finally, the Sisters of Providence were so welcoming and warm. They told me I have my ancestor’s eyes. I feel great pride because the Sisters of Providence are actively defending human rights, women’s rights, fighting against racism, putting nature in the center of the Universe, and promoting education. They’re independent-minded, loving and transforming the world into a better place.
I want to thank the people I’ve met who were kind enough to share their story. You have touched me deeply. I was happy to be a part of it.
I’d like to close by sharing what I’m hoping may be a word of wisdom. Saint Mother Theodore must not become an idol. She is in every one of us. Her courage, her faith in Providence, her desire to make the world a better place, is inside each one of us.
Make it your own. We need more healers, more connectors in the world. And it doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic or not, those are human traits that we can all choose to embody. Let’s not hide behind our fears, but step up to the plate just like Saint Mother Theodore did.
Let’s embrace the world, humanity as a whole, faith in Providence, and everything will be all right. When in doubt, always choose Love.
Thank you for the unforgettable memories.