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Journals and Letters week 4: arrival on U.S. soil

[Today we are discussingJournals and Letters“: p. 23 at New York to top of p. 29. Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin‘s writings every week in the coming year.]

A U.S. harbor in 1840.

The first paragraph in the section “At New York” actually brought tears to my eyes. Mother Theodore noted that “the Americans [on board] were expected.”… “Not one heart was anxious about us, not one was throbbing for us. Behold houses, but not our dear Providence home. Behold people, but not our Sisters.”

Talk about sadness! This reality was coupled with being in a foreign land and not speaking the language. What friends they had made during the long sea voyage, they would probably never see again.

An act of kindness

And then, as often happens in our darkest hours, the smallest of kindnesses can lift the spirits. For Mother Theodore and her sisters it was the visit from the friendly customs officers and the presence and gifts of Dr. Doane. His simple gifts of fruits delighted them and they had the pleasure of sharing them with their journey-companions.

Mother Theodore also saw God’s Providence at work when they had to stay on the ship overnight and the captain arrived the next morning with “a pretty little green rowboat” to get them to shore, while other passengers had to spend another night on the ship.

And how about the scene of descending the rope ladder from the huge sailing vessel to the rowboat, with rain falling in torrents and both vessels rocked by waves? I know my heart would have been in my mouth!! And Mother Theodore’s words would carry a mighty challenge to my faltering spirit!

Other Providence moments: the hospitality of Mrs. Parmentier and the attentiveness of good Mr. Byerly.

Join the conversation

What touched you as your read these pages?

How can Mother Theodore’s feelings and reactions help you on your day-to-day journey?

Do you have an example of a simple Providence moment in your life?

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

Next week > Nov. 7 Week 5: Page 29 to top of page 39

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Sister Ann Casper

Sister Ann Casper, SP, retired as the executive director for Mission Advancement for the Sisters of Providence in 2018 and currently serves as minister of Providence Community Cemetery at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Sister Ann has ministered in various scholastic and administrative positions in Indiana and North Carolina. She also was a member of the Sisters of Providence leadership team, serving as General Secretary.

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17 Comments

  1. Jeannie Smith, PA on October 31, 2020 at 9:50 am

    Thanks, S. Ann – I also felt such sympathy at that arrival – both happy and sad, and also frightening (what do we do now?) And I have always been curious about Dr. Doane. Did he greet every ship? Did he know the Sisters were on board, or was he just there to offer welcome to immigrants? Maybe the Captain told him about the Sisters when he went ashore. Obviously he was an uncommonly caring person, Providential! I also love the inclusivity in that reading – not only was Mother impressed by the love shown by this Protestant, but she immediately shares the fruit with the Rabbi and another Jew. Her embrace was for all. Something our country could use these days!

    • Ann Casper, SP on October 31, 2020 at 10:08 am

      I love your questions, Jeannie. And they led me to Vol. 1 of our history whereI learned that Dr. Doane was the quarantine officer (that sure makes the story relevant!). Dr. Doane did his medical studies in Paris and became familiar with sisters who ran hospitals and came to value their work. AND, he spoke French. That certainly would have been consoling to Mother Theodore!

      • Cathy Dearing on November 4, 2020 at 9:38 am

        Thank you for your introduction to this section of our reading, Sister Ann. I also appreciate the backstory on Dr. Doane.

  2. Linda McMahon, PA on November 2, 2020 at 12:51 am

    S. Ann and Jeannie, thank you for sharing your insights. I was struck by Mother Theodore’s absolute honesty about the full gamut of her emotions she experienced. There was gratitude and thanksgiving for their arrival, some anxiety about the future, hospitality toward others even in the presence of limited resources and expressing humor. She had openness to Providence sustaining them in their needs even when disappointment or a change in plans had occurred. And, she offered a deep awareness of the bonds we form with one another, especially in the moments of tribulation. As Mother and her Sister companions were pulling away from the ship, she shared “Our hearts were very heavy. We were leaving those with whom we had suffered. We were leaving our poor ship which, during forty days, had been our only hope. To leave it was truly painful, so true it is that misfortune binds hearts together” (p.27). She was full of compassion for those with whom she journeyed. That is something to remember and to strive to emulate.

    • Ann Casper, SP on November 2, 2020 at 9:30 am

      Linda, thank you so much for your further reflections. You certainly have some great insights as you probed the passage in great detail. Thanks for sharing with all of us.

      Sister Ann

  3. Theresa Tighe on November 2, 2020 at 12:21 pm

    I was struck by the fact that God’s Providence took the form of people helping the sisters.
    I have come to believe that God needs us. We are his/her arms and legs and vessels for his mercy and kindness. I remember that Jesus had problems working miracles where none believed. I also was struck by the ecumenical nature of the help. And thank for you Sister Ann for the further information about Dr. Doane. It is good to know that he spoke French. I think of what St. Mother Querin said, God provides not only for our necessities but even for our pleasure. How good it must felt for the sisters be able to hear and understand their own language in the Babel of the harbor.

