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“Journals and Letters” week 2: The voyage begins

Today we start reading the travel journal of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

[Editor’s note: Today we start discussingJournals and Letters“: Page 1 to page 10 (second paragraph). Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin‘s writings every week in the coming year.]

The very first pages I read of Mother Theodore’s journey to America were not at all what I expected. There was no joy or excitement present. I thought Mother Theodore would be ready for her big adventure to America, but the very first sentence she writes is, “The moment of separation and death had come at last.”  For someone who eventually became a saint, it struck me as humorous at how dark and depressing her thoughts and emotions were before they even arrived.

Human struggles

As I read on I realized that Mother Theodore speaks in a way and about things that I could relate to as a woman, mother and human. On page three, she writes, “I had not had time to read them (letters from Rennes, Orleans and Soulaines) all, having been obliged to remain up packing and roping our trunks until midnight.” It reminded me about all the times before a trip when I had to stay up well after my family went to bed to get things organized and packed. It doesn’t always put you in the best of moods even before the nicest of vacations. I can’t imagine how miserable she must have felt as she prepared to leave everything she loved behind.

A reproduction of the vessel Mother Theodore and her companions sailed in across the ocean in 1840.

The sea journey seems doomed from the moment they boarded. Thieves, seasickness and bad weather with the added addition of not speaking English and being on an “American” ship, all contributed to a wretched start. I do see a little of Mother Theodore’s personality and wit peek out in these first 10 pages. She writes, “You never saw such a comedy,” in reference to a sick sister taking care of the other sisters who were sicker than herself. This is of course another thing I can fully relate to as a mother myself. All in all it was an interesting beginning. Even though I know how it ends, I can’t wait to see what else is in store for this group of women.

What do you think?

How did it make you feel when reading about the start of Mother Theodore’s journey? Is it what you expected?

What are some ways you can relate to Mother Theodore as a person?

Please leave your comments so we can keep the discussion going.

Next week > Oct. 24 Week 3: Page 10 to page 23 New York

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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 Theresa Tighe on October 18, 2020 at 8:17 pm

    I think much of the value of Mother Guerin’s Journals and Letter’s is that they show us she was human just like us and has the same emotions and thoughts we do. She handles them as best she can as they happen. She manages to find some humor in human chaos. Even when she is sad, frightened, uncertain of the future she tries her best to trust God’s Providence. Something we are trying to do too.
    And she doubts herself as we all do. Maybe we should remember that we are questioning all our abilities.

    • Mary Riley Mary Riley on October 19, 2020 at 2:36 pm

      I wholeheartedly agree! The fact that she doubts herself is a very human quality. It’s a good reminder for us all right?

  2. Avatar Jeannie Smith, PA on October 21, 2020 at 11:10 am

    Mary and Theresa – your comments are so rich and meaningful, as is the story we love. Thank you so much. I’m with you and promise to join in the conversation as we journey with Mother Theodore!

    • Mary Riley Mary Riley on October 21, 2020 at 11:16 am

      We look forward to it!

  3. Avatar Madonna Wilson on October 21, 2020 at 6:26 pm

    When reading these first words on the very first page of her journal, “the moment of separation and of death had come at last” I was taken aback. And at the same time I was in awe of Mother Theodore’s transparency of her feelings. By her writing this in her journal it made me feel that during this time of loss and sadness for her, it was okay to recognize and feel those emotions. And that is what she did. She continues to write such potent words within those first 10 pages. Such as, “We had to leave all.” “Painful sacrifices.” “Perilous voyage.” “Soul being torn from my body.” So during those first 10 pages I kept asking myself “How did she do it?” “How did she accomplish all that she did?” And then other words were also included within those introductory pages. Such as “Leave it to Providence.” “At the feet of our Lord.” “Offering in silence our sacrifice to God.” “I kissed my crucifix.” “…the Holy Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, I feel, our safeguard; and it will continue to be such in the future…” So in spite of this overwhelming challenge ahead of her, she offers it all to God.

    So I am so excited to journey with Mother Theodore and all of you through the reading and sharing of her journals and letters.

  4. Avatar Cathy Dearing on October 22, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    I agree with everyone’s comments that have been shared thus far. Madonna, you encapsulated nicely the humanity of Mother Theodore and her complete trust and hope in God.

    I love the details that Mother Theodore provides in what she sees, hears, and feels. It allows me to be transported to that time and place in her life and I am inspired by the depth of her love for God, her Sisters, and her mission. Her life of prayer, the Eucharist, her love for others, and the kindness of others gave her strength for the journey.

  5. Avatar Ken Siarkiewicz on October 22, 2020 at 5:56 pm

    While there is a very definite mood of sadness about leaving friends, family, and familiar circumstances, there is the description of beauty and color that shows us how even in times of sadness, Mother Theodore finds God’s finger painting in her life. Her description of the sea, both menacing and vast, and the sky are very sublime. I am also struck by the fact that even though she has several bouts of sickness and lack of a good night’s sleep she can still take the time to write her thoughts and emotions. Her concern for her companions shows a love that she has experienced from her God. I read this work more than 25 years ago, and I am thankful for this opportunity to read and this time reflect more on her life and her words. Thank you for bringing this opportunity to us.

  6. Avatar Linda McMahon, PA on October 29, 2020 at 11:24 pm

    I am joining the conversation almost 2 weeks late. The comments that already have been made are meaningful for me to read. Several years ago, my daily prayer practice had included reading a few pages of the Journals and Letters and then spending time savoring them, Today, thinking about those experiences, I think Mother Theodore’s writings remind me of the various types of psalms: she offers praise ,thanksgiving, lament and a delight in God’s creation. I look forward to sharing our thoughts on her writings.

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