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Journals and Letters week 13: Relationships

[Today we are discussing “Journals and Letters“:  page 103 Part III The Second Journal of Travel to page 112 after letter. Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin‘s writings every week in the coming year.]

Relationships! Relationships! Can’t live with ’em; can’t live without ‘em — as the saying goes.

The eight pages we read from the Mother Theodore’s ‘Journals and Letters” create quite the patchwork quilt of relationships — some intriguing, some annoying, some tender, some puzzling, some of the true blue kind.

Sister Mary Cecelia Bailly

Sister Mary Cecelia Bailly

Right off the bat, we learn that Sister Mary Cecelia’s father, Joseph Bailly, established the profitable business enterprise, the American Fur Trading Company. Her mother, Marie Le Fèvre, was an Ottawa princess who purchased her freedom from her tribe. Talk about a “back story!”

As for Eleanor Bailly herself?  “She cast her lot with the one-year-old Community of St. Mary of the Woods.”  What a “lot” it became. Sister Mary Cecelia Bailly had been in Community only two years when Mother Theodore had to sail to France on a fundraising trip. Lo and behold! Sister Mary Cecelia was chosen as the traveling companion! Mother Theodore recognized great potential in this young sister, potential the foundress intended to develop. Theirs became a long-lasting and affectionate relationship.

As in all relationships, this friendship must have had its ups and downs. The editor of “Journals and Letters” notes that Sister Mary Cecelia responded to Mother Theodore’s trust with “affectionate loyalty … and supported her valiantly.” Yet, the editor hints at disruptions in their friendship: “If later times brought some disappointments…”

I wonder who disappointed whom? What disappointed whom? How did the relationship get mended?

Relationships! Relationships! Can’t live with ‘em. Can’t live without ‘em.

Sister St. Francis

Sister St. Francis Xavier LeFer

Comforting, warm and affectionate moments of relationships manifest themselves again and again in the eight pages. The two travelers “were cheered up” by the loving reception they received at the motherhouse in Ruillé sur Loire. Bishop Bouvier agreed to petition the other French bishops to donate to Mother Theodore’s Indiana mission. Mother Theodore had the joy of meeting the family of Sister St. Francis Xavier Le Fer de la Motte. This sister and Mother Theodore shared a deep, authentic friendship with one another. What joy to meet the family of her dearest friend.

Even dearest friends can disappoint however. Mother Theodore tells Sister St. Francis’ mother that “I have received news of my children in the ‘Woods.’ All write me except the one from whom I expected a long letter. Sister St. Francis did not put in a single word for me, but was careful to put in messages for everyone else.”

Relationships! Relationships!  Can’t live with ‘em. Can’t live without ‘em.

Fundraising hurdles

What about the fundraising purpose of the trip? How did that go? Not so well. While in France, Mother Theodore learned that the Catholic Church had “made it a law” that the Society for the Propagation of the Faith was not to give money to Congregations of women.

In addition, those Parisians with the means to give were not in Paris as it was the season for vacation. It’s difficult to raise money if there’s no one to visit.

Relationships! Relationships! Can’t live with‘em. Can’t live without ’em.

Even more hurdles

Having made her decision to leave France and return to Saint Mary’s, Mother Theodore receives a frantic-sounding letter from Mother Mary, Superior General of Ruillé sur Loir.

Bishop Celestine de la Hailandière

Bishop de la Hailandière (every story needs a villain) has been meddling in the affairs of the Community in Indiana. His actions alarm her so much that Mother Mary writes to Mother Theodore: “I persist in believing that your presence is an absolute necessity at St. Mary’s and that not all the gold of France could repay you for the injury your absence may cause to your infant congregation … Make haste, my dear Sister Theodore, fly back to Vincennes to mend the broken platters. Watch over your little flock … If your return to France has been useful, your presence at home is still more necessary.”

Return she did to Saint Mary’s to “mend the platters.” Mother Theodore excelled at “mending platters.”  She did it so often and so well.     

Relationships! Relationships!

Join the conversation:

Relationships! Relationships! Can’t live with ‘em. Can’t live without ‘em. Does the statement ring true for you? As we begin the New Year, might it be a helpful exercise to review one important relationship looking for the lights and shadows in that relationship?

What stands out for you in this week’s reading?


Next week > page 112 to page 123 mid-page

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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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10 Comments

  1. Jeannie Smith, PA on January 3, 2021 at 5:28 pm

    I’ve been fascinated by S. Mary Cecilia’s story. The other day I googled Mary Cecilia Eleanor Bailly and was surprised by all the hits I got. Many were from the spsmw website, but some came from Indiana State Parks, which is caretaker of the Bailly homestead up north. Last month I asked S. Maureen Abbott if she knew if Mother Theodore had written anything about Indians in general, as I thought (wrong!) that surely she had encountered Indians around the Woods. S, Janet Gilligan provided a letter MTG had written to Mother Mary describing what she had heard about Indians and some of their cultural practices, and S. Maureen sent me an excerpt from the first volume of SP history noting that 10 years before our Foundation most Indians had been expelled from the territory, leaving on the Trail of Tears. I should have known that – if indeed Indiana History taught to school children in the ’50’s included such stuff. I wonder what Mary Cecilia knew and felt about that history, fresh as it was when she arrived at St. Mary’s. her story contrasted with theirs reminds me of some reading I’ve been doing (Black Bottom Saints) about Black people, some rich and famous and successful, amid the thousands pouring north in the mid-20th century, and how complex a “group” of people can be, with stories of all kinds. I think there is a lesson in that, but probably more than will fit here!

