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Reflecting on the United States through the writing of Saint Mother Theodore

It’s a time of unrest and tumult in the United States – a deadly virus, natural disaster after natural disaster, violence in so many cities, a polarized political landscape, unemployment and business closures – on and on it goes.

On the other hand, it’s been a time of heroism and heroics in our nation – scientists and health care workers caring for those affected by the virus and working to discover an effective vaccine, firefighters and first responders giving their all; school administrators, teachers and staff designing safe and effective learning experiences for students; peaceful protestors making their voices heard; caring and effective police officers – on and on it goes.

Reflecting on the feast

On the occasion of Mother Theodore’s 2020 Feast Day, I’ve been wondering if her reflections about the United States of her time have anything to say to the United States of our time.

I’ve called to mind some of Mother Theodore’s perceptions of the United States. Remember, she was 48-years-old when she arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Up until her departure from France to the United States, she had never been outside of Brittany, a small geographic region in the northwest of France.

Mother Theodore was a “blank slate” in terms of the sights, sounds, geography and culture of the United States in general and Indiana in particular.

Perceptions of the United States

Because of this, I am drawn to her writings that capture the spirit of the United States as she came to know it during her 15 years of ministry here.

I offer these observations of hers not as political commentary or cultural criticism. I offer them solely for the purpose of our reading and pondering her impressions. Her comments, at least for me, invite thoughtful consideration of her words; openness to her perceptions; an honest assessment of how the words strike us as residents of the United States, as friends of Mother Theodore, as persons of faith.

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

I guess all I’m asking is that we read her words; consider if we resonate with them or not; to ask the Holy Spirit that we may hear what we need to hear and to do what we most need to do in the present moment.

Agreed?

The words of Mother Theodore

Mother Theodore’s words – taken from the Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guerin:

  • Making the most serious reflections on what we beheld, and on our present position, I said to myself: Thus does life also pass away, now calm, now agitated but at least the end is attained. Happy … are they who can look out to the never-ending future with calm and confidence.
  • It is difficult for many novices to understand the necessity of religious obedience, especially does this seem to be the case in this country where the spirit of independence is carried into everything,
  • Our American sisters have not the tender piety of the French, but there is no hypocrisy … among them. They are … full of uprightness, of devotedness and of simplicity,
  • Voyages, which are an image of life, are generally accompanied by a crowd of contradictions,
  • These misfortunes of daily occurrence are not the only ones that afflict our unfortunate America. We hear of nothing but fires and murders … The explosion costs the lives of several persons, but of this scarcely anything is said in the papers … Instead a long list is given of the loss of money and of property,
  • The most painful sight I saw in New Orleans was the selling of slaves. Every day, in the appointed places negroes and negresses are exposed for this shameful traffic … This spectacle oppressed my heart. Lo! I said to myself, these Americans so proud of their liberty thus make game of the liberty of others,
  • To repeat: Voyages, which are an image of life, are generally accompanied by a crowd of contradictions,
  • Sometimes I am so disheartened with this country that I feel as if I were carrying on my shoulders the weight of its highest mountains,
  • This land was no longer for me the land of exile, it was the portion of my inheritance, and in it I hope to dwell all the days of my life.

Taking it to prayer

I’ve had more time to reflect, pray with Mother Theodore’s words than have you, dear reader. So I know that God’s Holy Spirit asks me to carry these words with me every day: Happy … are they who can look out to the never-ending future with calm and confidence.

What words draw you into prayer?

In the meantime, Happy Feast! Let’s celebrate with joy the life of a remarkable woman, our Saint Mother Theodore Guerin!

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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9 Comments

  1. Marsha Speth on October 3, 2020 at 7:36 am

    Thank you, Denise! Mother Theodore’s insights are still so true! Amazing that she came to love this country in all its contradictions. And she brought her gifts as an immigrant to try to make it better.

  2. Mary Pat Dailey Cross on October 3, 2020 at 8:14 am

    Mother Theodore’s reflections are such a gift especially during these days of sadness and chaos.

  3. Connie SP on October 3, 2020 at 9:34 am

    Thanks Denise for giving us the opportunity to reflect on Mother Theodore’s words about our own country. I too rest in her words of hope for the future that is yet to be in God’s time and in God’s own way.

  4. Mary Tomlinson SP on October 3, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    Thanks, Denise. Indeed Mother Theodore’s words do mirror the happenings in our world today. I especially appreciated the quote “Voyages, which are an image of life are generally accompanied by a crowd of contradictions,” The journey is often a wave of uncertainty filled with choices that sometimes don’t make any sense. We have no choice but to carry on, until the road becomes clear.

  5. Paula Modaff, SP on October 3, 2020 at 2:47 pm

    Thank you, Denise. Even when Theodore felt the weight of America ‘s highest mountains, she walked with a light step and cultivated a joyful heart. May we be gifted with the same attitudes.

  6. Thomas J. Golden on October 4, 2020 at 1:51 am

    Sister Denise,
    Your feast day reflection is well received and to the point. I am a product of an SP school (All Saints, Hammond), and heard many times the idea that God would not lead us anywhere that we would not be sustained and supported. Even when times seem dark and our way blocked or uncertain, and our future very much at risk, I know the Spirit of God is there if we let go of our idea of control and allow God to lead us. Mother Theodore’s gentle warning to “lean with all your weight upon Providence” has no doubt sustained and encouraged me too. Time and again I have seen this Providence work out in my life and the lives of others, many times in ways I could never have imagined. God’s providence be with us all! Amen!

  7. Mike Eck on October 4, 2020 at 4:43 am

    Thank you for this reflection. My favorite SMW bookmark shows a picture of the statue of Saint Mother Theodore and several quotes. One inspires me every day “Love the children first, and then teach them”. Blessings and peace to you, Sister Ann and all the Sisters of Providence.

  8. Bill Hughes on October 4, 2020 at 10:56 am

    Thank you, Denise. Mother Theodore speaks truths about America and Americans without any negative and nasty language and she shows us where to find hope. I keep a document containing Mother Theodore quotes on my computer. I’ll add your reflection to it.

  9. Tom Benoit on October 4, 2020 at 11:07 am

    Sister Denise,
    I am very Blessed to have Sister Paula
    Modaff as my sister ( in-law )
    I know her prayers brought her little
    sister, Sue, and I together nearly 50 yrs
    ago!
    St. Mother Theodore and the good Sisters of Providence have had a very strong impact on our everyday Spiritual lives.
    We regard the the Sisters of Providence as
    our Friends in Faith, as our our Hope is in
    God who loves us.
    We take inspiration from the acronym:
    HOPE= Hold Onto Providence Everyday.
    May God Bless you,

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