Home » Blog » Journals and Letters week 11: Early letters part deux

Journals and Letters week 11: Early letters part deux

Items that belonged to Saint Mother Theodore adorn her writing desk in the shrine.

[Today we are discussing “Journals and Letters“: page 78 to page 89 . Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin‘s writings every week in the coming year.]

Here’s my big confession: I am having a lot of trouble concentrating on this week’s reading assignment. I’ve read it, but I ‘m not really absorbing it enough to write something spectacular — not that my past writings were in any way spectacular mind you.

Reading the letters for me is much harder work than it was reading the journal entries. In this section alone, Mother Theodore writes seven letters. I did really enjoy her longer letter to the Bishop of Le Mans (p. 81-84). In it I really saw so many sides of her personality and also insight into the challenges she was facing. There was also a reference to a former novice who was stirring up trouble in the novitiate only to start a competing school in Terre Haute once she was gone. It almost sounds like something that would happen on a soap opera or reality televsion show. Wow!

So many letters

But back to me. I think my inability to focus this week is also partly due to the time of year. Christmas is next week after all! There’s so much going on at work and at home that I am finding myself struggling to pull something worthwhile together for you to read.

So how did she do it? How did Saint Mother Theodore manage to write no fewer than 5,000 letters? This is what I find myself contemplating most this week rather than the actual content of these letters.

Of course, I recognize that the quantity of communication was born out of necessity. There were few other ways to communicate in the mid-1800’s. Can you imagine what would if be like if Mother Theodore could have sent an email or a text message?

Your turn!

How difficult was it for you to switch from reading journal entries to Mother Theodore’s letters? What do you like about each style? Dislike?

Fun question to ponder – How do you think Mother Theodore would use our current technology to her advantage?

What about these letters stood out for you?

Next week > page 90 to page 102

View the complete reading 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 Jeannie Smith on December 19, 2020 at 11:22 am

    Dear Mary (and all readers), I agree that the letters are a bit harder to get into than the diaries. But I did have a couple thoughts on these pages. Actually, my first comment is on the last page of the previous reading which describes Joseph Kundek – what another remarkable person! The number of churches he built, and even the courthouse in Jasper! Mother Theodore had some astonishing co-workers in her day and they must have been inspiration and hope for her. Another thought about the “new subjects” coming to the growing community. It must have been a very different experience for them than it was/is for later generations. Now, and for decades, postulants and novices and associates are steeped in the history and traditions, the charism of the Community, and have so many examples of holy, justice-seeking lives lived. Much of this story was in its first chapter when these young women arrived at the Woods. And they, too, became the beginning chapters of that story. I wonder about them and what it was like. The language barriers alone must have been daunting even though there would have been a lot of French-speakers among the early settlers. But not all of them!

  2. Avatar Mary Riley on December 19, 2020 at 12:41 pm

    Thank you for coming to my literary rescue and sharing your insight into these letters. I wholeheartedly agree with your observations. There are indeed so many remarkable people that surround Mother Theodore. I also always forget about the language barrier, so thanks for the reminder. How difficult it must have been.
    Let us know if you’d like to write any future posts for upcoming weeks.

  3. Avatar Denise on December 20, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    Mary and Jeannie,
    I’m kind of stuck on the language barrier – raised by you, Jeannie. The barrier existed in both written and spoken communication. How wonderful that Providence did provide such good friends and confidantes for her. I also imagine MTG was a good friend and confidante to them.
    Another wondering I have, MTG was such a doer – and did all the writing she did seem like task or an activity that brought her joy, relief, support. Jeannie – take up Mary’s offer and write an installment. Denise

  4. Avatar Madonna Wilson on December 20, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    Thank you for your introduction for this week’s reading. It is nice to know that I have a fellow comrade! I too found the reading of the letters a little different than the reading of Mother Theodore’s journal entries.

    I really enjoyed reading your comments and your reflections this week. They helped guide me in my reflection as well. I too am in awe of the magnitude of the letters that Mother Theodore had managed to write! And, with it being the mid 1800’s, I was pondering about the journey that each and every one of those thousands of letters had to make to get delivered. Be it by stagecoach or by steamboat. What kind of patience Mother Theodore must have possessed? The patience in waiting for her letters to get to their destination, as well as the patience of waiting for responses from those letters.

    Mary, you had asked about imagining what it may have been like if email and text messaging were available to Mother Theodore. I think for one thing she would have appreciated the speed in which her messages and requests would have been conveyed and answered. Especially in regard to the secular housekeeper: “we prefer to do without her.” I also think Mother Theodore would have used the technology to reach so many, many more people. As for emojis, she may have found them fun, light-hearted. But overall, I don’t think she would have been a fan. Especially with the language barriers, I’m sure emojis used by the sender may have not been interpreted in the same meaning by the recipient 🙂

    When it comes to writing, there is something gratifying about the feel of the paper and the pen and the handwritten word. The very act of putting it down focuses on what is important. To slow down, to meditate. To feel happier or to feel a little lighter. Those are the things I think about and wonder about. Are those some of the ways that Mother Theodore felt when writing her letters. I hope so. I do know that I am most grateful that so many letters have been preserved. It is one of many ways to see Mother Theodore’s tangible presence among us. Thank you Mother Theodore for all of your handwritten WORDS!!

  5. Avatar Cathy Dearing on December 22, 2020 at 7:52 am

    Reading these letters of Mother Theodore brought the realization even more so to me of all the WORK that needed to be done to begin the Order and a Noviciate. . She had to request for most everything and get permission for all those requests. And given it is the 1800’s, I think about the delays involved in responses to these request via letters. Today, I send a text asking my kids what they’d like for Christmas and I get an answer to my text within seconds!

    These letters call to mind how many “irons in the fire” Mother Theodore had going at one time! What a woman! She had so many things that needed tending to!

    I enjoy writing letters and sending cards very much. During the act of selecting the paper, the card, the writing instrument, I make the activity sacred. As I write, I think more deeply about the person for whom I am writing, our relationship, etc. As I form my thoughts and form into language and then write the words on the paper, I’ve really thought more deeply, more meaningfully through this style of correspondence. Does it take more time? Of course it does! But that’s the whole idea.

    Thank you Mother Theodore for you vigilance and commitment in writing all those letters!

  6. Avatar Theresa Tighe on December 24, 2020 at 11:30 am

    I liked the letters because they gave us a glimpse into the everyday problems Mother Guerin had to handle and the decisions large and small she made.
    My favorite is training music teachers. In another place in this book she says that in America you have to offer music to get pupils and jests about the clanging of little hands on piano keys.
    And she always offers such earthy common sense advice and example. She cautions that missionaries must be well trained before going to there missions. Following her I try to think and prepare before I assume some tasks. I am often quite a leaper into things.
    And I often quote this to myself when, upon reflection, I realize I am trying to do the impossible. “We are not called upon to do all the good possible, but only that which we can do.” (page 87)

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