    • Denise on January 5, 2021 at 2:02 pm

      Thanks, Jeannie. I have’t paid too much attention to MMCB over these many years; but these pages made me pause. I almost went so far as to pick up (quite the physical undertaking) the first volume of the history. I’d much rather you do all the research and get back to me. Such an insignificant wondering I had: how did a woman purchase her freedom from her tribe? Her husband? Take in laundry? Hire herself out to others? Like Linda, I want you to do the work and we’ll come to your class, okay?

  2. Theresa Tighe on January 4, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    Thank you Jeannie for doing this research. Feel free to trash this request. I don’t know your time and skills with a computer. I wouldn’t have the computer skills. But could a way be found to post this letter? If not no problem.
    Again, thanks for the research.

    • Jeannie Smith on January 4, 2021 at 10:18 pm

      Dear Theresa: I don’t know if that was a published letter or not, and what the protocol is to access material from the archives
      . Perhaps some Sister who is reading this can provide an answer? I hope so.

      • Denise on January 5, 2021 at 2:04 pm

        I’m reading this but I have no idea. I do my best to inquire of Archives.

  3. Theresa Tighe PA on January 4, 2021 at 12:16 pm

    “Relationships! Relationships! Can’t live with ‘em. Can’t live without ‘em. ”
    Thank you Sister Denise for that catch phrase.
    We just had a little to do because the two people who live in my house, that’s counting me, are too sensitive to live.
    The dust up. She niece wants to fix the blinds in her bedroom. Right now she sleeps, her choice, in front of the TV.
    Her time is always very limited.
    I said yes, but I’d like her to do her three – never done chores- swifting the kitchen and bathroom floors and taking out the recycles first.
    We are both upset and out of sorts.
    What to do? I have a right to have the chores done. She has a right to fix the blinds. She says she needs them to sleep in the bedroom.
    She said she can do both.
    Game plan: Take a deep breath and let it pass. The floors and recycles can wait if the blind fix helps her sleep better. Oh, and pray to my mother who put up with me and Mother Theodore who had to juggle so many relationships and was a sensitive person.

    • Denise on January 5, 2021 at 2:07 pm

      I do feel for you, Theresa. This scenario plays itself out in so many households, convents, apartments, I suppose in any sort of dwelling. It’s the pause I forget about 99.9% of the time. I don’t believe a I have the vocation of a broken platter mender.

  4. Linda McMahon, PA on January 4, 2021 at 8:48 pm

    Our reading this week includes two of Mother Theodore’s quotes that I have found especially meaningful for me on several occasions. Now, seeing the context of the situations in which Mother spoke them, endears them to me even more. The first is in the letter MTG sent to S. Mary Xavier (p. 106) where she encourages S. Mary Xavier to ” never speak when you are excited, but wait for the impulse of nature to pass away and that of grace to succeed it”. It is as if MTG knows my tendency and she speaks it directly to me. Her wisdom inspires me to try to take that pause in my thinking and acting and allow for Providence to abundantly pour out the grace that I need in that situation. The second is in Mother Theodore’s letter to Mme. Le Fer De la Motte (p. 107), in which MTG relates that a sentiment of profound gratitude that we feel toward another may be (best expressed) “only to God who understands the language of the heart”. When I feel so limited in my human ability to express my thanksgiving, trusting that God will convey my feelings in a way that touches the heart of the other brings peace to my spirit.

    • Jeannie Smith on January 4, 2021 at 10:14 pm

      Linda, my dear – after many years of friendship I know that you have taken Mother’s advice to S. Mary Xavier deep into your own heart and way of being! You embody the practice of that advice, which is something I admire and depend on in you.

      I, too, love that quote about “the language of the heart”. What a beautiful thought, and I often rest easy knowing that God understands that language and that I don’t have to put into words stuff that is really beyond my thinking self. And I’m also confident that “God in the other” will understand what I cannot put into spoken words for that other person. At least that is my hope!
      Thanks, Linda, for your always nourishing thoughts!

  5. Cathy Dearing on January 8, 2021 at 6:38 am

    I took note of Mother Theodore’s comment in her letter to Sister Mary Xavier how she writes “Be good…My lot is in your hands.” Mother Theodore is communicating her thoughts, needs, and vulnerabilities. That to me is relationship: communicating with someone else our feelings and fears and how much we depend on and are connected to the other person. What interferes in most relationships, I feel, is the ego; our need to be in charge, right, and to focus solely on the self. It takes a strong person to say ‘I’m relying on you. I need you. I depend on you.’ Of course, the other thing about relationship is that it’s a two-way street; a giving and receiving of both parties.

    Thanks Sister Denise for your focus on relationships. I’ll continue reading the rest of the book with relationships in mind.

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