Home » Blog » Journals and Letters week 9: The Journey’s end

Journals and Letters week 9: The Journey’s end

[Today we are discussing “Journals and Letters“: page 60 The Journey’s End to page 70. Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin‘s writings every week in the coming year.]

“Journey’s End”. Mother Theodore and her companions arrive at the humble log cabin chapel at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Who can attempt to write any commentary on Mother Theodore’s description of the sisters’ arrival – finally – at St. Mary’s? “I cannot tell you what passed within me during the next half hour. I do not know myself, but I was so deeply moved that I could not speak.”

These iconic words draw us into an experience of profound importance. They draw us into the very heart and mind and soul of Mother Theodore.

Act, observe, learn, adapt

Rereading these pages I’ve read a million times (well, maybe hundreds of times) four words came to me. Mother Theodore would ACT – OBSERVE – LEARN – ADAPT.

Mother Theodore entered a culture entirely unknown to her; so perhaps the mission succeeded and endures because of her willingness to act, observe, learn and adapt.

We have example after example of how Mother Theodore exhibited these skills. I will focus only on three.


Having finally arrived at her destination Mother Theodore got down from the stage coach (act); looked in shock at what she saw (observe); “prayed, wept, and thanked Almighty God for past favors and begged his assistance for the future” (learn); she and the other sisters “went to embrace the postulants who were awaiting us” ( adapt). What wonderful acts of love, mercy and justice resulted from that one small step down from a carriage!    


The second incident shows how an “ordinary” task for Mother Theodore turned into a clash of cultures. An orphan girl had been hired to help the sisters do the laundry. When dinner time came, Mother Theodore asked the girl not to sit at the lunch table with the sisters. (act). “You should have seen the change in the countenances of the American postulants. (observe) “I had to compromise (learn) by telling the girl she might eat with the reader at second table.” (adapt)


The replica log cabin chapel at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods today.

The last example of Mother Theodore’s willingness to understand and do what needed to be done for the success of the mission is summed up in these familiar words: “It is astonishing that this remote solitude has been chosen for a novitiate and especially an academy. All appearances are against it. (observe) I have given my opinion frankly … to all who have any interest in the success of this work.  (act) All have given reasons that are not entirely satisfactory; but I dare not disregard them. (listen) The spirit of this country is so different from ours that one ought to be acquainted with it before condemning those who know more about it than we do.” (observe, learn, adapt)

For me these words of Mother Theodore’s reflect her extraordinary willingness to ACT – OBSERVE – LEARN – ADAPT in whatever order she needs to, whenever she needs to, however she needs to. Always for the sake of the mission entrusted to her by Providence. Thank you, Mother Theodore. We are who we are because of the way you were and continue to be.

Your Turn

Act, observe, learn, adapt – skills you/we have?  Want to have? Want to develop or improve? If yes, why? If no, why?

Share your thoughts on today’s passage.

Next week > page 71 Part II Early Letters to page 77

View the complete reading series.

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

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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  1. Sister Ann Casper Sister Ann Casper on December 5, 2020 at 7:52 am

    Of all thy examples you gave, Denise, I was particularly moved by Mother Theodore’s comment, “The spirit of this country is so different from ours that one ought to be acquainted with it before condemning those who know more about it than we do.” What a learning I can apply to so many situations in y own life, and to people! How quick I can be to judge a person who is so different from me. I pray I can move to the next steps, adapt … adapt my own thinking, observe the person’s good qualities and act differently in their regard.

    • Avatar Denise on December 7, 2020 at 2:31 pm

      It’s easier to write about act – observe – learn – adapt than it is to do – in my daily living. However….a million chances a day to practice.

  2. Avatar Jeannie Smith, PA on December 5, 2020 at 10:59 am

    Wow S. Denise! You cast a new light on these passages that I, too, have read hundreds (well, dozens) of times! Thank you for that. Reading this story again, slowly and with companionship through this blog, I am really finding a renewed appreciation of Mother Theodore’s gifts to her sisters, the people of her new country, and to her children of the forest right down to us. I’m learning, too, that her example, learned from her story and also passed down through her sister-descendants, has had a huge influence in my own life – perhaps not always realized by me. I hope to be more thoughtful in my own life to observe, learn and adapt following my own actions. Thank you!!

