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Feast of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, 2018 reflection

It was about 9:30 p.m. on one of the nights leading up to the opening of the new shrine of Saint Mother Theodore back in October of 2014.

I went looking for Father Mark Joseph Costello, who was putting the finishing touches on one of the display cases in the shrine. I wanted to nudge him to quit work for the night.  Many of you may recall that Mark Joseph was the liturgical consultant who helped guide the development of the Shrine.

As he finished his work, he talked with me about how he had really grown to love Mother — as he called her.  After all, he didn’t work this late at night on all the projects in which he was involved. He told me he found himself praying to her as he worked that evening, asking her for courage since he was about to embark on a new adventure in his own life — to establish a mission in Crow Agency, Montana, among the Native American people.

I then asked him about the inspiration behind the shrine; what was he trying to accomplish in the way he had helped design the journey of Mother Theodore’s life, beginning in France and culminating in Indiana.

His reply? “I wanted to show what holiness looked like in pioneer Indiana.”

***

We are here this morning because of the mark of holiness that one Anne-Therese Guerin put on this particular place in Indiana — that is the treasure we hold, of which Luke’s Gospel speaks. She is the very heart of this community.

And we who are trying to follow in her footsteps — Sisters of Providence, Providence Associates, all our ministry partners near and far, SP co-workers, PHC and SMWC colleagues, students and friends, — well, I think a day like today should remind us that we, too, are marked for holiness. God calls each one of us to holiness.

In the life of Mother Theodore, holiness was expressed as total dependence on God’s Providence.  As we heard from the book of Sirach in our first reading: If you want to be honored at the end of life, then cleave to God and do not depart.

And cleave she did as she led her sisters into a forest and transformed that forest into a place where love would dwell and learning could thrive, where a farm house would become a novitiate from which sisters would be sent and God’s mission of Providence would eventually extend as far away as China.

In the life of Mother Theodore, holiness was expressed, as St. Paul suggests in the letter to the Philippians, in the loss of all things — that Christ may be gained. And suffer loss she did — the loss of her father, her little brothers, her own good health, her country, her very ego — but she did not lose heart. She was steadfast in order to be found in Christ.

The Positio, written to support her canonization, lists no less than 10 specific virtues as testimony to her holiness. But of her virtues in general, her friend and confidant, Sister St. Francis Xavier, wrote, “[Mother Theodore] carries her cross; she does not drag it. Her soul has grown strong in the midst of illnesses, difficulties, poverty and all the rest.”

And what of us? In our lives, what does holiness look like?

The book written at the time of Mother Theodore’s canonization was titled “Woman for all Time.” In it, Sister Marie Kevin Tighe, the promoter of the cause for canonization, urges us, as the book title suggests, to let Mother Theodore be a model for us in this place and time.

Lest you think you are not worthy to hold even an illusion of sainthood for yourself after thinking about Mother Theodore’s virtues, listen to this story about her. It was recounted by Sister Mary Theodore Le Touze, the niece of Mother Theodore.  She was told this story by her mother, Marie-Jeanne, who was Mother Theodore’s sister.

“She [Anne-Therese] vowed herself to be a religious … she always said she had a secret that nobody could guess. And nobody would have guessed that, for she was a little villain — not bad, but mischievous and leading in all the pranks of the children of the neighborhood. She would run away from school, not because she did not like to study but because the others were too slow, and the teacher, a prim old maid, was dry.”

Interestingly enough, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, published this past March is entitled, “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World.” Perhaps he heard about that young, precocious Anne-Therese when he says, “God wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence.”

And it is not lost on me that a recent guide for voters, produced by 10 national Catholic social justice organizations, is named, “A Call to Holiness.” They, too, quote Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, which also says, “We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice.”

At this moment in the history of this ever-expanding Providence community, perhaps this will be our sign of holiness — that we will NOT ignore injustice. Not just me or you but together:

  • We will attend to the needs of the environment through our daily choices, as well as by advocating for  eco-justice on a national and global level.
  • We will devote ourselves to recognizing and naming our own prejudices as well as by educating and working for racial justice in our church and in our country.
  • We will welcome the stranger into the sanctuary of our hearts by resisting any walls that might divide us wherever we may be as well as those at our borders.
  • We will reject an economy of exclusion and try to live a more simple life, learning when enough is enough.
  • We will focus on the dignity of all people, especially those most vulnerable right in our very midst.

This just might be what holiness needs to look like in our time. This just might be the way we follow the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged — what we have done for others.  “When I was hungry, you gave me to eat; when I was thirsty you gave me to drink.”  Christ suffering in God’s people requires our response.

Mother Theodore responded to the needs of her time. We are here this morning because of the mark of holiness that one Anne-Therese Guerin put on this particular place in Indiana. We need to follow her lead in our time.

And if we do, then people will know that holiness still dwells in this house.  May we treasure that holiness by loving God much, loving one another and never forgetting that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also.

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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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