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Journals and Letters week 6: Traveling the United States

[Today we are discussingJournals and Letters“: page 39 to page 45, On the Ohio River. Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin‘s writings every week in the coming year.]

In this section, Mother Theodore gives examples of the weariness in traveling in a foreign country without speaking the language, from the nuisance of not understanding servers, to the mistakes that she makes trying to converse with American sisters. The exhaustion of living surrounded by a foreign language resonated with me. I had a kindred experience in college when I traveled to France. I had a conversational grasp of the language. But it was still exhausting and frustrating to have so many discussions go over my head or be half understood. Again, I am impressed by the courage of Mother Theodore and the rest of the sisters in making their journey to an unknown land, despite the difficulties and the many challenges that lie ahead of them after they reach their destination.


In addition to new language and culture, it is also interesting to see Mother Theodore’s observations of the technological age she is passing through. She uses crisply vivid descriptions. She describes the trains they take and the tunnels they pass through thus: “you see the engine rush into a box made expressly for it, but fitting so exactly that if a living creature were there, it would be crushed before having time to see what was coming” (42). I love the window that Mother Theodore’s playful and descriptive writing offers. She approaches the world with such a desire to observe and learn, traits that surely serve her well in her mission, as well as making her an engaging writer!

Passion for nature

Her writings also make her passion for nature apparent. We see this in her eagerness to describe the landscapes they pass. We also see it in her intense sadness at seeing trees cut from logging. She describes them as “corpses . . . awaiting burial” (45). There is a deep kinship with nature, and she sees God present in all that God has created. In describing the mountains they travel through, she concludes that their majesty is “so calculated to elevate the soul towards the Author of all things” (44). Her detailed descriptions of her experiences become a way to meditate on and pray thanksgiving for creation. Even as she appreciates the beauty, she recognized the dangers present in the mountains. Despite the bandits and steep cliffs, she again recognizes and trusts in God’s protection.

I look forward to reading more about their journey to Indiana. I’m interested to see their continued response to American culture as they encounter it. I’m excited to explore these experiences through Mother Theodore’s eyes.

Share your thoughts!

Do you have experiences in travel or in your daily life where you notice the details of your surroundings the way Mother Theodore does? How do you connect God to those moments?

What aspect of Mother Theodore’s journey stands out to you?

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

Next week > Nov. 21 week 7: page 45 On the Ohio River to page 53 In Indiana

View the complete book study here.

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Patricia Davis

Patricia Davis

Tricia Davis is a volunteer with the Sisters of Providence. She has a B.A. in English from Indiana University and currently lives in Chicago, where she works as an editor.

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  1. Avatar Jeannie Smith on November 14, 2020 at 10:51 am

    Tricia – another beautiful reflection on these readings, thank you! We see some themes coming out over and over – Mother’s love of nature, her curiosity and willingness to learn, her courage, and most of all her trust in Providence. It is such a pleasure to re-read these familiar texts slowly and thoughtfully, and to hear others’ reflections that always magnify the experience. To whomever thought up this practice, a huge Thank You!

  2. Avatar Linda McMahon, PA on November 14, 2020 at 8:54 pm

    Tricia, as I read about Mother Theodore’s experiences in her travels, I especially noted the language barriers that challenged her, her companions and many of the non French speaking people they encountered, Yes, there were misunderstandings and times of frustration. And, there were Providence moments when they met a French speaker or a warm, caring individual who responded to their needs with nonverbal kindness. It reminded me of my times in Japan where I did not understand the spoken and the written language. Providence did provide, just as Mother Theodore experienced- perhaps with someone with some familiarity with English, but always with someone who was the face of Providence for me.

  3. Avatar Cathy Dearing on November 18, 2020 at 8:00 am

    What stood out for me in these pages is::

    How Mother Theodore references the names of so many individuals she meets or plays a part in her journey. I am also struck again that this was her first time meeting so many people and seeing so many different places and things. I am reminded to see people, places, and things anew, with fresh eyes; to notice the details I may have missed or no longer see.

    The language challenges must have been immense. I traveled to Italy in 2018 with my family and we only knew a few words and phrases. It certainly posed a challenge with communication not only with simple information but any depth of conversation was impossible. That said, language was transcended when I attended a daily morning Mass said in Italian at an old church originally built in the 11th century in Florence, Sant’ Ambrogio. Although I didn’t understand what the priest and congregation were saying, I knew what they were saying because the Mass was still the same. The Mass, the Church, and the presence of Christ transcends language and unites us all.

    • Avatar Madonna Wilson on November 18, 2020 at 5:05 pm

      You are so right about your reflection about the Mass you attended in Italy. That regardless of language, it is still the celebration of the Eucharist-the presence of Jesus. And as you said, it is what “unites us all.”

    • Avatar Leila Short on November 19, 2020 at 8:48 pm

      Please send healing prayers for me🙏🏽 I in the hospital, has very dangerous surgery and stroke🙏🏽

      • Avatar Cathy Dearing on November 20, 2020 at 8:06 am

        I am praying for you – for a successful surgery and recovery.
        God’s healing hand will give you comfort and strength

  4. Avatar Jenny Nowalk on November 18, 2020 at 8:02 am

    I really appreciate the picture of the tunnel! We travel from Indiana through Pennsylvania to CT and these tunnels are part of the drive. Mother Theodore’s writing about how they are like ‘boxes’ makes me laugh and recall the first few times I rode through the tunnels in the mountains. (And we were going at 65 Mph!) I used to get anxious. Providence provides! A time in my life presented itself when I was on my own in Pittsburgh, PA, a city of tunnels and bridges. I usually depend on my native Pittsburgher husband to drive. When I was caring for our daughter, Providence met me where I was at! I lost all anxiety or fear of driving through tunnels! Sometimes having to stop and wait on traffic even, while inside a tunnel!! Thank you Patricia, for leading me to recall Providence does provide! How often I take for granted the blessings in my life!

    • Avatar Cathy Dearing on November 18, 2020 at 8:54 am

      Thank your for sharing your experience with driving in tunnels. I too have driven inside those tunnels, those long dark tunnels in Pittsburgh and can relate to your feelings of anxiety. You make such a great and important connection of bringing Providence into an everyday experience, particularly in an experience of struggle and challenge, and how Providence provided courage and calm for you.

  5. Avatar Madonna Wilson on November 18, 2020 at 5:06 pm

    You are so right about your reflection about the Mass you attended in Italy. That regardless of language, it is still the celebration of the Eucharist-the presence of Jesus. And as you said, it is what “unites us all.”

  6. Avatar Sister Denise on November 20, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    I’m grateful to you for highlighting Mother Theodore’s affinity with nature. It’s a trait of hers I know and am familiar with but your writing made me appreciate this one of her many gifts in a new, more feeling way. Thank you!

  7. Avatar Theresa Tighe on November 21, 2020 at 8:02 pm

    Tricia your comments and the comments of the others help me see further into Mother Guerin’s writings. I love the true thought that just as Providence showed itself to her through the kindness of strangers, Providence frequently helps us through little acts of those we don’t know. And Leila Short I am praying for you.

  8. Avatar Lieutenant Colonel, Michael A. Ferrill, USArmy (Retired) on December 7, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    I am doing an Historical Review of the number of Religious Orders that sent their Sisters off to become Nurses for both the Union and Confederate Armies during the Civil War 1861-1865. I have found that eleven of your Sisters severed during this time period. Can Someone tell me, how many of these women were born in Ireland, and or were 1st generation Irish-American Born, with specific names (their common names, not their Religious Names)
    Lieutenant Colonel Michael A. Ferrill, USArmy (Retired)

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