Home » Blog » Journals and Letters week 7: Hardship on the Ohio

Journals and Letters week 7: Hardship on the Ohio

Today we are discussing “Journals and Letters“: page 45 to page 53, where we find Mother Theodore and her companions having to endure a miserable trip on the Ohio River. Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin‘s writings every week in the coming year.]

“There was no alternative; we had to bear it.” (46) Reading Mother Theodore’s account of the first part of their journey down the Ohio River made me feel so bad for these women. The steamboat was small and crowded. There were not enough beds. This forced Mother Theodore and her companions to sleep on straw with no bedding on the floor. She felt humiliated and mocked by the other passengers. She was stubbornly determined not to lay down on the floor. But knowing they had no choice, we see her once again lean on her faith. “Before I could make up my mind to do so, however, I went on deck and threw myself on my knees to beg God the grace to bear this humiliation. I returned more calm and put myself on half of one of the straw beds; my Sisters did likewise.” (46) I loved how she put aside her own feelings and stepped up as a true servant leader of this courageous group of women.

Beauty and danger

Not all was bad. Mother Theodore commented in great detail on the beauty of the river and the hills along the shore. (47) Having lived in Portsmouth, a city along the Ohio River that she likely passed by, I can attest that her account of the scenery was spot on.

Things improved once they reached Cincinnati. I was, however, shocked when Mother Theodore wrote about “the multitude of enemies athirst for the blood of the French” (48) only to find she was comically referring to the hoard of mosquitoes they encountered that night. You really got me Mother Theodore!

Getting closer

They journeyed on to Madison, Indiana. Here they waited to meet Bishop de la Hailandière who arrived on the evening of Oct. 1. (49) This was especially exciting for me because she is now into October. I know they are just weeks away from their final destination.

I was also touched by so many things towards the end of this section: Her excitement on receiving the sacrament of confession. (50) Her acknowledgement and appreciation of the Sisters of Charity who graciously offered them hospitality. (51) And her positive description of Louisville, Kentucky (51).

As difficult as the start of this portion of the journey was, I am so relieved that it ended with optimism and joy. “This was a great joy to us and filled us with gratitude to God, who had protected us in His goodness during this long and perilous voyage.”

Share your thoughts!

Why do you think sleeping on straw on the floor was humiliating to Mother Theodore? How did that make you feel?

Are there other parts on this section that you especially liked? Why?

As you get to know her better what traits do you admire? What surprises you?

Next week > Nov. 28 week 8: page 53 In Indiana to page 60 The Journey’s End

View the complete book series.

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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 November 21, 2020 at 8:31 pm

    Mary, thank you for your spot on comments. I particularly like these passages. They reflect the rhythms of life problems, pleasures, bad breaks, kindnesses, exhaustion, rest. All those things exaggerated by the language barriers and the brutal hardships of poverty and life on the frontier.
    This passage also contains one of Mother Guerin’s quotes that helps me through life. Bottom of page 52 and top of page 53. “Thus does life also pass away, now calm, now agitated, but at last the end is attained. Happy, ah, thrice happy who can then look out at the never ending future with calm and confidence, who can cast themselves on the bosom of God, the Center of our felicity. ”
    I struggle to do that. But then I try to look back and times when I didn’t know how I get through a situation or thought I couldn’t live without something and frequently see Providence guiding and protecting me. A habit my studies to be a Providence Associate taught me.

    • Amy Miranda Amy Miranda on November 23, 2020 at 12:40 pm

      Theresa, thanks for sharing that quote. It is not one I had ever really reflected on before, but a very good one.

    • Avatar Jeannie Smith, PA on November 23, 2020 at 10:58 pm

      thanks, Theresa. Like Amy, this isn’t one of my most familiar quotes and I do love it and am glad you singled it out.
      How good to be having this conversation!

  2. Avatar Madonna Wilson on November 24, 2020 at 4:42 pm

    Thank you Mary for another insightful beginning to the blog this week. I too let Mother Theodore put one over on me regarding the “night of slaughter” referring to the mosquitoes attack.

    Your first question–How did it make me feel about the Sisters having to sleep on straw on the floor?
    I first felt quite saddened when reading about the the Sisters having to sleep on straw. And then I felt angry that they were mocked by other passengers. I so admire how Mother Theodore went to talk with God about her feelings. She first turned to God. And prayed to God to help her and to provide her with the grace to get through her feelings of humiliation. I admire how Mother Theodore did not react with anger. She instead, paused, took a breath, and turned to God first. What a great lesson to me. That during life struggles & joy, to always turn to God first in all things.

  3. Avatar Cathy Dearing on November 25, 2020 at 9:11 am

    Thank you Mary for your introduction to this section. When considering your comment about Mother Theodore being mocked and humiliated, I quickly thought about Jesus on his journey to Calvary. Each year when we recall the Passion of Jesus and his suffering and death on Good Friday, I recall the Gospel reading where we, the congregation, portray “the crowd” who jeered, mocked, and humiliated our Lord. Like Jesus, Mother Theodore accepted the cross.

    Also, after reading about all the hardships of travel Mother Theodore and her companions endured, I’m amazed they made it! So many times they could have died encountering any of these perils at sea, land, and river. It is a testament to the Providence of God and the Persistence of these valiant women!

  4. Avatar Linda McMahon, PA on November 25, 2020 at 8:28 pm

    I have enjoyed reading the book with you all and also reading the comments that have been posted. On the eve of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the gift that Mother Theodore is for us. Each section of our reading presents experiences of her humanity and of her absolute reliance on Providence.

  5. Avatar Ken Siarkiewicz, MAPT '91 on November 27, 2020 at 10:43 pm

    As I read this I kept thinking that Mother Theodore and her Sisters had to endure perhaps more hardships on this part of the journey than when they crossed the ocean. As before her description of the beauties and wonders that she observed in nature were quite descriptive. What struck me is the joy in her words as she describes the people who helped this little band of Sisters who did not speak English. There are many of them who went a long way out of their way to provide the support they needed when they needed it the most. This reminded me of the many times I needed help and a friend stepped in to help. Each morning I say a prayer of thanksgiving in front of the portrait of our Lady of Providence and reflect on the many providential twists and turns my life has taken to reach the point of who I am on this day in my life. I can only pray that I am there when I encounter someone in need.

  6. Avatar Denise on December 1, 2020 at 9:26 am

    I have always loved the end of this passage – the end of their travels on the river. MTG reflects: “Thus does life also pass away, now calm, now agitated, but at last the end is attained. Happy, ah thrice happy are those who can look out to the never-ending future with calm and confidence and cast themselves on the bosom of God.” MTG always manages to see the humor in life and to express life’s deepest meanings. She’s great!

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