    • Ann Casper, SP on November 3, 2020 at 8:17 am

      Thanks for your comment, Theresa. You are so right about being God’s hands and feet. Another Teresa (of Avila) wrote a poem which I learned as a child and think of it often: Christ Has no Body but Yours.

      Christ has no body but yours,
      No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
      Yours are the eyes with which he looks
      Compassion on this world,
      Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
      Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
      Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
      Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

      Have a blessed day!
      Sister Ann

      • Madonna Wilson on November 3, 2020 at 4:58 pm

        Thank you Sister Ann,
        Beautiful Poem.
        A reminder that we are here to be of service for others and to love others.

    • Madonna Wilson on November 3, 2020 at 4:52 pm

      Theresa, I agree. It must have been wonderful for all of the Sisters to hear and understand their own language!!

  4. Theresa Tighe on November 3, 2020 at 1:48 pm

    Sister Ann,

    Thank you for the prayer. I will be saying it.
    Love and blessings,
    Theresa

  5. Madonna Wilson on November 3, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    Sister Ann.
    Thank you for starting and leading the conversation this week as Mother Theodore’s journey continues! You wrote a powerful beginning talking about Mother Theodore’s sadness and loss. The sadness of being in a foreign land. I can’t even imagine the feelings that Mother Theodore and her Sisters was experiencing–missing their “dear Providence home.” She writes that “while these painful reflections were oppressing our hearts…no one was so kind as the good doctor…” Sister Ann you talked about those acts of kindness shown by Dr. Doane. I appreciate Jeannie’s question about why Dr. Doane was there in the first place? It was so interesting to learn from you Sister Ann that Dr. Doane completed his medical studies in Paris (Providence), became familiar with and valued the sisters work at hospitals (Providence), AND he spoke French (Providence). How happy I felt knowing this!

    What touched me as I read these pages? It touched me that when Dr. Doane provided fruit to the Sisters, that they shared by GIVING FIRST to their travelling companions. It also touched me how Mother Theodore openly shares her feelings throughout the pages of her journal. I agree with Linda’s comment about Mother Theodore’s total honesty of her emotions and her deep awareness of the bonds we form with one another-especially in times of trouble and suffering.

    How can Mother Theodore’s feelings & reactions help me on my day-to-day journey? What comes to my mind is the entire story of when the Sisters had to board the rowboat! She writes that the rowboat is “a pretty little green rowboat.” Which to me sounds nice at first. Then Mother Theodore adds: ”but the sea was frightful.” When I think about my day-to-day situations that are fearful, I want to focus on the “pretty little green rowboat” that will save me in those situations, and not focus on the “crashing battling waves!”

    What a comforting closing to the readings this week. Mother Theodore saying, they were: “received as angels from heaven,” and “all the attentions, the tender care, the kind forethought,” and “the generous devotedness of good Mr. Byerley.”

    Oh the beautiful kindness of others!!!

    • Ann Casper, SP on November 4, 2020 at 7:27 am

      Madonna, thanks for your reflections. I really enjoyed them! I especially liked how you will use “the little green rowboat” concept in your daily situations to keep focused on the positive. Good advice. Thank you.

      Sister Ann

    • Cathy Dearing on November 4, 2020 at 9:44 am

      I like the contrast of the “pretty little green rowboat” and the “crashing battling waves.” It is a metaphor for what life is! How will we navigate it is up to us and our openness to God’s divine Providence.

  6. Camille Miller on November 3, 2020 at 5:54 pm

    Mother must have been a brilliant woman. Her descriptions of the landing and America are wonderfully detailed. I felt like I was right there. She seemed so careful of everyone’s feelings. So thankful for any small kindness done. Reading her words, I feel I know her.

    • Ann Casper, SP on November 4, 2020 at 7:33 am

      Camille, your comment — “I feel I know her” — delighted me, especially since we are just beginning our reading of Journals and Letter. Mother Theodore has a real knack for descriptive story telling and a way that almost creates pictures in the mind of people and situations. As the saying goes … to know her is to love her. May it be so!

  7. Cathy Dearing on November 4, 2020 at 9:34 am

    I also took notice of Dr. Doane’s generosity of giving peaches and other things to the Sisters. Mother Theodore made a point to write that Dr. Doane was “a stranger, a non-Catholic, and an American” and still he made a gesture of kindness. She also notes how afterward “he was far away enjoying secretly of the satisfaction of having done a good deed.”

    This encounter reminds of two things;

    That kindness isn’t exclusive, discriminatory, or conditional. We are called to reach out and show our kindness to all.

    Also, Dr. Doane didn’t wait for the accolades or bragged about his good deed. I’m recalling what Jesus says about giving: “So when you give to the needy, do not announce with trumpets….Then your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” I am reminded that every good deed and every act of kindness I do isn’t about me and ego-building but rather that I live and exemplify a Beatitude way of life.

  8. Ann Casper, SP on November 4, 2020 at 9:45 am

    Cathy, thanks for your reflection and “mining” the richness of this short passage even further. You bring up excellent points about kindness and our motivations.

    Blessings,
    Sister Ann

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