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Discovering the Woods: A visit from a fresh perspective

“How magnificent is the setting sun, which found me every evening in the same spot like a faithful courier!”

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

As a staff member for the Sisters of Providence, I sometimes forget that I work at a really special place.  Each day we get visitors, pilgrims and tour groups who explore the many wonderful things that are here for all to discover. So it’s always good to gain a little perspective by seeing these offerings through the eyes of others. That’s what happened to me recently when a friend, who has never before been to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, met me for a tour of the home of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.  

I decided to begin our tour in Providence Spirituality & Conference Center. It’s a great place to get information about all there is to see and do while you’re here. You can even pick up a self-guided tour brochure at the Welcome Desk which will point you towards all the must-see places on campus. We then headed down the hall passing by Linden Leaf Gifts  (we would come by here later for a little shopping) towards the Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. When we reached the dioramas I turned on the light to the first display. My friend, who is a second-grade teacher, stopped in her tracks. “That’s so cool!” It seems that we were off to a good start.

This scene of religious life at Ruillé is one of the dioramas on display at Providence Spirituality & Conference Center.

As we entered the shrine I finally got to introduce to her, for the very first time, our beloved Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. We wound our way through each of the rooms where Mother Theodore’s story was told through quotes, artifacts and brief narratives.  My friend was particularly touched when she read Mother Theodore’s words, “Love the children first, and then teach them.”  As a teacher at a school where many of her students struggle financially and socially, my friend could certainly relate to all the challenges Mother Theodore faced. After the shrine we then went to see the breathtaking Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the Church of the Immaculate Conception — two of the places that are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. I felt both a sense of pride about where I work as well as humility to be surrounded by such magnificence as we continued on our brief adventure.

The ceiling of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel

We left the church and walked over to the Log Cabin Chapel. There we both marveled at how tiny and primitive it was and that such a small space could serve residence of the chaplain and as the place of worship for Saint Mother Theodore and her companions. It must have been a huge adjustment after the grand cathedrals of France. We passed by the historic Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto to the Saint Anne Shell Chapel where we looked at the seashell-lined walls. It stands as a reminder of Mother Theodore’s promise to construct a chapel to Saint Anne as a way to express her gratitude for safe passage from an arduous sea journey. We then walked over to the Labyrinth. I was surprised by my friend’s strong reaction to this path that serves as a place to contemplate, pray and meditate. She had never seen such a site and asked me many questions about this ancient practice. As someone who likes to walk and run outdoors as a way to clear her mind, I’m sure this appealed to her on many different levels.

The Log Cabin Chapel

We then headed over to White Violet Center for Eco-Justice where I got to show her the gardens, orchard, bees, chickens and of course the alpacas.  I pointed out the signs that comprised a walking tour of this amazing place. There are maps available inside White Violet Center, at the alpaca pasture and at Providence Spirituality & Conference Center.

One of the walking tour signs at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice.

Our alpacas are always a big draw to visitors but it was particularly fun to get to show off the four new crias that are just a few months old.

Four new crias joined the alpaca herd in 2019

We headed in to the Farm Store at White Violet where she bought some honey and some original art created by very own Sister Ruth Johnson. Our sisters and Providence Associates contribute some wonderful items that are sold at both Linden Leaf Gifts and the Farm Store at White Violet.

The final stop on our visit was to the bronze outdoor statue of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. I thought it only fitting to conclude with the woman who made all of this possible. I am grateful to her and all of the Sisters of Providence who have continued the mission that began in 1840.

The bronze statue of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

I could tell that my friend was inspired by her short visit to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She wants to return. She wants to buy more of Sister Ruth’s artwork. She wants to bring more people here and share this beautiful place. She thanked me for my time but I feel that I should thank her. I got to witness first-hand how this amazing place has such a profound impact on people. It is a memory that will sustain me for a very long time.

Is your group interested in arranging a pilgrimage or guided tour? Get more information here. Self-guided tours are available seven days a week during daylight hours. Stop by the Welcome Desk at Providence Spirituality & Conference Center to begin your visit.

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Mary Riley

Mary Riley

Mary Riley is director of operations for White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Prior to her current role, she served as the marketing manager for some ministries of the Sisters of Providence including White Violet Center for Eco-Justice and the Volunteer Services.

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  1. Avatar Joanne Murphy on July 28, 2019 at 4:10 pm

    Please ask Saint Mother Theodore and the Sisters who keep vigil in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel to pray that I’m able to decide if I should stay where I now live or try to find a place near the Woods to call home. Since I left the Juniorate in 1953, a part of my heart was left there. A letter from Sister Joseph Eleanor assured me that the Woods would always be my home. I’m 83 now, pretty healthy, but I feel that now’s the time to make a decision.

  2. Avatar Barbara Sheehan on July 29, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    wonderful journey to the Woods and log cabin….it is a time of great joy and reflection – a real need in these days.

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