    • Avatar Madonna Wilson on December 6, 2020 at 4:33 pm

      I agree with you Jeannie that reading the journal writings of Mother Theodore slowly and with the companionship through this blog provides a much deeper and meaningful experience!

    • Avatar Denise on December 7, 2020 at 2:34 pm

      Hi, Jeannie. This experience of blog dialogue re: our MTG has been a good one for me too. So many ways to “know her” through others’ perspectives. Huge influence for sure – and new insights all the time. Love to you, old band member! (I meant “former” band member.)

      • Avatar Jeannie Smith, PA on December 7, 2020 at 5:30 pm

        I don’t really “feel” former, just maybe a little different. (giggle) Or old, either, come to think of it – except for some days.

  3. Avatar Eileen Horan on December 5, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    S. Denise, your reflection really helps me to see how Mother Theodore’s response to her situation can teach us much about how to respond to the time and situations we now find ourselves in. The pandemic has changed all of our lives in ways we would never choose. Mother Theodore’s example of adapting to what life handed her gives me hope that I might be able to do the same, leaning on Providence.

    • Avatar Denise on December 7, 2020 at 2:38 pm

      Hello, Eileen – and happy Advent. You are so right about the pandemic changing our lives “in ways we would never choose. Re: pandemic – the adapt part is the most difficult to me – and every day requires adaptation. Nothing to do but lean on one another and Providence.

  4. Avatar Cathy Dearing on December 5, 2020 at 2:02 pm

    Sister Denise

    I liked your presentation of four foundational skills of Mother Theodore: ACT, OBSERVE, LEARN, ADAPT. It truly was her approach to everything! In addition, she always wove God, prayer, and mission within it.

    Being an educator and a curious sort, I thrive on observation and learning! It’s the acting and especially the adapting that I often struggle with. Perhaps from fear of change or fear of the unknown. Mother Theodore can be a source of inspiration for me, an example, to give me the courage to act and adapt when the situation requires.

    • Avatar Denise on December 7, 2020 at 2:41 pm

      Cathy, I just read this morning – where? can’t remember – that courage and hope require each other. What I took from it was this: can’t hope if we don’t have the courage to do so; can’t have courage without hoping our efforts will move us, Earth further along in the paths of love.

  5. Avatar Madonna Wilson on December 6, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    Sister Denise,
    What a wonderful introduction you provided for our Week 9 Journal reading-The Journey’s End!
    And, I agree with Cathy, I too liked your discussion focused on those four important skills of: Act, Observe, Learn, Adapt– that Mother Theodore most definitely possesses.
    Qualities that are evident in her Journal writings.
    Qualities that are still evident today within the Sisters of Providence community!
    It is evident each and every time that I read the HOPE magazine articles- the many ways that the Sisters of Providence : ACT, OBSERVE, LEARN, and ADAPT.

    I guess my best skill is that of Observation- or of Noticing. To me, being observant and noticing forms the basis or foundation for so many other things. For instance, for knowing whether or not someone may need attention or appreciation. Noticing the beauty in nature. Noticing an opportunity to be kind or to be of service to someone else.

    So once I notice, it helps to lead me to act. During this time of the pandemic, “to Act”, has taken on a whole new definition for me now. I miss the ways that I used to be able “to act” for others. Because I am a face-to-face, hands-on, “huggy” type of person, it has been kind of hard to connect with others the way I am used to.

    Therefore, it is so wonderful to have Mother Theodore and to trust in Providence in all things!

  6. Avatar Denise on December 7, 2020 at 2:46 pm

    Hello, Madonna. Maybe we could team up. I am not a good observer. Well, let me say this. I often observe with my mind already made up – not in the natural world – but in the world of other people. Ah – a life long effort has yielded some fruits but…not as many as it seems I need.
    Happy Advent, Madonna.

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